Identifying Human Remains and Bringing Criminals to Justice

Identifying victims of terrorism, mass disaster and criminal activity is crucial to prosecute offenders and bring closure to families – and the next generation of tools with the capability to improve forensic identification of remains is being developed.

Researchers at The University of Western Australia and the WA Police Service are part of an international team awarded an Australia Research Council Discovery grant of more than $400,000 to revolutionise the identification of skeletal remains by updating and combining new computer and chemical methods.  Much of the research will take part in UWA’s Centre for Forensic Science, relocated to new premises at Myer Street on campus.

Assistant Professor Daniel Franklin said the new computer technology – geometric morphometrics – digitises bone so researchers can look at it 3-dimensionally and analyse it more sensitively than was capable of traditional linear measurements using callipers.  And the new chemical technology provides geochemical provenancing of human tissue.  Together these methods can give information about skeletal remains, no matter how old, that include ethnic origin, sex, age, height and diet based on a WA data set.

“These methods will update our ability as forensic scientists to strengthen Australian security systems by improving our ability to manage accidents, disasters, terrorism and crime,” Asst/Professor Franklin said.

Divisional Superintendant Haydn Green of the Forensic Division of the WA Police Service is the only Police Service researcher involved in the project.  Superintendant Green coordinated WA’s response to the Boxing Day 2004 tsunamis in Thailand, providing resources and guidance for the review of the delivery of forensic services.  His current duties include crime scene investigation and disaster victim investigation.

Along with Professor Charles Oxnard and Professor John Watling from UWA, the other team members are:

  • Professor Paul O’Higgins of the University of York
  • Dr Andrea Cardini of the Universita di Modena e Reggio Emilia
  • Associate Professor Jurian Hoogewerff of the University of East Anglia; and Professor Murray Marks of the University of Tennessee.  Professor Hoogewerff was involved in identifying the 5,000 Iceman mummy, found on the border of Austria and Italy.

Media reference

  • Assistant Professor Daniel Franklin(+61 8) 6488 1232 / +61 4) 11 377 559 / (+61 8) 9371 6740
  • Janine MacDonald (UWA Public Affairs)(+61 8) 6488 5563 / (+61 4) 32 637 716