Should police be required to collect DNA evidence for people who are missing as well as from unidentified bodies and put them in a national database for possible matches? They already encourage parents to keep DNA from their children as a preventive measure should they go missing.
Several states would like to establish:
- criteria for police to determine whether an adult is a ‘‘high risk missing person”
- require police to provide family with contact information for missing-persons organizations
- collect DNA evidence for anyone missing more than 30 days
The model legislation suggested by the Justice Department has been adopted in some form in Washington, Colorado and the District of Columbia, said Kelly Jolkowski, founder and president of Nebraska-based Project Jason, a group that helps families.
Jolkowski said a key of the proposed legislation is the DNA procedures, which would allow law enforcement with a missing person in one jurisdiction to link the case to an unidentified body in another place.
Currently, she said, many states allow unidentified bodies to be buried or cremated without ever obtaining DNA that could be used to identify them later. The bills would prevent unidentified bodies from being cremated.
“This is about connecting the dots,” Jolkowski said. “There’s an average of about 105,000 open missing-persons cases at any one time, and there’s an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 unidentified remains. Who knows how many other bodies out there have been buried or cremated without identification, with families somewhere without knowledge of what happened.”
Please click here to view a PDF of model legislation.
The following are a couple cases where the families are trying to connect the dots.
The family of a missing 61-year-old Corpus Christi man will be the first to have DNA samples collected in an effort to identify recently discovered human remains, police said….
If the Salas family is not a match, investigators will begin collecting samples from about six other families who reported a missing person.
It’s been half a century since Elizabeth Fern Rathjen, a patient at the Stockton Mental Hospital, wandered off the grounds and was never heard from again. But her daughter has never stopped searching.Joyce Tafoya, now 62, thought she’d hit pay dirt, literally, when human remains were uncovered in late 2005 at the site of the hospital, which closed in 1996. A burial site with as many as 30 bodies was discovered during the early stages of construction of a California State University satellite campus now located there.
In this ABC News article from May 2005, the Justice Department was supposed to be spending millions of dollars to expand the use of DNA technology. Why would they not support legislation to take DNA from missing persons as outlined above? The NCMEC recommends it for missing children so why not missing adults.
Brooke Wilberger, a 19-year-old college student, was last seen in May 2004 at an apartment complex near Oregon State University.
Wilberger is one of more than 100,000 people the government lists as missing. Police say the people may have disappeared for personal reasons or were the victims of accidents or crimes where little evidence was left behind.
Should her remains be found, would DNA not be valuable in identifying her?
Her body has never been found, but Joel Patrick Courtney, 39, was indicted in August on 19 counts, including aggravated murder, kidnapping, sodomy, rape and sexual abuse in connection with Wilberger’s disappearance.
The FBI believes there may be victims in the following areas:
Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Cocoa Beach, Fla.
Rio Rancho, N.M.
Update 12-08-07 Missing ‘runaway’ found 8 years later
Three-quarters of unidentified bodies in U.S. morgues and cemeteries come from just four states, and Arizona is one of them. There were 569 collected in Arizona from 1980 to 2004, according to federal statistics
Update 09-22-09: Family, friends express relief Wilberger’s body is finally found
Brooke Wilberger’s memory has faded on the BYU campus, but former roommates of the BYU sophomore who vanished five years ago in Corvallis, Ore., embraced with a sense of release Monday the news that her body had been found.
“It has felt like an eternity to every person involved in this,” said Brittany Bennion, one of Wilberger’s Deseret Towers roommates. “I’m happy that there is closure and I’m happy that they found her body. I know that this is what Brooke’s family was hoping for.”
The search for Wilberger, who disappeared from an apartment building near the Oregon State University campus in May 2004 shortly after finishing her freshman year at BYU, ended Monday when a man pleaded guilty to her murder after leading police to her body near the rugged Oregon coast.
Defendant Joel Courtney’s confession concluded one of the most publicized murder investigations in Oregon history.