DNA Test Helps Identify Murder Victim's Bones After 8 Years, Scientists Say
Jul. 31, 1991
NEW YORK (AP) _ A murder victim's bones were identified by genetic analysis even after being buried for eight years, says a researcher who hopes to make a similar analysis of remains said to be those of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
The identification was made with a small amount of badly degraded genetic material recovered from the bones, said Alec Jeffreys.
''We were absolutely astonished that we could even do this'' because the long burial would be expected to destroy genetic material, said Jeffreys, a genetics professor at the University of Leicester in England.
He and scientists at the university and the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England, describe the analysis in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.
Other labs also have been identifying remains by analyzing genetic material from bone, said Henry Lee, director of the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory in Meriden. Lee said his lab performed one such identification on bones buried for 60 years.
The study Jeffreys reported confirmed a provisional identification, which had been made by facial reconstruction and dental records, of a 15-year-old girl who was murdered in 1981. Researchers extracted a tiny bit of DNA from a piece of leg bone.
DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, is made up of long sequences of chemicals, like beads on a string. Researchers looked at six locations within the DNA for a sequence in which the substance cytosine was followed by another called adenine. They noted the number of times this two-step sequence was repeated at each location.
They compared that with DNA of the mother and father of the girl identified in the tentative identification. The comparison showed it was ''a lot better than 99.9 percent certain'' that the bones came from the girl, Jeffreys said.
The evidence was used in a trial last February, he said.
Jeffreys said his laboratory also has analyzed DNA taken from bones identified as Mengele's, which were exhumed from a Brazilian cemetery. An international team of forensic experts concluded in 1985 that the remains were Mengele's, but a recently revealed Israeli police report questioned that conclusion.
The German government asked Jeffreys to use DNA analysis. But Jeffreys said this week that he needed blood samples from Mengele's son, and to a lesser extent the son's mother, for comparison. Both live in Germany, but the son was apparently refusing to give a sample, Jeffreys said. He said he did not know if the mother refused, too.
''So now we're stuck and we cannot carry out the final stage of this analysis,'' he said.
He said he understood that German authorities have not given up on trying to get blood samples.