LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Dr. Emily Craig has more than 40 people in her care and she has no idea who any of them are.
But she’s determined to find out.
The people—in the form of unidentified remains—were found around Kentucky going back as far as 1973.
Craig, Kentucky’s state forensic anthropologist, is using new technology to extract DNA samples and has ordered new facial reconstructions on all the remains in hopes of identifying them.
“We’re doing as many cold cases as possible,” Craig said, who has new facial reconstructions done on eight of the remains and DNA samples from about half of them.
The information is being fed into the FBI’s national DNA database for missing persons at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, she said. That database, part of the President’s DNA Initiative, is aimed at eventually linking all missing persons databases in all 50 states to make it easier to identify remains when they are found.
There are about 5,000 unidentified missing persons reported at any time in the United States, said George Adams, program manager for missing persons at the Texas center.
The center prioritizes its cases, first handling active investigations into missing children, then older cases involving missing children, then investigations involving missing adults, Adams said.
The lab currently has DNA samples from about 400 cases, including about two dozen from Kentucky, Adams said. Finding DNA matches is key to solving the mystery surrounding what happened to the person, he said.
“The longer remains stay unidentified, the longer it is before police agencies can start their investigation.”
Adams, a former Fort Worth, Texas, police officer, said the longer it takes to get investigations started, the tougher they are to solve because bodies and evidence deteriorate, memories fade and witnesses get harder to find.
Craig’s work proved to be the key to solving a 12-year-old Kentucky case of unidentified remains known as “Madison Man.”
The case was one of Craig’s first efforts at updating facial reconstructions and DNA samples. Once the reconstruction of “Madison Man” was done, Craig had it posted online.
Family members saw it and eventually provided DNA samples that matched samples taken from the remains. Thus, Craig was able to identify Douglas Martin Prouty, 36, of Madison, Wis., who was found by hikers on Thanksgiving Day 1993 near Berea College.
Tanya Dolske, founder of Wisconsin Advocates for Families of Missing People, said Prouty could have been identified shortly after he was reported missing if adults took a higher priority with law enforcement. Investigators should have pushed harder to have a new facial reconstruction done of Prouty and had his DNA put into the national database sooner, Dolske said.
“It’s the perfect example of what can happen if things are not done,” Dolske said.
Kentucky State Police Lt. Mark Merriman, who began reinvestigating the “Madison Man” case three years ago, said everything that could have been done using older technology had been done when he took over the case. A second facial reconstruction was done because newer techniques were available and it was worth taking a chance, Merriman said.
“We thought the case was solvable,” he said.