LSU FACES Lab building database of missing persons, unidentified remains

October 26, 2004

Almost four years ago, a group of teens in Covington, La., were walking along a canal in a wooded area when they noticed a smell and caught a glimpse of something in the water nearby. The "something" was a badly decomposed human body ensnared in the brush.

Law enforcement had difficulty nailing down an identity, but a break came when investigators found a missing person's report filed by a family in a nearby parish. The LSU Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services Laboratory, better known as the FACES Lab, was called upon to build a facial reconstruction. In addition, DNA was taken from family members of the missing individual to compare to a sample extracted from the body. A match was made and the body was identified.

This case marked the first success of a major new system being created by the FACES Lab. Funded in part by a grant of more than $11,000 from the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, the lab is working on the Louisiana Identification Analysis Project, an effort to compile a comprehensive database of Louisiana's missing and unidentified persons.

Using an existing software package, the lab's staff and its director, Mary Manhein, are working to compile information on unidentified bodies and missing persons reports from state law enforcement agencies into one comprehensive, searchable database. The goal of the project is to offer a system for comparing data on unidentified remains - DNA information, dental structure and so forth - to the data available on individuals who have been reported missing.

The comprehensive database will be housed at the FACES Lab, which is working with the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab and the North Louisiana Criminalistics Laboratory on the project. The database is currently under construction and the FACES Lab personnel will be contacting law-enforcement agencies around the state to collect information on missing and unidentified persons, so that they can update the data in-house.

"The Louisiana Identification Data Analysis Project is a unique database," said Manhein. "It will become a model that we use and share with other agencies outside of Louisiana in the resolution of unidentified and missing persons cases. As a central location, we will retrieve and store crucial information on hundreds of missing and unidentified persons on a local, regional and state level."

Included in the database will be information on some 75 sets of remains that have been collected and analyzed exhaustively by the FACES LAB, but never identified. Many of these individuals have unique characteristics - tattoos, healed fractures, dental restorations - that could corroborate or negate their potential identity when compared with information about missing people.

At least initially, public and law enforcement entities that wish to utilize the database will be required to contact the FACES Lab.
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For more information on the Louisiana Identification Data Analysis Project or the FACES Lab, contact Beth Bassett at 225-578-4761 or hbassett@lsu.edu.

Louisiana State University

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