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USF Forensic Anthropologists to Launch Cold Case Exhibit Following Extensive Excavation Project in Philadelphia

Forensic anthropologists from USF lead a major exhumation project in Philadelphia to help solve a string of cold case homicides.

The Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology & Applied Science (IFAAS) at the University of South Florida is leading the effort to solve a string of cold case homicides in Philadelphia.

IFAAS executive director and USF associate professor of anthropology, Erin Kimmerle, PhD, and a team of forensic anthropologists and investigators are in the process of exhuming the bodies of seven unidentified homicide victims discovered in a potter’s field where hundreds are believed to remain buried. It’s part of a $385,000 grant awarded by the National Institute of Justice in 2016.

They’re using drones and GIS (geographic information systems) to locate the unidentified bodies in collaboration with the USF Libraries Digital Heritage and Humanities Collections. Once exhumed, Kimmerle and several USF graduate students will use forensic methods such as skeletal analysis, facial reconstruction, chemical isotope testing of the bones, hair and teeth and DNA testing.

One of the cases will be featured in the upcoming IFAAS exhibit Art of Forensics. The victim is believed to be an African-American girl between four and six-years-old whose skeletal remains were discovered in a wooded area in Philadelphia in 1984.

“Like this child, many victims come from marginalized groups,” Kimmerle said. “This effort is her best chance to be identified. Our goals are to raise awareness about the significant cold case problem in this county and bring as many cases up to current standards as we can.”

Erin Kimmerle, PhD, associate professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, assists investigators in Philadelphia in exhuming the unidentified bodies of homicide victims.

Twenty unidentified victims from across the country will be part of the Art of Forensics exhibit, which includes clay busts and drawings, artifacts and information about the crime scene. The exhibit is aimed at connecting the deceased with relatives and to attract potential witnesses.

This is the third Art of Forensics event in Tampa, in which has helped solve several cold cases. However, it’s the first to be part of an extensive exhibit with the theme of “violence against women.” Art of Forensics runs from Oct. 26-Nov. 25 at the Tampa Bay History Center.

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