TBI DNA testing effort leads to identifications in decades-long cold cases

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Over the last few months, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has had success in identifying human remains from cold cases across the state. But there are still cases the agency would like to close and remains to identify, and they’re working with private sources to get closer to doing so.

From June to September, the TBI announced the identifications of deceased individuals from Claiborne, Cheatham, Cumberland and Loudon counties, some stemming from decades-old murder cases that the agency is now investigating.

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According to the TBI, the funding for the testing was made available through the Tennessee General Assembly in 2022. At that time, the legislature approved a one-time expenditure of $100,000 for the TBI to use with its DNA cold case initiative. That funding is what is being used for the forensic genetic genealogical testing on skeletal remains not yet identified.

Since the funding was approved, the TBI identified 14 potential cases involving unidentified human remains that initially met the criteria for the initiative. In December 2022 the agency submitted 10 of those 14 to a private laboratory in Texas, Othram, Inc., which has conducted the DNA extraction and sequencing process. Othram was offered the contract after the public bid process was completed, according to the TBI.

Cold case victim identified after 38 years through TBI genealogical DNA testing initiative

“Our mission with this initiative is simple,” the TBI says of the forensic genetic genealogical testing. “We want to determine the identities of the victims so that we can develop information and potential leads about the circumstances leading to each person’s disappearance and death.”

There are currently five cases with unidentified human remains that the TBI has submitted for testing: four male remains and one female. The oldest case involves a 51- to 60-year-old white male found Dec. 12, 1977, in Johnson County. The most recent is a white male found May 18, 2018, in Dickson County, estimated to be between 47 and 67 years old.

The others are:

  • White female, found Aug. 5, 1983, in McMinn County, estimated age 20-30

  • White male, found April 7, 1988, in Hickman County, estimated age 22-35

  • Hispanic male found Aug. 9, 1999, in Cocke County, estimated age 25-29

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The remaining four cases that met the qualifications have also been submitted to Othram, Inc. for further testing, according to a spokesperson with the TBI.

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