In recent weeks, Nebraska forensic investigators have been put to the test. They were able to identify the remains of Rodrigo Delarosa. But now the history behind more bones in Lincoln is waiting to be uncovered. Forensic science professors at Nebraska Wesleyan explain solving these mysteries isn't like the hour-long dramas on TV. They take a lot longer to solve.
The first thing investigators do is rope off the area and start collecting as many bones and fragments they can find. They cover a large area in case animals moved some of the bones. Then they create an inventory of what they have. Next, they begin studying the bones and making measurements. Those measurements help them determine the sex of the person and other details about how they looked. Anthropologist Jeri Myers says the most important pieces to find are the cranium and pelvis. They are the most useful is determining the sex and identity.
If the jaw or several teeth are found, dental records can be use to identify the body. But there is no large dental record database they can just compare the collected teeth too. They have to compare the findings to X-rays of people they think might be the bones. This usually means comparing the findings to people on missing person's lists.
Even without dental records, investigators can still figure out who a person was in some cases. Myers says she remembers a case where forensic anthropologists were able to identify from unusual characteristics a person had based on the bones. They released the information to the media, and a family recognized the description.
The length of time it takes to identify a body depends on how many bones they find and which ones they are. Not all remains are identifiable.