In the summer of 2020, a utility maintenance worker discovered the skeletal remains of a fully dressed man in a wooded area behind Holmes Avenue.
Investigators tried conventional approaches to determine the identity of the skeletal remains, including using a common type of DNA test called Short Tandem Repeat, but were unsuccessful. With exhausted tracks, some of the bones were shared with Othram, a private forensic lab in Texas that offered to help the Mississippi Forensic Lab resolve cases involving unidentified people.
Othram used the recovered bones to create a DNA profile to identify remains and potential family members. During the research, a member of Anderson Bolls provided DNA for the lab to test. In September, the state’s criminal lab confirmed the remains to be Bolls.
“It has been very exciting to generate even the smallest lead to point investigators in the right direction towards handling a case,” said David Mittelman, CEO of Othram.
Jackson Police shared information about Bolls last summer when he went missing from 325 Derrick St. He was last seen on April 1, 2020 and was 55 at the time of his disappearance, according to his profile on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Now that he has been identified, Bolls’ family members are holding a funeral at Willis and Sons Funeral Home.
Othram works with law enforcement agencies in several states, including Mississippi. As of 2019, the lab has identified four people among the remains shared by the Mississippi Criminal Lab.
Each case costs around $ 5,000 and covers DNA analysis, supplies and research tools. Mittelman said members of the public can donate to fund individual cases.
The state medical examiner’s office has more than 50 unidentified cases, some dating back decades. Davis said attempts have been made to identify people in the cases, but traditional methods of identification have failed.
In 2019, the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory sent several cases to Othram after the company reached out to say it could help identify the remains.
“We have other cases being analyzed with Othram, and we hope to identify these remains to provide a solution for the families of these individuals,” Davis said in a statement.
In addition to Bolls, Othram helped identify the skeletal remains of an infant, Alisha Ann Heinrich, which was discovered in the Escatawpa River near Moss Point in 1982. The company also helped identify the remains of Kimberly Ann Funk found, near Ward Bayou in Vancleave. in 1991, and Clara Birdlong found near the Escatawpa River near Moss Point in 1977.
Investigators believe Birdlong was likely a victim of deceased serial killer Samuel Little, who confessed to murders in the Southeast.
EscatawpaJane Doe identified:Mississippi Sheriff’s Identity Woman Found in 1977 as Serial Killer Samuel Little Victim
How does Othram do it?
To make identifications, Othram uses forensic methods and technology that previously seemed like science fiction, Mittelman said.
The lab uses DNA sequencing with hundreds of thousands of markers. As a result, the laboratory is able to recover and analyze DNA in small quantities, and from contaminated or degraded samples.
Typically, cases have not been resolved due to limited technology, DNA testing and databases of genetic material, Mittelman said.
Othram’s lab also helps investigators digitize their evidence, which he compared to working with old records or cassettes to recover an MP3 file.
“Othram is like the producer of forensic MP3s,” he said.
Involve the public
Othram gives people the ability to help solve cases through DNASolves, a DNA database used by his lab and a website to share information about the cases he’s working on.
The goal of sharing case information is to provide advice and new leads to investigators, Mittelman said.
“These cases are older. You are spreading the word and someone knows something,” he said. “We see DNA Solves as a megaphone to keep these stories alive.”
Thanks to DNASolves, people can contribute their own genetic material through services like AncestryDNA or 23andMe. Mittelman said the more information Othram has, the more ability the lab has to positively identify the remains and determine who they are related to.
DNASolves is asking for donations from the public to support the cases Othram is working on. Each case costs around $ 5,000, he said.
“This is a wonderful example of a combination of hard-working investigators,” he said. “You sprinkle in technology, and you have goodwill and philanthropic support. When you mix it all up, you have cases being resolved.”
Journalist Mina Corpuz can be contacted by email at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter @mlcorpuz.