USF team works to identify unknown murder victims

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – They are the faces of crime victims. Some have been unidentified for years.

A team of University of South Florida forensic specialists, artists and scientists have now worked to give them identities and resolve unanswered questions about their deaths. USF anthropologist Erin Kimmerly led the team to work on 20 cold cases from Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

The team exhumed remains from nine graves and worked with local law enforcement agencies to access evidence and remains in each case. Forensic artists worked with replicas of the skulls of the victims to create lifelike sculptures to show what the victims would have looked like in life.

“I’m just hoping that I can do a really good job present a face that someone will recognize,” USF forensic artist Beth Buchholtz said.

Buchholtz worked on the case of a victim who was between the ages of 40 to 60. The team believes that victim was a homeless person.

“Even if he was homeless, a homeless person, he deserves his name, and his family deserves to know what happened to him,” Buchholtz said.

Kimmerly says her entire team is motivated to find answers for the relatives of those who can no longer tell their own stories. “They have a right to know what happened. They have a right to have those remains returned to them, and most of all they have a right to access the judicial system and make it work for them, even if it’s years later,” she said.

Their work uncovered surprising facts about some of the cold cases they were asked to look at. “We found that some of the ages and ancestry for some victims was wrong. Finding that a particular victim was 18 years old and not 40 can have a significant impact on the investigation,” Kimmerly said.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell hopes the work of the team will help her solve the case of an infant, whose remains were found in Gainesville in August of 2003.

“In our case of the baby Jane Doe, we’ve got some toys that were found near her body and so that might trigger a memory or may cause someone who has held back to now do the right thing and come forward,” Darnell said.

Go here for information on each of the 20 cases.

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