Cold Case Closed: HVAMC at SUNY New Paltz Utilizes 3D Scanning and 3D Printing to Replicate a Murder Victim’s Skull
3D printing can help with a lot of things these days: making medical models, finding the perfect gift, getting a head start on the race track, and even solving crimes. 3D scanning and 3D printing has helped with the skull reconstructions of homicide victims on several occasions, most recently in a cold case in Ohio, not too far from where I live. Not only can these reconstructions bring criminals to justice, but they can also give families closure for the death of a loved one. In 2013, the State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz opened the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center (HVAMC). Last year, it opened a SMART 3D Printing Lab, and recently announced its Build Business Platform to provide 3D printing services to the community. This month, the New York State Police needed the HVAMC’s 3D printing expertise for a different kind of problem: solving a decades-old cold case.
In 1970, a hunter found a woman’s body in the woods near Chester, New York. Investigators say she was found with her hands tied behind her back, and had been shot multiple times. “Jane Doe” fell backwards, which ended up being a good thing, as her fingers were somewhat protected from wildlife and weather. But her body was not discovered until months after she’d been shot, and the technology available at the time was not advanced enough to identify her. The medical examiner was able produce usable prints from her partially decayed fingers, but New York did not start operating a computerized fingerprint database until 1989.
Police ran the Chester Jane Doe’s fingerprints multiple times over the years, but didn’t get a break until 2015, after the system, now containing nearly 9 million fingerprint records, finally found a match. The prints matched a set from a 1969 arrest for Shirlene Dixon. An examiner verified the print match, and police were able to get Dixon’s arrest information. A booking photo for Dixon had been provided, but there wasn’t much information about her.
Senior Investigator for the NYSPD Yan Salomon said, “We started trying to find out who Shirlene Dixon was.”
In order to finally solve the cold case, and identify Jane Doe with more modern investigate tactics, the authorities exhumed the woman’s body in March 2016. Her fingerprints were cross-referenced against another, more advanced database, and a bone sample was sent to the University of North Texas for nuclear and mitochondrial DNA analysis in order to find a living relative. Investigators also decided to call on SUNY New Paltz, and the HVAMC, to make an exact 3D printed replica of the skull, so a forensic sketch artist could give Jane Doe a face. Her skull was taken to SUNY New Paltz this past summer.
HVAMC director and dean of the School of Science and Engineering Daniel Freedman said, “We spent the good part of a day scanning it.”
The staff and students at the HVAMC, with some help from the Anthropology department, worked hard on the project for over a week, taking advantage of the 3D design and fabrication center’s innovative technology, problem solving skills, and 3D scanners and 3D printers. In order for the 3D data to render properly, students Aaron Nelson and Kat Wilson worked to clean up the data for the printer program.
Freedman said, “I think we were able to get a pretty good match.”
However, police were able to identify the victim before the forensic sketch artist was able to look at the 3D printed skull model the HVAMC created. As it turns out, Shirlene Dixon had also been arrested under a few other names, including Acey Moore and Evelyn Moore. Investigators found a man who was arrested with her in 1969, who told them that Shirlene, who he knew as Acey, was in the heroin trade. He said that the last time he saw her, she was being accosted by two people in New York in 1970. The police are fairly certain that Evelyn Moore is Jane Doe’s real name, and tracked down a possible relative; his DNA will tell police if their assumption is correct. In the meantime, investigators are looking into possible suspects, like drug kingpin Nicky Barnes. Discuss in the Cold Case forum at 3DPB.com.[Sources: SUNY New Paltz, Times Herald-Record]
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