Expert volunteers at NC State working to identify 120 sets of human remains

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – When human remains are found, investigators learn more about the victim — how they died and if a crime was committed. But what about the 120 sets of human remains in North Carolina that have been found but haven’t been identified?

That’s where a pair of volunteers come in.

North Carolina State University professor and forensic anthropologist Ann Ross teamed up with forensic genealogist Leslie Kaufman to take another look at these cold cases.

“Your whole life history is written literally in your bones,” Ross said.

She uses skeletal remains to help identify who died and how.

“Your teeth will tell you where you grew up when you were a child,” Ross said. “A rib will tell you where you have been for the last number of years.”

She works with medical examiners, law enforcement, and the state. There are some cases she hasn’t been able to crack. They’ve stayed with her.

“We are dealing with the marginalized in life and the marginalized in death,” Ross said.

A few years back, she partnered with Leslie Kaufman.

“I actually retired so I could do this work. It needs to be done. It needs to be done,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman said they’ll send pieces of the remains to a specialized lab. They’ll get a DNA profile kit, which is then put into the database, GEDmatch. She uses the information provided by Ross and GEDmatch to begin building a family tree.

“I’m working with unknowns and unknowns, so when I look at the relatives, basically all I’m getting is an email address, possibly a name or a nickname,” she said.

Kaufman said they’ve been able to identify four sets of human remains. It included that of Michael Baker, who was found in a Harnett County home back in 2015. His family had waited 16 years for answers.

They’re now working with a lab that uses crowdsource funding to pay for the testing. It’s not cheap.

Ross and Kaufman said grant money is hard to come by. They started a GoFundMe to help pay for their work.

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