State forensic scientists work to solve unidentified persons cases

There are over 300 unsolved unidentified cases in New Jersey, cases where the identity of the victim is unknown to law enforcement officers.

The New Jersey State Police forensic scientists work to solve unidentified persons cases in the state.

The New Jersey State Police forensic scientists work to solve unidentified persons cases in the state. (4/7/16)

HAMILTON - There are over 300 unsolved unidentified cases in New Jersey, cases where the identity of the victim is unknown to law enforcement officers.

Most of those cases are sent to the New Jersey State Police Office of Forensic Sciences so that forensic experts can attempt to put the pieces of the case together. Donna Fontana has been the forensic anthropologist for New Jersey State Police for over 30 years.  It is her job to examine and analyze human skeletal remains and find evidence that leads to an identity.

“What we need to do is make a scientific identification,” Fontana says.  “There are four types: fingerprints, dental X-rays, body X-rays and DNA."

On March 22, two motorists found a human skull in a wooded area in Brick. Fontana and her team will try to solve the mystery of who it belongs to.

For similar cases, the laboratory is able to create models of what they believe the face of the person looked like before they died. Fontana says that this is often a last resort.

"We have a clean dry skull and then I sculpt the face directly on that skull of the individual,” she says.

Often time wigs and fashion accessories are added to make the reconstructed head more recognizable. The finished project is often shared with the public on social media and national missing and unidentified persons websites.

A database of unidentified victims can be found at the National Unidentified Persons System website.

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