Category: Research

Chemical Analysis of Processed Human Hair Extensions for Use in Forensic Casework

With the increasing use of hair extensions, it is possible that a hair sample discovered at a crime scene may be a processed human hair extension and have no physical or genetic connection to the individual wearing the hair extensions. This can be misleading in an investigation and result in a misuse of time and resources. Being able to identify a hair as a processed human hair extension may be valuable in determining its evidentiary value.  This research utilized ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy, gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to determine whether a chemical difference was present between natural human head hair and processed human hair extensions.  Three different hair extension brands and five different natural human hair samples were used in this research. Multiple organic solid liquid extractions were completed using methanol, hexane, 1-octanol, Colorist SecretsTM Hair Color Remover, and chloroform-d.  Results indicated there is a chemical difference between processed human hair extensions and natural human head hair as observed in spectra on the UV-Vis, GC/MS, and NMR.  Peaks were present in the processed human hair extensions that were not present in the control natural human head hair samples.  This research is significant because it allows for the chemical identification of processed human hair extensions which may help in determining if the hair has probative value in a forensic case.

Courtney Cnossen


Fingerprints and Ancestry: Is it all in the Details?

Research assessed if ancestry can be determined based on fingerprint characteristics. Ancestral backgrounds analyzed included individuals of European, African, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American descent. The results of this study provided important insights into the frequencies and likelihood of certain fingerprint patterns and minutia coming from specific ancestral groups. Important findings included:

  • Sex is not a significant predictor of pattern type whereas ancestry is a significant predictor of pattern type.
  • Minutiae types cannot predict sex, but are be useful in predicting some ancestries,
  • The Native American ancestral group had the highest pattern frequency of whorls at 47.5%.
  • The African descent group had statistically more bifurcations than all other population groups in the study.
  • The frequency of arch patterns for European descendants was double the frequency for arch patterns within African descendants.

While this is a novel concept in forensic science, it could be an investigative aid used to include and exclude potential suspects based on ancestry or as corroborative evidence in a case aiding law enforcement in combatting and identifying criminal offenders. The results of this study, however, can only be used as a forensic tool for potentially limiting suspects and would not be admissible in court or stand alone as evidence as this could set dangerous precedents such as profiling behaviors within law enforcement.

Jessica Ford


Driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) cases represent the largest portion of cases handled in most forensic toxicology laboratories.  Blood is a commonly used specimen and is often analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC/MS).  A common extraction for this method requires two milliliters of blood.  Currently, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) Laboratory operates LC-based extractions which require 250 to 500 microliters of sample to complete, but these are limited to specific drug classes.  A general drug screen for forty drugs has been developed and validated using 250 microliters of blood.  An additional validation has been completed which required 100 microliters of sample to confirm the presence of thirty-nine drugs.

Danielle Ross-Carr -2017


The widespread conversion of drunk drivers to drugged drivers means that forensic laboratories have had to drastically increase the scope of their DUI/DUID testing. This increased scope has caused an expansion of the types of laboratory instrumentation used. In an attempt to identify the instrument best suited for DUI/DUID casework, an in-depth analysis was performed that evaluated presently-applied techniques as well as emerging techniques.

Kara Sitton – 2020


Use of Forensic Corpora in Validation of Data Carving on Solid-State Drives

The need for greater focus on the validation and verification of tools has become more evident in recent years. The research in this area has been minimal. Continued research regarding the validation of digital forensics tools is necessary to help meet demands from both the law enforcement and scientific communities and to bring digital forensics in line with other forensic disciplines (as cited in Guo, et al., 2009). One of the most effective ways to perform validation and verification of digital forensics tools is to enlist the use of standardized data sets, also known as forensic corpora. This study focused on the use of forensic corpora to validate the file carving function of a common digital forensics tool, Access Data’s Forensic Tool Kit (FTK). The study centers specifically on FTK’s ability to recover data on solid-state drives (SSDs). The goal of this study was to both evaluate the use of forensic corpora in the validation and verification of digital forensic tools, as well as a serve as a validation study of FTK’s carving function on solid-state drives.

Kristina Hegstrom – 2016

Computer Crimes Case Simulation and Design Model

The overall purpose of this graduate project is to provide digital forensics instructors at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) with a manually generated computer crimes case simulation that offers students a replicated real-world experience of what it is like being a practicing digital forensic examiner. This simulation offers digital forensic students an opportunity to apply their forensic knowledge and skills in a realistic environment. Secondarily, this project sought to develop a rudimentary computer crimes simulation design model. The case simulation provides scenario/simulation-based learning to future digital forensic students at UCO. The computer crimes simulation design model presents general steps and considerations that should be taken when generating similar digital forensic simulations. The generated simulation portrays typical “kitty” exploitation and illicit drug activities and consists of two computer crimes case scenarios, two sets of investigative notes, two search warrant affidavits, eight crime scene processing forms, a solution report with associated PowerPoint presentation for the instructors, the digital evidence, a bootable clone of the evidence, and a disk image of the evidence.

Maritza S. Jeremias – 2018

The Utilization of Forensic Corpora in Validation of Data Carving on SATA Drives

The field of digital forensics has become more prevalent in the court of law due to the increase of availability of technology. With digital evidence coming up in court consistently, digital forensics and its tools are coming under scrutiny and being held against disciplines that are more standardized. Wildson and Slay went so far as to call digital forensics the “neglected family member of the forensic sciences” when discussing the lack of standards in the discipline (Wildson & Slay, 2005, p. 2). In order to begin addressing this issue, we must start looking at the source – the tools. Validation and Verification of tools is vital to maintaining the integrity of the evidence received by them. Utilizing standardized data sets, or forensic corpora, as a part of validation and verification techniques has shown to be effective. This study will replicate Hegstrom (2016). This study will focus on validating the file carving function of Access Data’s Forensic Tool Kit (FTK) using forensic corpora on SATA drives instead of the Solid-State Drives (SSDs) that Hegstrom used. The goal of the study is to assess the use of forensic corpora in the validation and verification of one of the most commonly used digital tools.

Caitlin G. Willimon – 2019

Disease Surveillance and Projected Expansion in Climatic Suitability for Trypanosoma cruzi, the Etiological Agent of Chagas Disease, in Oklahoma

The vector-borne hemoflagellate parasite Trypanosoma cruzi infects seven million people globally and causes chronic cardiomyopathy and gastrointestinal diseases. Historically, T. cruzi was endemic to Central and South America, but is now found throughout the southern United States and across 43 countries globally. There are three reports of T. cruzi in wild raccoons and dogs in Oklahoma, but its endemicity in the state is poorly studied. We suspect Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) contribute to the endemicity of T. cruzi in Oklahoma by their annual migration from Central America to North American maternity roosts. During the summer of 2017, we sampled 361 Mexican free-tailed bats at three maternity roosts in Oklahoma for T. cruzi. We collected wing tissues and extracted DNA, amplified target T. cruzi DNA by PCR using the primers TCZ1/TCZ2, and observed amplification by gel electrophoresis. We detected T. cruzi DNA in one juvenile Mexican free-tailed bat resulting in a prevalence of 0.27% in the 361 sampled bats. The positive sample was sequenced at Eton Biosciences, confirmed as T. cruzi, and uploaded to GenBank (MG869732). This finding is the first reported detection of a wild bat naturally infected with T. cruzi in Oklahoma, suggests Mexican free-tailed bats can contribute to T. cruzi endemicity via migration between endemic foci, and provides insight on the endemicity of T. cruzi in underrepresented endemic areas. To better understand the potential impact of global climate change on the future epidemiology of T. cruzi in Oklahoma, we used the program MaxEnt to develop an ecological niche model for T. cruzi and five widespread Triatoma vectors based on 19 bioclimatic variables and 546 published localities within the United States. We modeled regions of current potential T. cruzi and Triatoma distribution, and regions projected to have suitable climatic conditions under a Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP 8.5) scenario by 2070. Regions with potential suitable climatic conditions for T. cruzi, T. indictiva, T. lecticularia, T. protracta, and T. sanguisuga are predicted to increase within the United States and Oklahoma by 2070. Regions with potential suitable climatic conditions for T. gerstaeckeri are predicted to increase within the United States but not in Oklahoma by 2070. Our findings agree with previous literature and confirm that climate change will influence the expansion of T. cruzi and important Triatoma vectors in Oklahoma and the United States.

Matthew D. Nichols – 2018

Comparative Subtidal and Supratidal Taphonomic Changes in the Elemental Components of Marine Vertebrate Bones using Energy Dispersive X-Ray Spectroscopy and Principle Component Analysis: Ecological and Forensic Applications

Individuals and agencies of multiple disciplines have evolved interests which result in the studies and research of marine mammals as well as other protected marine dwellers such as sea turtles. Aside from wildlife conservation, a logarithmic increase in interest to these protected animals have been the side effect of trade for profit to fund activities targeted at human populations as acts of terror. Wildlife trade and trafficking have aided terrorist groups in the funding of ammunition and weapons of mass destruction. This study focuses on observations made by analysts while examining remains of protected animals that may be involved in trade or trafficking on the black market. Recent observations have found that marine organisms like the sea turtle and porpoise display signs of advanced taphonomy and even premature fossilization following decomposition. In this study, skeletal remains from submerged marine vertebrates including a porpoise, seal, sea turtle, and a cow control were sampled in order to determine a plausible explanation for these observations. The specimens were necropsied prior to submersion, and the bones of each vertebrate were segregated with  respect to species. Periodic samplings took place throughout the course of this study. Using the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), the bone specimens were examined for topographic changes and analyzed for elemental composition. Among the different elemental aspects of bone composition, a list of elements was compiled and monitored for change throughout the course of this study.

Caitlyn B McElreath – 2018

Bloodstain Pattern Analysis with an Emphasis on Infrared Photography to Visualize Impact and Satellite Spatter on Denim

Correctly classifying bloodstain patterns is a crucial element of providing conclusions in
the field of Bloodstain Pattern Analysis, because the type of bloodstain pattern speaks to how the
bloodstains were created. Very few studies have compared impact spatter specifically to satellite
spatter. The research needs outlined by SWGSTAIN include a better understanding of
discriminating between bloodstain patterns containing small stains (present in both impact and
satellite spatter), how blood interacts with different types of fabric, and developing new methods
of visualizing and enhancing bloodstains (2011). Further, the Organization of Scientific Area
Committee (OSAC) on BPA, which absorbed SWGSTAIN, outlines needs to reduce the
subjectivity in BPA classification and understanding the interaction between blood and fabrics
(OSAC, 2019). The only study to the author’s knowledge that specifically compares satellite
spatter to impact spatter is Short’s 2016 study, which compared the two patterns on several
different fabrics. However, Short was not able to visualize spatter on denim, due to dark color of
the denim and lack of contrast between the blood and denim surface. The current study used infrared photography to view simulated satellite spatter and
impact spatter on 100% cotton denim and poster board. Both quantitative and qualitative data
were collected. Two-way ANOVA, Cochran-Mantel-Haensel, and chi-square tests were
performed on the data. Several comparisons found either a significant interaction, difference, or
association between independent and dependent variables, depending on the test performed and
the type of data analyzed. Overall, by utilizing the methods in this study, it is possible to
differentiate between simulated impact and satellite spatter on denim fabric.

Christina Traverso – 2019

Cold Case Investigations: A University Initiative

Despite technological advancements and improved methodologies in

forensic science and investigative practices, cold cases are a growing problem in the

United States. Although there has been a surge in interest in solving cold cases due to

advancements in technology, there has been very little research conducted on cold case

investigation methodology. Many agencies lack the personnel and resources to devote

adequate attention to cold cases. Federal dollars spent on cold case resolution in recent

years focused only on those cases that could benefit due to improvements in DNA

analysis techniques. The literature demonstrates that advances in other forensic

disciplines can provide answers in unsolved crimes. Additionally, it has been shown that

investigations often benefit simply from a case file review by a fresh set of eyes. This

research was conducted to develop best practices guidelines for a cold case program in a

collegiate setting in partnership with a law enforcement agency. Information from a

variety of sources was reviewed to develop guidelines that would address the needs of all

parties to such a collaboration. A manual entitled “Best Practices & Guidelines for the

Implementation and Management of a Cold Case Program in a Collegiate Setting” was

produced as a result of this research. This manual is intended for use by institutions of

higher learning with a focus on educating students for careers in the field of forensic

science and will assist instructors in implementing an upper level course for students to

engage in the review and analysis of case files pertaining to unsolved crimes designated

as cold cases by the collaborating law enforcement agency. Such a course is ideally

suited to graduate students and as an in-house practicum for seniors.

Amber L. Fortney – 2019

Necrophagy in Honey bees (Apis mellifera); A Forensic Application of Scent Foraging Behavior for the Protection and Conservation of Endangered Species

Scent training and field detection trials were conducted to determine if honey bee (Apis mellifera) foraging behavior could be employed as a practical application in the location of vertebrate carrion for use in interdiction and recovery efforts of illegally trafficked wildlife. Resource recognition and querying trials consisted of two components. Honey bees were trained to associate chemical compounds found in decaying tissues with a high-quality food source via introduction of the compounds into a sugar solution. Randomized scented and non-scented sugar solution choices were subsequently provided to hived bees at varying distances within a rural outdoor study area. Following initial forager recruitment by scouts, twice the number of bees were observed feeding at carrion-scented stations.

Additional field trials performed using wildlife carrion reinforced experimental results. Scent trained scout bees showed a marked interest in decomposing wildlife remains by aerially investigating and landing on the carrion. These findings demonstrate honey bee retention of carrion sensory recognition capabilities and support the cabronid wasp theory of honey bee evolutionary origins. Applications for forensic remains detection, wildlife trafficking interdiction, and endangered species conservation are indicated.

Brian D. Morice – 2019

Chemical Analysis of Processed Human Hair Extensions for Use in Forensic Casework

This study proved that there is a chemical difference between processed human hair extensions and natural human head hair. This was indicated by differences observed in UV-Vis, GC/MS, and NMR spectra between natural human head hair and processed human hair extensions. There were peaks present in the spectra of the processed human hair extensions that were not present in the spectra of the control natural human head hair samples. These peaks showed a chemical difference between the samples. This chemical difference can be used to differentiate samples in a forensic laboratory, which could change how hair is analyzed for casework. Being able to chemically identify a human hair as an extension is invaluable during an investigation and might exclude the hair as probative evidence.

Cortney Schartz – 2019