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Arizona State University professor works to identify victim in 30-year-old murder

PHOENIX — Authorities in Vernon County, Wisconsin, enlisted the help of an Arizona State University professor and his wife to help identify a woman in a cold case murder from more than 30 years ago.

(Courtesy photo/ASU)

(Courtesy photo/ASU)

Police found the body of the unidentified woman in 1984, after three young children encountered it on the side of a dirt road. Authorities were unable to identify her through fingerprints because her hands had been severed at the wrists, but were able to partially recover her skull.

With the advancements in technology over the past 30 years, Vernon County officials decided to attempt to identify the woman in a unique way: 3D facial technology. They enlisted the help of Dr. Anthony Falsetti, a math and natural sciences professor at Arizona State University’s West Campus.

Upon receiving the woman’s skull, Falsetti and a student of his removed the soft tissue from it and then reconstructed the skull at their lab. From there, Falsetti’s wife Catyana, who works at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, used 3D technology to reconstruct the woman’s face and place it into an updated digital image.

Jane Doe digital reconstruction image. (Photo: Maricopa County Attorney's Office)

Jane Doe digital reconstruction image. (Photo: Maricopa County Attorney’s Office)

Through their findings, Falsetti and his wife were able to confirm the woman was white and in her 50’s at the time of her death. Falsetti was also able to determine her hair color and found the woman suffered blunt force trauma.

The image will also be part of the woman’s case file in the National Database for Missing and Unidentified Persons.

While authorities have yet to identify this woman, Dr. Falsetti said having these digital images is crucial for authorities.

“The solve rate, if you will, for cases with images versus those without is much greater,” Falsetti said.

Falsetti said the technology for this process — which took four weeks — has come a long way in the past 10 years. Falsetti said it would have taken months a decade ago.

“We would have been able to do it but not digitally,” Falsetti said. “We would have done it in essence by hand with a 3D clay model.”

Falsetti said having an image to focus on can really enhance a case file and help lead to a positive identification.

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