Colleen M. Fitzpatrick

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Colleen M. Fitzpatrick (born April 25, 1955) is an American scientist, entrepreneur and founder of the field of forensic genealogy. She is well-known for helping identify remains found in the crash site of Northwest Flight 4422 that crashed in Alaska in 1948. She co-founded the DNA Doe Project which identified previously unidentified bodies.


Fitzpatrick was born April 25, 1955[1] in New Orleans, Louisiana. She received her BA in physics (1976) from Rice University, and her MA (1983) and PhD in nuclear physics (1983) from Duke University.[2][3] She lectured at Sam Houston University for two years, before working on a laser radar system at Rockwell International and then high resolution optical measurement techniques at Spectron Development Laboratories.[4] She then founded in her garage in 1986,[2] Rice Systems, an optics company that did contract research and development.[5] Her company grew to employ seven scientists but closed in 2005 after NASA dropped the spaceship to Jupiter project on which the company had been working.[4]

She had started writing a book about forensic genealogy in 2002, and after no publishers would accept it, she self-published the book[5] in 2005.[6] She started selling her book at genealogy conferences.[5][7] She set up a corresponding website, and started writing columns on the topic for magazines and websites.[5] In 2006, Hebron Investments asked her to find a missing person because someone who wanted to buy land, but the title owner could not be found. This lead to her trying to locate owners in 75 cases (of which she found 73) in 30 countries. Her next venture, Identifinders International, used the techniques of forensic genealogy to find missing people.[7] She became famous in 2008 when she helped identify the remains found in the wreckage of Northwest Flight 4422 that crashed in Alaska in 1948.[5][7][8]

In 2014 Fitzpatrick helped police narrow down the list of suspects to a man with the surname Miller for the murder in Phoenix, Arizona of Angela Brosso, 22, in 1992 and the murder of Melanie Bernas, 17, in 1993 ("The Canal Killer").[9] DNA testing confirmed that Bryan Patrick Miller, a suspect at the time of the murders, but released for lack of evidence, matched DNA from the killer . In 2015 Miller was arrested and charged with the two murders.[4]

In 2016, she played a major role in establishing the true identity of Lori Erica Ruff, a woman who had assumed a false identity in 1988 and committed suicide in 2010, after which her husband's family discovered she had stolen the identity of a deceased child. Ruff turned out to be Kimberly McLean, who had severed all ties with her family and adopted a new identity simply to avoid being located by them.[10]

She is a Fellow of the Society of Photoinstrumentation Engineers (SPIE)[11] and an Associate Member of the American Academy of Forensic Science. She is widely credited as the founder of modern forensic genealogy.[12]

In 2017 she co-founded with Margaret Press the DNA Doe Project which had the aim of identifying dead adults for their families[13] (they avoided investigating dead children because the mothers of such children might be very young themselves and might be victims of incest or rape).[14] Their first success in 2018 was identifying the dead "Buckskin Girl" in Ohio as belonging to Marcia King from Arkansas.[15] They also identified the bodies of "Lyle Stevik",[16] "Joseph Newton Chandler III" (Robert Nichols),[17] "Alfred Jake Fuller",[18] "Anaheim Jane Doe" (Tracey Hobson)[19] and "Washoe County or Sheep Flats Jane Doe" in 2018[18]. In 2019 they identified the bodies of a young woman called "Lavender Doe" (Dana Dodd),[20][21] "Rock County John Doe,"[22] "Butler County Jane Doe" (Darlene Wilson Norcross)[23] and "Anne Doe" (Anne Marie Lehman).[24]



  • Forensic Genealogy, with Andrew Yeiser, Fountain Valley, CA: Rice Book Press, 2005. ISBN 0-9767160-0-3
  • DNA and Genealogy, with Andrew Yeiser, Fountain Valley, CA: Rice Book Press, 2005. ISBN 0-9767160-1-1
  • The Dead Horse Investigation: Forensic Photo Analysis for Everyone, Fountain Valley, CA: Rice Book Press, 2008. ISBN 0-9767160-5-4

Book chapters[edit]

  • "The Key is the Camera". The Desperate Genealogist's Idea Book: Creative Ways to Outsmart Your Elusive Ancestors. 2006. ISBN 1-4243-0209-9.


  1. ^ U.S. Public Records Index, Vol. 2. Provo, UT:, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Colleen Fitzpatrick in SPIE Professional April 2006. From the Garage Up
  3. ^ Elisabeth Lindsay for GenWeekly. November 16, 2006 Forensic Genealogy: Seeing With New Eyes For date, see index here
  4. ^ a b c Renner, James (2018-11-07). "The True Story of Two Women Using DNA to Solve America's Most Puzzling Cold Cases". Cleveland Scene. Retrieved 2019-01-03.
  5. ^ a b c d e Lynn Rosellini for More Magazine. June 2010. From Physicist to Forensic Genealogist Archived 2016-04-15 at the Wayback Machine (originally published in print as "The DNA Detective")
  6. ^ Forensic Genealogy, Fountain Valley, CA: Rice Book Press, 2005. ISBN 0-9767160-0-3
  7. ^ a b c Sean Flynn for Duke Magazine. May 15, 2013 Super Sleuth
  8. ^ Mary Pemberton for the Associated Press, published at August 18, 2008 Remains from 1948 plane crash identified
  9. ^ Cassidy, Megan (2016-11-30). "How forensic genealogy led to an arrest in the Phoenix 'Canal Killer' case". azcentral. Retrieved 2019-01-03.
  10. ^ "'My God, that's Kimberly!': Scientist solves perplexing mystery of identity thief Lori Ruff". The Seattle Times. 2016-09-21. Retrieved 2016-10-11.
  11. ^ SPIE. Complete List of SPIE Fellows
  12. ^ Blaine Bettinger for The Genetic Genealogist. September 3, 2008 Interview With Forensic Genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick, Ph.D.
  13. ^ Hayden, Erika Check (2019-01-18). "Genetics extends the long arm of the law". Knowable Magazine. doi:10.1146/knowable-011819-1.
  14. ^ Molteni, Megan (2019-03-14). "DNA Crime-Solving Is Still New, Yet It May Have Gone Too Far". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  15. ^ Augenstein, Seth (2018-04-16). "'Buck Skin Girl' Case Break Is Success of New DNA Doe Project". Forensic Magazine. Retrieved 2018-04-30.
  16. ^ "DNA Doe Project IDs 2001 Motel Suicide, Using Genealogy". Forensic Magazine. 2018-05-09. Retrieved 2018-06-22.
  17. ^ Caniglia, John (2018-06-21). "Authorities solve cold case of war hero who hid behind dead boy's identity". Retrieved 2018-06-22.
  18. ^ a b Augenstein, Seth (2019-01-10). "DNA Doe Project Names 3 More, Notes Case Patterns". Forensic Magazine. Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  19. ^ Shapiro, Emily (2019-01-17). "Murder victim identified 3 decades later thanks to forensic technology: Sheriff". ABC News. Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  20. ^ Staff (2019-02-11). "East Texas officials release identity of Lavender Doe". KLTV Texas. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  21. ^ Hallmark, Bob (2019-01-30). "DNA reveals identity of victim 'Lavender Doe'". KLTV. Retrieved 2019-02-02.
  22. ^ Austin, Montgomery (2019-02-28). "Body found in 1995 tentatively identified". Beloit Daily News, Michigan. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  23. ^ Hanford-Ostman, Emily (2019-03-07). "How West Chester 'Jane Doe' could help other missing persons". WCPO, Cincinnati. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  24. ^ Shapiro, Emily (2019-03-15). "Girl found dead in 1971 is finally identified through novel DNA technique". ABC News. Retrieved 2019-03-15.

External links[edit]