Colleen M. Fitzpatrick

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Colleen M. Fitzpatrick (born April 25, 1955) is an American scientist and entrepreneur. She helped identify remains found in the crash site of Northwest Flight 4422, that crashed in Alaska in 1948, and co-founded the DNA Doe Project which identifies previously unidentified bodies and runs IdentiFinders, which helps find suspects in old crimes.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Colleen Fitzpatrick was born April 25, 1955[2] 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.[3][4]


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.[5] She then founded, in her garage in 1986,[3] Rice Systems, an optics company that did contract research and development.[6] 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.[5]

Forensic genealogy[edit]

Fitzpatrick coined the term forensic genealogy.[7] She had started writing a book about forensic genealogy in 2002, and after no publishers would accept it, she self-published the book[6] in 2005.[8] She started selling her book at genealogy conferences.[6][9] She set up a corresponding website, and started writing columns on the topic for magazines and websites.[6] In 2006, Hebron Investments asked her to find a missing person because someone wanted to buy land, but the title owner could not be found. This led to her trying to locate owners of unclaimed property in 75 cases (of which she found 73) in 30 countries.

Her next venture, Identifinders International, founded with her late partner Andy Yeiser (an engineering and business management consultant),[10][11] uses the techniques of forensic genealogy to find missing people.[9] In 2007 she helped identify the body of a child about two years old that died in the 1912 Titanic disaster as Sidney Leslie Goodwin from England, aged 19 months, whose family had died the wreck and had relatives in New Zealand.[12] In 2008 she helped identify the remains found in the wreckage of Northwest Flight 4422 that crashed in Alaska in 1948.[6][9][13] That same year she helped expose Misha Defonseca's book "Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years" as a fraud.[14] Fitzpatrick and Sharon Sergeant also exposed as a fraud Herman Rosenblat's book Angel at the Fence (which claimed to be about Rosenblat's holocaust survival). She also helped In 2020 Identifinders International and The Porchlight Project helped Ohio police identify James Zastawnick as a suspect in the 1987 murder by strangulation of 17-year-old Barbara Blatnik.[15]

In 2014, Fitzpatrick helped police narrow down the list of suspects to five men 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").[16] Police found there was only one possibility and DNA testing confirmed that Bryan Patrick Miller matched DNA from the killer. In 2015 Miller was arrested and charged with the two murders. Miller had been a suspect at the time of the murders, but released for lack of evidence.[5] Miller was also later charged with the 2012 murder of 13-year-old Briana Naylor.[17] Fitzpatrick believes this was the first cold case solved by genetic genealogy.[10]

In 2015 Fitzpatrick, Cece Moore and a team of adoption researchers helped Benjaman Kyle, an amnesiac since 2004, find his identity (William Burgess Powell) and family members.[18]

In 2016, Fitzpatrick played a 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 to avoid being located by them.[19]

In 2018 and 2019, she helped Rapid City, South Dakota police with the case of the rape and murder by strangulation of 60-year-old Gwen Miller in 1968. Using Y-DNA, Fitzpatrick narrowed the possible suspects down to 6-7 men with the surname Field. Local police were then able to identify Eugene Field as the prime suspect. Field had already died in 2009 from cancer.[20][21]

In 2020 she helped Orange County, California police identify the body of a young woman who had been found in 1968 beaten, raped and her throat cut near Huntington Beach as 26-year-old Anita Louise Piteau.

DNA Doe Project[edit]

In 2017 she co-founded with Margaret Press the DNA Doe Project which has the aim of identifying dead adults for their families[22] (they avoid investigating dead children because the mothers of such children might be very young themselves and might be victims of incest or rape).[23] In June 2020 she resigned from the project.[24]

Their first success in 2018 was identifying the dead "Buckskin Girl" in Ohio as belonging to Marcia King from Arkansas.[25] They also identified the bodies of "Lyle Stevik",[26] "Joseph Newton Chandler III" (Robert Nichols),[27] "Alfred Jake Fuller",[28] "Anaheim Jane Doe" (Tracey Hobson)[29] and "Washoe County or Sheep Flats Jane Doe" in 2018 (Mary Silvani).[28][30]

In 2019, they identified the bodies of "Lavender Doe" (Dana Dodd),[31][32] "Rock County John Doe,"[33] "Butler County Jane Doe" (Darlene Wilson Norcross),[34] "Annie Doe" (Anne Marie Lehman),[35]Vicky Dana Jane Doe” (Dana Nicole Lowrey),[36] "Belle in the Well" (Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher),[37] "Orange Socks" (Debra Jackson),[38] "I-96 Jane Doe" (Marcia Kaylynn Bateman),[39] the "Mill Creek Shed Man" (Nathaniel Terrence Deggs),[40] "Phoenix Jane Doe" (Bertha Alicia Holguín Barroterán),[41] "Marion County Jane Doe" (Michelle E. Carnall-Burton),[42] "Barron County John Doe" (William “Billy” Arthur Fiegener)[43] and "Clark County John Doe", the remains of a headless man in an Idaho cave identified as a suspected murderer (Joseph Henry Loveless) who had died about 100 years before, probably in 1916.[44][45]

In 2020, her team identified the bodies of "Barron County John Doe" (Kraig Patrick King),[46] the "Corona Girl" (Sue Ann Huskey),[47] "Peoria County John Doe" (John H. Frisch, Jr.),[48] the "Lime Lady" (Tamara Lee Tigard).[49] and a Jane Doe in Phoenix, Arizona (Ginger Lynn Bibb).[50]

Professional associations[edit]

She is a Fellow of the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE)[51] and an Associate Member of the American Academy of Forensic Science.[52]

Selected works[edit]

  • 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
  • The DNA Detective,
Book chapters
  • "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. ^
  2. ^ U.S. Public Records Index, Vol. 2. Provo, UT:, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Colleen Fitzpatrick in SPIE Professional April 2006. From the Garage Up
  4. ^ Elisabeth Lindsay for GenWeekly. November 16, 2006 Forensic Genealogy: Seeing With New Eyes For date, see index here
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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")
  7. ^
  8. ^ Forensic Genealogy, Fountain Valley, CA: Rice Book Press, 2005. ISBN 0-9767160-0-3
  9. ^ a b c Sean Flynn for Duke Magazine. May 15, 2013 Super Sleuth
  10. ^ a b Feder, Toni (2020-04-09). "Q&A: Colleen Fitzpatrick, a physicist who cracks cold murder cases". Physics Today. 2020 (4): 0409a. doi:10.1063/PT.6.4.20200409a.
  11. ^ Anderson, Dick (2019-10-15). "The DNA Detective". Rice Magazine, Texas. Retrieved 2020-07-24.
  12. ^ Gibb, John (2014-06-13). "Dunedin cabbie linked with 'Titanic' victim". Otago Daily Times Online News. Retrieved 2019-07-27.
  13. ^ Mary Pemberton for the Associated Press, published at August 18, 2008 Remains from 1948 plane crash identified
  14. ^ Rosen, Judith (2009-01-12). "Does Publishing Need Genealogists?". Publishers Weekly. 256 (2).
  15. ^ Gearty, Robert (2020-05-08). "Cleveland man arrested in cold case murder of girl, 17, nearly 33 years ago". Fox News. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  16. ^ Cassidy, Megan (2016-11-30). "How forensic genealogy led to an arrest in the Phoenix 'Canal Killer' case". azcentral. Retrieved 2019-01-03.
  17. ^ "Case Number : CR2015102066". The Judicial Branch of Arizona in Maricopa County. 2019-07-07. Retrieved 2019-07-07.
  18. ^ Wolfe, Matt (2016-11-21). "The Last Unknown Man". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved 2020-06-22.
  19. ^ "'My God, that's Kimberly!': Scientist solves perplexing mystery of identity thief Lori Ruff". The Seattle Times. 2016-09-21. Retrieved 2016-10-11.
  20. ^ "Genetic genealogy leads to suspect in 1968 South Dakota murder of Gwen Miller". Reddit. June 2019. Retrieved 2019-07-24.
  21. ^ Mitchell, Trevor (2019-06-17). "Rapid City police solve 51-year-old cold case with help of genealogy". Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Retrieved 2019-07-24.
  22. ^ Hayden, Erika Check (2019-01-18). "Genetics extends the long arm of the law". Knowable Magazine. doi:10.1146/knowable-011819-1.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ "DNA Doe Project". Facebook. 2020-06-12. Retrieved 2020-06-22.
  25. ^ Augenstein, Seth (2018-04-16). "'Buck Skin Girl' Case Break Is Success of New DNA Doe Project". Forensic Magazine. Retrieved 2018-04-30.
  26. ^ "DNA Doe Project IDs 2001 Motel Suicide, Using Genealogy". Forensic Magazine. 2018-05-09. Retrieved 2018-06-22.
  27. ^ Caniglia, John (2018-06-21). "Authorities solve cold case of war hero who hid behind dead boy's identity". Retrieved 2018-06-22.
  28. ^ a b Augenstein, Seth (2019-01-10). "DNA Doe Project Names 3 More, Notes Case Patterns". Forensic Magazine. Archived from the original on 2019-01-10. Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  29. ^ Shapiro, Emily (2019-01-17). "Murder victim identified 3 decades later thanks to forensic technology: Sheriff". ABC News. Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  30. ^ Corona, Marcella (2019-05-07). "Sheep's Flat Jane Doe: DNA identifies victim, suspect in 1982 killing". Reno Gazette Journal. Retrieved 2019-05-09.
  31. ^ "East Texas officials release identity of Lavender Doe". KLTV Texas. 2019-02-11. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
  32. ^ Hallmark, Bob (2019-01-30). "DNA reveals identity of victim 'Lavender Doe'". KLTV. Retrieved 2019-02-02.
  33. ^ Austin, Montgomery (2019-02-28). "Body found in 1995 tentatively identified". Beloit Daily News, Michigan. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  34. ^ Hanford-Ostman, Emily (2019-03-07). "How West Chester 'Jane Doe' could help other missing persons". WCPO, Cincinnati. Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  35. ^ Shapiro, Emily (2019-03-15). "Girl found dead in 1971 is finally identified through novel DNA technique". ABC News. Retrieved 2019-03-15.
  36. ^ Bailey, Brittany (2019-06-04). "Officials identify remains of woman believed to be Shawn Grate's first victim". WBNS-10TV Columbus, Ohio News, Weather & Sports. Retrieved 2019-06-07.
  37. ^ Zhang, Sarah (2019-07-29). "She Was Found Strangled in a Well, and Now She Has a Name". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-07-30.
  38. ^ Gutschke, Laura (2019-08-08). "Texas police identify 'Orange Socks' woman dead for 40 years as Abilene woman". USA Today. Retrieved 2019-08-10.
  39. ^ "1988's I-196 Jane Identified As Missing Oklahoma City Woman". WSJM, Michigan. 2019-11-22. Retrieved 2019-11-28.
  40. ^ Hutton, Caleb (2019-12-23). "The mystery of the man in the Mill Creek shed is solved". HeraldNet, Everett, Washington. Retrieved 2019-12-28.
  41. ^ Navarrete, Karla (2019-12-09). "Phoenix police detectives solve 22-year-old cold case". KNXV - ABC 15, Arizona. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  42. ^ "Kansas Bureau of Investigation, DNA Doe Project ID Woman Killed in 1987". Forensic Magazine. 2019-12-26. Retrieved 2019-12-28.
  43. ^ Parker County Sheriff’s Dept. (2019-12-25). "New technology helps ID victim in 35-year-old cold murder case". The Community News. Retrieved 2020-01-08.
  44. ^ Brockell, Gillian (2020-01-02). "He escaped from jail after allegedly killing his wife a century ago. Now his headless torso has been identified through DNA". Washington Post. Retrieved 2020-01-05.
  45. ^ "Clark County John Doe discovered in 1979 identified by ISU, UNH and DNA DOE Project researchers". Idaho State University. 2019-11-13. Retrieved 2019-12-28.
  46. ^ Fitzgerald, Chris (2020-01-07). "Human remains from 1982 identified, sheriff continues homicide investigation". Leader Register Wisconsin. Retrieved 2020-01-24.
  47. ^ Koski, Rudy (2020-01-14). "Williamson County Sheriff's Office identifies "Corona Girl" as 17-year-old from Sulphur Springs". FOX 7 Austin. Retrieved 2020-01-24.
  48. ^ "Skull, torso found along Illinois River identified". ABC News Channel24. 2020-01-28. Retrieved 2020-01-29.
  49. ^ Dulaney, Josh (2020-01-31). "In Oklahoma, a cold case heats up: Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office says they have identified victim of homicide 40 years ago". The Oklahoman. Retrieved 2020-02-01.
  50. ^ Taylor, Michele (2020-02-18). "DNA Doe Project IDs 2004 Jane Doe in 48 Hours". Forensic. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  51. ^ SPIE. Complete List of SPIE Fellows
  52. ^ "Colleen Fitzpatrick". Association of Professional Genealogists. Retrieved 2020-07-24.

External links[edit]