Topic: DNA Testing


IMPORTANT NOTE: In April 2001 the investigators announced a major breakthrough in the case: An independent laboratory finally obtained a mitochondrial DNA profile from the unknown boy's teeth. (Most of the following E mail messages and responses were written prior to that announcement.)

The investigators plan to compare the boy's DNA profile against tissue samples they hope to obtain from individuals who either claim to be, or who are suspected of being related to the unknown boy. Such tests should confirm or, alternatively, rule out any alleged relationship.


 E-mail Messages and Responses:

Have you established a DNA database? If everyone submitted some DNA, then maybe at least you can find family members. I believe DNA would open many doors as to the family of the boy. If the blanket still exists, you could test the fibers for hairs/body fluids and see if there is a match. That would solve the family/foster care debate. Then you could test the family members of surviving suspects. I truly have a gut feeling about DNA and I wish you guys luck.

In answer to your DNA inquiry, we'd like to refer you to our Case Updates page. Due to the badly deteriorated condition of the boy's remains, a valid DNA sample has not yet been obtained, and possibly never will be. Another problem in the DNA area is the fact that many of the original suspects are now deceased. Lacking other compelling evidence, getting a judge to issue an exhumation order to extract tissue for DNA analysis, particularly in the face of family objections, would be nearly impossible. Disturbing the dead is severely frowned upon by legal authorities. Also, unless formally indicted for committing the crime, living individuals could not be compelled to submit a DNA sample for testing. At the present time, that is really all that we can say regarding the DNA issue, as it is a very sensitive and highly-classified area of the investigation.


I am wondering why the foster people's DNA has not been compared to the child's DNA? If it has been, have they been ruled out?

As to your question about comparing the unknown boy's DNA to that of the members of the foster family: The simple truth is that we do not have a valid sample of the boy's DNA. After more than a year of intensive effort utilizing the most advanced scientific techniques available, the investigators have been unable to obtain a viable DNA profile from the boy's badly degraded remains. Although this effort hasn't been completely abandoned yet, the prospects for future success are probably remote. Even if we had a viable DNA profile, the surviving member of the foster family is not a suspect in this case, nor is there any hard evidence or credible testimony indicating the probable existence of a genetic link between her and the unknown boy. Under those circumstances, she could not be legally compelled to submit a tissue sample for comparison with the boy's DNA.


I was just wondering if the hat they found beside the boy had hair in it for DNA testing.

The blue cap that was found just a few yards from the boy's body did have some strands of hair clinging to it. The cap was sent to the crime lab for analysis. However, at the time that this homicide was initially investigated, the technology for analyzing DNA did not exist. The cap was later acquired by Remington Bristow, and remained in his possession for over thirty years. After Bristow's death, the cap was returned to the Philadelphia police department. Unfortunately, a DNA analysis of the cap at this point in time would be inconclusive at best, since it has been improperly handled by scores of people and exposed to many contaminating environmental agents over the years.


Why was DNA taken from teeth and not the leg long bone (femur)? This is where most post mortem DNA collections have been done when extreme lengths of time have passed since death occurred (such as in the case of the prehistoric "ice man" and mummies.) Egyptians were the first to embalm, and DNA can still be collected from their remains. The samples are reliable.

Your point is well taken. However, in the case of America's Unknown Child, a viable DNA sample could not be extracted from the femur.


Why can't DNA be done and run thru the National Data Base?

The FBI's national DNA database was created in 1992. It contains about 1.5 million NUCLEAR DNA profiles from adults convicted of state and federal crimes. Thirty states have similar DNA databases.

Nuclear DNA could not be obtained from the deteriorated remains of America's Unknown Child. Although MITOCHONDRIAL DNA was eventually extracted from the boy's teeth, this type of DNA can't be matched against the nuclear DNA profiles in the national or state databases.