Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State works to identify human remains

The Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University (FACTS) works to advance the forensic anthropology field. Part of the work they do includes identifying the nameless.

"We feel good about the work we do affording these individuals an opportunity at identification and when we can give a family an answer, so they don't have to live in this ambiguous loss day in and day out," anthropology professor Kate Spradley said. 

She says FACTS does research, outreach, and education. They also help medical, legal, and law enforcement agencies. 

The Center has a "body farm" to research the decomposition process. The lab also works to identify human remains.

A program called Operation ID focuses on migrants who die crossing the Texas-Mexico border. Spradley says right now, they have about 400 cases, and they've identified about 85 of them.

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Courtesy: The Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University (FACTS)

One of the cases involved the case of a young woman found in Falfurrias in South Texas in November 2011. She was buried in one body bag with four other bodies. Only one of them has been identified. 

According to NAMUS, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, the victim was likely between 15 and 21 years old and between 4'9" and 5'5". She was found with a possible prayer card written in Spanish.

"This is one of those cases that ultimately will most likely be resolved through DNA analysis," Spradley said.

If you have someone missing, submitting a DNA sample can increase the odds of a match. 

Spradley says when they work with any unidentified remains, they start with anthropological analysis, the sex of the person, their origin, height, and age, and if there was any trauma. 


"The more information there is with each set of unidentified skeletal remains we get, the higher the probability for identification and a more expedited identification," she said.

The information goes into NAMUS and whichever law enforcement agency they're working with, and they send a DNA sample to the lab at the University of North Texas. 

Every set of remains, and what's on them, has a story. Researchers sometimes find stockpiles of food in a backpack or money sewn into the insides of clothes. 

"That really gives you a mindset into what was going on in their lives, especially with the migrants who cross," Spradley said.