A team of forensic experts and law enforcement officials is exhuming unidentified remains from graves in Philadelphia in hopes of solving decades-old cold cases.
Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist and professor at the University of South Florida, and her team are digging up seven sets of unidentified remains in a potter’s field in the northeast section of the city.
The remains will then be transported to a lab in Florida, where they will undergo analysis to determine the age, sex, ancestry, facial reconstruction and even birthplace of the remains, Kimmerle said.
“All these people who were buried were before the 90s,” Kimmerle said. “They never had a DNA sample taken so we are getting those samples.”
In addition, the remains will undergo isotope analysis, which can determine the origins of the individuals.
“We know people died in Philly but the question is where they born here or did they come from somewhere else?” Kimmerle said.
The effort is part of a multi-agency effort that will tap into new technology in hopes of heating up the unsolved cases. The forensic experts are working with local law enforcement officials to help identify the victims and, if criminal, help solve the crimes.
On the law enforcement front are Detective Tom McAndrew, a homicide detective for 20 years, and the Lehigh County District Attorney’s Office.
McAndrew said the seven remains were chosen because they are younger victims, either children or teenagers.
He said they have a possible lead on two of the remains.
“Two of them are drowning victims. They could be homicides,” McAndrew said. “There is a family out there who thinks they could be related to them.”
The testing done by Kimmerle and her team could determine if the remains have shared DNA with the family, and then identify who these people were.
McAndrew said he hopes the effort will also encourage families of missing persons to come forward and offer their own DNA in hopes of identifying these remains.
Another set of remains could help solve a case concerning a black girl, who was between 4 and 6 years old. She was found dead in a box in the Schuylkill River and buried in the field in 1962, according to ABC affiliate WPVI.
"Forget about me being a prosecutor, just as a parent when you have a daughter, you hear a story of this girl whose age we don't know, and no one ever reported her missing. We want to know who she is,” Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Anthony Vocci, Jr. said to WPVI.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and Philadelphia Police Department declined to comment to ABC News, but confirmed their involvement in the cases.