Upgraded FBI dental system used to discover identities of missing persons @AmerDentalAssn

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Somewhat maligned prior to 2004, the dental ID portion of the NCIC (CJIS) Missing and Unidentified program was revamped to a much simpler data entry protocol and search parameters.  Integral to finding names of unknown deceased persons, law enforcement investigators must acquire extensive medical/dental and personal information of adults and children considered “missing” and coroners need to order proper post-mortem dental exams with oral-facial imaging capture.

Consistent and proper post-mortem examinations are under peril due to financial strains on the locally funded medico-legal systems in the United States. Read about one jurisdiction in particular.   Read about my jurisdiction as well.

This FBI case report tells a better story. It reveals the agency players involved in achieving a coordinated investigation (agency links are highlighted in bold) that (eventually) was successful. Clearly, consistent data management and inter-agency data sharing are paramount. Gaps do exist.  An indicator of  another challenge: California has a “missing” list in excess of 27,000 persons. Unidentified persons are 1,800.

NCIC’s Dental Matching Program Plays Key Role
in Solving Cold Case

On Friday, October 11, 2013, a Forensic Odontologist with the Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit (MUPU) of the Washington State Patrol (WSP) positively identified remains recovered more than 21 years ago by matching them to the dental records of a missing person.

The remains of the man were discovered in the Columbia River in Multnomah County, Oregon, in April 1992. The man was wearing a ski mask and had suffered a gunshot wound to his head. Information, including dental coding for the unidentified man, was entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) but produced no immediate results. 

Twenty years later, the Cold Case Unit at the Tacoma (Washington) Police Department pulled the missing persons report for John W. Nolen, who was reported missing by his mother in March 1992. Investigators discovered that he was still a missing person, but his record had been mistakenly removed from the NCIC several years earlier. Investigators reentered Nolen’s record and staff from the MUPU added the dental information from the records collected from his dentist in 1992. (Coincidently, the NCIC’s system of comparing the dental information of missing, wanted, and unidentified persons was upgraded in April 2004.)

The NCIC automatically generated a dental cross match report, also known as a $M Report, and the information was sent to the MUPU, the Tacoma Police Department, and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. The report provided a ranked list of records with possible matches to dental characteristics that have been coded and entered into the NCIC. The first record was for an unidentified person, located less than a month after Nolen was last seen in Tacoma. The physical description of the unidentified person was similar to Nolen, and the dental coding was nearly the same.

The MUPU checked the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), which is an Internet site that serves as a repository and resource center for records of missing and unidentified deceased persons. The MUPU staff located an entry for the unidentified man that included dental information, including X-rays. The X-rays were e-mailed to the Forensic Odontologist with the MUPU, who made the positive identification. The MUPU immediately notified the Tacoma Police Department and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office of the match.

Thanks to the work of the departments involved and NCIC’s dental matching capabilities, two cold cases found progress through identifying the remains of a man who─unknown to authorities─had also been reported missing. For law enforcement agencies with questions about the dental matching capabilities in the NCIC, contact the FBI’s CJIS Training and Advisory Process Unit at (877) FBI-NCIC or (877) 324‑6242.


A shout out to Dr. Gary Bell at MUPU! Great job buddy. You have always led the way.

And another for Drs. Rich Scanlon and John Fillippi along with their volunteer dentists at NAMUS.


About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
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