National program using DNA to identify missing persons extended until end of 2023

National Missing Persons Week 2022 reminds us of the many thousands of Australians left wondering, asking, searching and holding onto hope for their missing loved one.

A unique national program has been extended for a further 12-months to provide more opportunities for the AFP National Missing Persons Coordination Centre to use the latest forensic techniques and databases to help Australian law enforcement agencies identify human remains and help families of long-term missing persons in their quest for answers.

The National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons launched in July 2020 using Confiscated Assets Account funding, which allows the Commonwealth to redirect ill-gotten gains back to the community. The extension will allow the Program’s specialists to test a larger number of unidentified human remains in pursuit of restoring their names and faces.

The most recent national case audit has reported 750 sets of human remains, with the Program so far assisting with 55 cases received from State and Territory police agencies across Australia. Of these, 36 samples have been submitted for specialist DNA testing in the Program’s DNA laboratory that launched at the AFP Forensics Facility in December 2021.

DNA profiles recovered from the remains have resulted in five matches to long-term missing persons to date, contributing important evidence for coronial investigations. One of these is Mario Della Torre, missing since 1976, whose identity was confirmed by the South Australian Coroner in February 2022 following testing of bones found at False Bay in 1977. The Program also provided the Royal Australian Navy with DNA evidence to support the identification of the “Unknown Sailor” as Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark last year.

Associate Professor Jodie Ward said these results are an example of how advancements in forensic science can provide fresh hope for previously unsolved cases and resolution for families with loved ones still missing.

“Just being able to identify one person, to be able to give answers to one family, would make this all worth it – but we have now surpassed that goal,’’ Associate Professor Ward said.

“However, there’s more work to be done. The extension will allow the Program team to generate investigative leads for many more cases in order to discover who these unknown Australians are and reunite them with families missing them.”

The Program’s success relies on families of every long-term missing person providing police and forensic investigators with vital information, records and samples for comparison. Relatives are encouraged to participate in the Program by completing the online Missing Person Details Form and providing a familial DNA sample along with any personal effects, medical and dental records, and photographs of their missing loved one.

Associate Professor Ward says, “As well as searching dental records and DNA profiles looking for matches, our forensic specialists can use new tools to estimate an unidentified individual’s year of birth and death, predict ancestral origin, hair and eye colour and facial appearance, and find genetic relatives.”

For more information on the National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons visit the Program Website or contact the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre via email: missing@afp.gov.au or phone: 1800 000 634.

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