New study will help find missing people, solve cold cases and prosecute murderers

More than 10 years of data collected by Keele University experts will help forensic science teams find missing people, solve cold cases, and prosecute murderers by optimising their investigation techniques.

Led by Dr Jamie Pringle from Keele’s School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, the study has been investigating the best methods for identifying and locating clandestine graves - unrecorded secret graves - using different geoforensic methods and techniques.

Dr Pringle and his team created simulated murder graves in a variety of different circumstances and permutations, in order to determine the best techniques for identifying and excavating the burial sites and identifying their contents.

Their findings, published in Nature: Scientific Reports, will be crucial going forward for forensic investigation teams, as they will be used to determine which geophysical technique is best to use to find a body in different time frames after death or burial.

The findings also give guidance on the optimal equipment configurations for body detection, and will provide comparable datasets for practitioners to see what anomalies should look like, and thus where to dig.

Since beginning the study in 2007, Dr Pringle has also collected data from all over the world in order to test the different techniques which he reports on in this research. This has included studying unsolved cold cases in the Midlands and in Wales; as well as working alongside international colleagues looking for mass graves from the Spanish Civil War and in Colombia.

Dr Pringle said: “This long-term collaborative forensic geophysics work, undertaken by colleagues and past students at Keele, Staffordshire and Iowa Universities, will quantify how effective forensic geophysics is to detect buried bodies.”

He added his thanks to colleagues from across the University who were involved with the study, including researchers from Forensic Science, Geoscience, Foundation Year and the Keele Policing Academic Collaboration, as well as members of the Keele Estates team.