Establishing identity of skeletons: DNA test surest way – Pathologist

A Specialist Pathologist at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH), Dr Robert Kumoji, has explained that a Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test is the surest way of identifying the skeletal remains discovered by the police in a cesspit at Kansaworodo and a well at Nkroful, both suburbs of Sekondi-Takoradi, as the police seek to unravel the mystery of four girls who have gone missing since last year.

According to the pathologist, the DNA test will also help establish if the remains are human ones in the first place, as well as provide answers to all the questions which may be going through the minds of many such as the length of time the persons may have died, whether they died through violent means as well as the race and sex of the deceased.

Dr Kumoji gave this insight in an exclusive interview with the Daily Graphic on ‘why DNA tests work and the work of a pathologist in establishing the identities of unidentifiable remains’ such as the ones retrieved by the police.

“The DNA test can help establish many of the mysteries surrounding the remains retrieved under such suspicious circumstance. With the number of skeletal remains found, the test will also help identify which part belongs to which skeleton and if there are any connections at all. At this point, there are so many questions and probabilities and the DNA test will be the best way of providing the clues and answers,” the pathologist who has been practising for over 30 years explained.

“All these, however, cannot be established without the consent of one of living parents as they are the only ones whose samples could match with the samples of those from the remains retrieved.

While trying to avoid referring directly to the remains of the four persons discovered in Takoradi, he said the efforts by the police to get the consent of the families of the four missing girls were a significant step in unravelling the mystery.

“Without the consent of the parents who will provide the sample, it will be difficult to conduct the DNA test and so it is instructive that the families have agreed to cooperate.?That said, it is also important to indicate that it may not be the girls. Whichever way, the identities of the retrieved bodies must be known and since the girls have gone missing, their families will be the first to be asked to help.”

The specialist pathologist further indicated that while the DNA test would help identify the remains found, it unfortunately would not be able to indicate the age, height and how long the persons had died, one of the surest clues to finding how long the persons had been dead or been in the places they were retrieved.

Time of decomposition

On how long it took for a dead person to lose the body form, Dr Kumoji explained that a body was able to decompose into a skeletal state within days depending on the condition it found itself.

“The conditions the body finds itself in would determine the time it gets to decompose, the warmer the condition and the other agents, the faster it does.

“No matter how bad the bodies decompose, there are certain skeletal remains that cannot be destroyed whether they stayed for a long time in water, sand or stored in any other condition and that is what helps the DNA to ascertain the identities of those bodies,” Dr Kumoji stressed.

Pathologist and DNA test

The DNA test will be conducted by matching the sample of a living biological parent to a sample of the remains found.

According to Dr Kumoji, before a DNA could be performed on a dead body or skeleton, it should have been ordered by a pathologist who would have examined the remains before any part was taken out for DNA.

Explaining what a pathologist can determine with remains of the dead, he said the pathologist could tell if the remains belonged to a human being or an animal.

The pathologist, he said, could also determine how long the remains had been there and whether they belonged to a male or a female and also how old that person was.

The work of a pathologist, he added, could also tell the race type of skeletal remains, that is if the person was a White, Caucasian, African American or Black.

Through a pathologist, he said, one could determine how the person died, whether through violent means or through disease, saying “violent deaths left marks on the bones”.

Establishing the relationship between DNA testing and the work of a pathologist, Dr Kumoji said the DNA, which was performed by scientists, was just a part of the work of investigating deaths as it determined the sex, ethnicity and the relationship between people. It could, however, not tell the age, height, how long the person had died or stature of the person as done by the pathologist.

He said the two, therefore, worked together to get results when it came to the issue of establishing the cause of death.

Allaying fears of families

He assured the families of the four missing girls to have confidence in the process as the pathologist who would work on the remains would be determined by a Coroner.

Quoting Section 7 of the Coroners Act of 1960, Dr Kumoji explained: “Where the Coroner thinks it proper, in order to discover the cause of death, to have an examination made of the dead body of any person, he may direct a registered medical practitioner to make a post-mortem examination of the body”.

The families of the missing girls initially refused to cooperate with the police investigative team to provide samples for the DNA test, but they rescinded that decision when they were visited by the Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr James Oppong-Boanuh, in their respective homes last Tuesday.

The IGP acceded to their request for them to be allowed to witness the process of conducting the tests on the remains retrieved.

Yesterday, the samples from the parents were taken.

Police retrieve skeletons

Identifying people from their skeletal bones was a regular feature on the schedule of a pathologist, however, this exercise being undertaken by the police had assumed national interest and attention because of the circumstances that had surrounded the incident and how it had been linked to the missing girls.

Proven results of DNA results

The bodies of the former Heads of State of Ghana who were killed by firesquad and later buried in a mass grave in 1979, were identified throughn a similar DNA testing after which their bodies were handed over to their families for proper burial.

Police retrieve skeletons

A police investigative team, in a bid to unravel the whereabouts of three girls in Takoradi – Priscilla Blessing Bentum, 21; Ruth Love Quayson, 18, and Priscilla Mantebea Koranchie, 15,— found skeletal remains at the bottom of the cesspit that serves the house where Samuel Udoetuk-Willis, the prime suspect in the case lived before his arrest.

A fourth girl,19-year-old Ruth Abakah, who was the first to have gone missing on July 29, 2018, had never been mentioned as part of the missing persons until a fourth set of skeletal remains were discovered in an abandoned well in an uncompleted building at Nkroful, a suburb of the twin-city metropolis.

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