F. E. Warren Dental Clinic helps police solve cold case

Tech. Sgt. Shanna Binion and Senior Airman Whittney Ellington, 90th Medical Group dental technicians, work to create dental records to help the Wyoming State Crime Lab positively identify human remains Sept. of 2010 in the F. E. Warren Dental Clinic. (Courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Shanna Binion and Senior Airman Whittney Ellington, 90th Medical Group dental technicians, work to create dental records to help the Wyoming State Crime Lab positively identify human remains Sept. of 2010 in the F. E. Warren Dental Clinic. (Courtesy photo)

F. E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- September 13, 2010, started out like any other Monday morning for Tech. Sgt Shanna Binion and Senior Airman Whittney Ellington, dental technicians at F. E. Warren Dental Clinic. As they soon found out, that was all about to change. The chief investigator for the Wyoming Crime Lab had called to request the help of the Dental Forensics Team whose members included Binion and Ellington.

The Crime Lab Investigator said that what appeared to be a human skull had been discovered in a ditch a few miles north of Laramie, Wyo., and because F. E. Warren had a trained dental forensic team ready to assist and an agreement to help whenever dental professionals were needed, the lab asked if they could examine and possibly help identify the remains.

Binion and Ellington, along with the other members of the team, went to work and painstakingly examined the remains to produce a set of radiographs, or dental X-rays, as complete as possible.

"We created a dental profile for this person," Binion said. "At the time, she was a Jane Doe."

Investigators estimated that the remains had been where they were found for more than six months, Binion said.

"It wasn't a pleasant experience, but it was one I'm glad we had," she explained.

With the help of the three dentists on the team they created a Postmortem, meaning "after death," dental record by recording the dental characteristics they observed including missing and unusually positioned teeth, existing restorations and any other characteristic that may be unique to this person.

It is like a dental "fingerprint" that can be compared with other records to positively identify the deceased.

Over the next few months, the Wyoming Crime Lab detective sent the dental records of 18 missing persons in hopes that there would be a match which might help identify who this person was.

Each of the 18 dental records were evaluated and an antimortem, meaning "before death," dental record was created for each one to see if there was a match, and was determined each time that there was no match.

On the morning of Aug. 4, 2012, the 19th dental record, a panoramic radiograph of a person believed to be missing was sent to the dental flight commander from a detective who had been working the case. At first glance it looked quite similar to the radiographs taken nearly two years before and after a complete analysis, it was determined that the dental forensic team had a match. A minimum of 20 individual features exactly matched when compared on the post and antimortem records.

This matching dental record belonged to 55-year-old Rosella Lovell who had not been reported missing, but upon further investigation had not had contact with family members in another state for many years.

"After two years, you would think they would never find out who it was," said Ellington. "It was a relief to be able to tell their family we found their loved one.

Without Binion and Ellington's work, the other dental forensic team members and the role they played in the investigation, this person may not have been identified, the case might not have been solved and the family may have never known what happened to their lost relative. They were able to experience first-hand some of the unique and challenging duties afforded to a dental assistant in the United States Air Force.