ONLY ON 13: Inside look at process of identifying human remains

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- While human remains were found on Tuesday in Brazoria County and weeks earlier in southeast Houston, there is still no positive identification on whether they are the remains of Kelli Cox and Jessica Cain, the two young women missing for almost 20 years.

Dr. Joan Bytheway isn't surprised.

"In general, six to eight weeks to get DNA results," said Bytheway. She is a forensic anthropologists who directs one of the few facilities in the world that specializes in the study of body decomposition.
Dr. Bytheway, the Director of the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility at Sam Houston State University, conducts research on how bones and tissue deteriorate and change over time under different environmental circumstances. She is often called upon by law enforcement to help identify bones and human remains that may be years, if not decades old.

Pointing to two femur bones, Dr. Bytheway explained how forensic anthropologists are crucial in helping solve cases like those involving suspected serial killer William Reece.

"This is from the same guy," she says, pointing at a lighter colored bone and a darker bone, laying side by side. "Look at the color here, this was laying in the sun environment, this was buried in some type of soil."

Bytheway says the quickest way to identify victims is through dental or x-ray records. In cases where those may not exist, the process gets more complicated. In the cases of Cox and Cain, she says it's crucial that searchers recovered even the tiniest of bone fragments from the dig sits.

As an example, she shows us a victim whose gunshot wound was visible, only after all the fragments were pieced together.

"It's really critical that they sift through all that soil, they find every little bit because as you can see if you didn't have this piece or this piece, the circle wouldn't be complete."

As the family and friends of the two young women look for closure, Dr. Bytheway says it will be the science of forensic anthropology that will eventually identify the remains, and perhaps even tell us how they died.
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