A forensic breakthrough has helped the family lay a World War I veteran to rest almost a century after he disappeared.
On Christmas Day 2017, a diver discovered a human skull on a remote beach near Wilsons Prom on the south coast of Gippsland, Victoria.
Police soon found an almost intact skeleton underwater.
But despite a coroner’s inquest, the remains, dubbed the “Sandy Point skeleton”, could not be identified – except that they belonged to a white male aged between 21 and 37.
The inquest was reopened this year after Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) investigator Dr. Dadna Hartman, wanted to use a “new and emerging forensic tool”.
“Around the time the infamous Golden State Killer case made headlines for using forensic/investigative genetic genealogy (F/IGG) to identify a suspect, the lesser-known Buckskin Girl case was also solved using the same method,” she said. wrote in an article published by Monash University.
“That was a real light bulb moment for me.
“How could this potentially be used … especially where we’ve exhausted all current avenues of investigation?”
The team of dr. Hartman was able to obtain DNA from the remains, which was then sent to a Texas laboratory, which produced a DNA profile.
Using two ancestry databases, they compared the skeleton’s DNA profile to existing records before contacting a living member of Kathryn Hogan’s family in Victoria.
When a DNA sample was provided to police, the skeleton was identified as Ms Hogan’s great-aunt, 29-year-old Christopher Luke Moore, who disappeared while swimming with his brother 95 years ago.
A coronial inquest in 1929 found that Mr Moore drowned in difficult circumstances shortly after 5pm on December 30, 1928.
A witness at the time, Walter Clarke, said he saw Mr Moore “in a big breaker” before he “disappeared instantly” under the waves.
A farmer and young father from Gippsland, he enlisted at the age of 18 and served as a gunner in the 10th Field Artillery Brigade between 1917 and 1919.
Dr. Hartman identified Mr. Moore described it as a “momentous occasion” for everyone who has worked tirelessly since 2017 to give the Sandy Point skeleton a name.
“While this was an exceptional case of a human being identified some 95 years after he drowned, any case of UHR (unidentified human remains) deserves to be explored in every way possible to help identify them,” she wrote.
“The F/IGG method will now open up opportunities to explore many of these – and that’s why I love the work I do.”
She said it may have been the first time the technology had been used to link unidentified human remains in a coronial investigation.
Ms Hogan, his great-niece, told ABC Radio Melbourne she was approached by a detective this year for a sample for a “historic” case.
“I was surprised,” she said.
“We didn’t know the real story … they solved the family secret for us.”
Handing down the updated finding that the skeleton was indeed Christopher Moore, State Coroner John Cain said it was the “first time” forensic genetic genealogy had been used to assist a coronial find in Victoria.
“Mr Moore’s identity could only be established through the work of highly skilled staff at VIFM,” he said.
“Their extensive expertise in DNA matching and the use of forensic genetic genealogy is outstanding.”