An Interview with a Forensic Anthropologist

Interview with Anna Delaney

Anna Delaney began her career with the New Jersey State Police Office of Forensic Sciences in 2004. Over the years Anna has worked in the Mitochondrial DNA Lab, CODIS DNA Lab and has supervised the Forensic Anthropology Unit since 2015. Anna specializes in human osteology, odontology, non-human comparisons, skeletal trauma analysis, excavations and exhumations. She provides training to Law Enforcement Agencies throughout New Jersey and is a guest lecturer at several Universities.  Anna also populates NamUs with information on New Jersey’s Unidentified cases, modifies NCIC records for missing and unidentified and assists the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit with retrieval of medical and dental information. Anna works closely with Forensic Odonotologists, Medical Examiner’s Offices and local, state and federal agencies.

Would you tell us what is Anthropology and how does it aid in criminal cases? Can you tell us bout the types of samples you work with?

Forensic Anthropology is the application of biological/physical anthropology applied to the medicolegal aspect of investigations. My work consists of distinguishing between human vs. non-human remains, macerating human remains, providing a biological profile for investigators, analysis of skeletal trauma, surface searches, excavations and exhumations. I provide training to law enforcement agencies on all aspects of Forensic Anthropology. I also work closing with Forensic Odonotologist and Missing Person Units. I also populate and manage the unidentified and missing person cases in the Nam database.

I’m currently working on the remains discovered at the Red Bank Battlefield at Fort Mercer in Gloucester County, New Jersey. Since the discovery of the 1st bone, I have been excavating all summer. It has been a slow and tedious process. We are confident that we have found at least 14 individuals. This is an ongoing project, but I’m excited for our results.

What are the educational and experience requirements to be a Forensic Anthropologist?

In order to be a practicing Forensic Anthropologist, you need a minimum of a Masters Degree in Biological/Physical Anthropology with an emphasis on human skeletal anatomy. If you have your Ph.D., you are able to become a Board Certified Forensic Anthropologist. Most undergraduate and graduate programs require an internship. This will provide hands on experience working in a laboratory or university. I encourage my interns to participate in at least 1 field school excavating human remains.

Recently we heard of cold cases being solved using Genealogy in conjunction with Anthropology. Can you tell us how? What is your opinion on using Genealogy in missing person’s cases?

There are thousands of unsolved cold cases throughout the country. My laboratory is fortunate to work with the New Jersey State Police Cold Case Unit to help resolve these types of cases. Recently, 2of our high profile unidentified cold cases, Tiger Lady and Princess Doe, have been solved. Both of these cases have all of the biometric data in various databases, however, we were never able to identify them until now. My agency will submit a sample on behalf of the agency for extraction through analysis. Once a profile is created, genealogist will attempt to locate a family tree. This information allows law enforcement agencies to narrow their search and speak to families in regards to who may be missing. If we believe we have a potential match, the agency will request a DNA sample to compare to the DNA sample of the unidentified in the CODIS database. This allows us to use a genetic association to confirm the identification of our remains.

Is there any Forensic discipline you use to aid in your investigation of the bones/skull found at the crime scenes? (DNA for marrow)

I utilize a plethora of forensic disciplines in my analysis. I work closely with our Crime Scene Investigation Units on Forensic Excavations. After I’ve complied by biological profile and assessed the remains for trauma and pathology, I request assistance from other lab units. I routinely have our Trace Unit help take pictures of the remains under a microscope to visualize the trauma. I also work closely with our Forensic Imaging and Composite Artist on Forensic Facial Composites. I also consult with our DNA lab when we have a tentative ID to request a direct comparison between my unidentified to a Family Reference Sample of a Missing Person. We can use FTA cards, deep muscle tissue and finger/toenails on our unidentified cases.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in Anthropology?

Pursuing a career in Forensic Anthropology can be challenging, but it is so rewarding. Look into programs that not only have a Forensic Anthropology component, but also other sciences. Find an internship that interests you. This will prepare you for how working Forensic Anthropologist operate, but you may also realize what kind of work you enjoy or that this may not be for you. I also recommend speaking with professors who consult for agencies. Best of luck in your studies!