Coventry University students review cold cases of missing and murdered women in effort to help German police make a breakthrough

Larissa Tchuda Correia

Coventry University student Larissa Tchuda Correia taking part in one of her Biological and Forensic Science BSc degree activities

University news

Wednesday 26 July 2023

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Coventry University students are waiting to hear if their investigation helps German police make a breakthrough in the cold cases of several missing women from the past 50 years.

Third-year students Madara Ozola and Larissa Tchuda Correia and second-year student Faye Cotter joined more than 100 other students from across the globe, police academies and law enforcement agencies in Europe and Australia to participate in the fifth International Cold Case Analysis Project (ICCAP).

During ICCAP the three students used analytical skills developed on their BSc in Biological and Forensic Science to help review 10 cold cases.

The students worked on the cases of six missing young women and one homicide from between 1977 and 1986. They reviewed the files and looked for contradictions in witness statements.

The cases were compared with other missing persons from the wider region as well as with several homicides of young women who were also considered missing before they were found in 1981 and 1982.

The students also analysed two cases of elderly women who were murdered while traveling on their bicycles in the same region on the same day of different years and the murder of a widowed pensioner in 2004, whose body was found several months after the crime.

The Coventry University students presented their findings to investigators and international experts and are now waiting to hear if their work has led to any new leads.

“We were able to look at digitalised copies of all the original files, in both German and English, as well as crime scene and autopsy photos, reports and evidence logs.

“We had one case where the body had been discovered but it remains unsolved. After we analysed the evidence logs for all the trace samples collected and tested, many of the samples were either inconclusive or had no results due to testing capabilities in the 1970s and 1980s. There have since been huge advances in the testing of blood and fibres for DNA, so we put forward a recommendation that testing should be carried out again to see if we can learn anything new from them.

“Today, people also undertake DNA testing to look at their ancestry and genealogy and in the cases of the missing young women, we put forward a recommendation to cross-check their DNA profiles against these databases in the hope of finding a familial match. If there are unknown DNA profiles, we could potentially find matches that generate new leads.”

Faye Cotter, Biological and Forensic Science BSc student at Coventry University

The Coventry students are part of the Locate network and completed the organisation’s training programme prior to joining ICCAP.

Due to their impressive work the trio have been invited to take part in the sixth ICCAP project, which has just started.

Working on ICCAP helped us see the reality of the roles we want to go into when we graduate and helped us develop our practical skills by working with real evidence, police statements and witness statements.

Science and forensic methodology have evolved since these cases were first opened and a key part of our role was to review the evidence objectively.

It was very methodical work that our course has prepared us for; planning, group work, organisation, working with people in different time zones, a lot of translating and reading.

The cases are not easy, they left an impact, and we really felt the responsibility of how the work impacts on other people’s lives and the feelings of the families involved.

Hopefully we are potentially helping someone find closure.

Larissa Tchuda Correia, Biological and Forensic Science BSc student at Coventry University

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