New Forensic Technology Helps Solve Bay Area Cold Cases

Several Tampa Bay area cold cases are getting new attention thanks to advances in DNA and other new forensic technology.

Several Tampa Bay area cold cases are getting new attention thanks to advances in DNA and other new forensic technology.

For the family of Denise Marie Stafford, it’s been 35 long years with no arrest.

Sarasota police said Stafford was 28 years old when she was murdered. Her body was found October 13, 1985.

“It’s so important for these old cases to be looked at,” said Jeff Birdwell, a retired cold case officer who now works as a civilian investigator with the Sarasota Police Department.

He said new forensic technology has advanced so much recently, that blood, body fluid and other DNA samples can now be viewed under a microscope in ways never thought possible.

“That evidence is now available to be analyzed when a decade ago or 20 years ago, touch DNA wasn’t even thought of,” said Birdwell.

The Florida Sheriff’s Association said the biggest scientific changes involve labs analyzing familial DNA, or genes from a family member, to identify a suspect, and how much faster labs can turn around results.

But new forensic technology is not limited to just labs.

In Hillsborough County, the sheriff’s office is working with the University of South Florida to reexamine cold cases. In the last few months, USF forensic researchers and graduate students exhumed three bodies buried in unmarked graves at Rest Haven Cemetery to find out who they are and how they died. Their murders happened between 1982 and 2008.

To help Hillsborough deputies, USF will use the remains to reconstruct their faces, in hopes someone recognizes their likenesses. They will also do chemical testing.

Birdwell said the victims of these cold cases deserve every possible effort.

“It’s important for the victims’ families. It’s important for the detectives 35 years ago that worked endless hours trying to solve this,” said Birdwell. “We don’t want anyone to think that they’ve gotten away with murder.”

Sarasota police said they believe new results from DNA analysis and help from the community will solve Denise Stafford’s murder. Anyone with information is asked to call Investigator Jeff Birdwell at 941-263-6028 or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS or online at

As for HCSO, investigators are reviewing evidence in storage for further testing. USF will present its recreated images of the cold case victims and show them to the public next year.

Originally published at Fox 13

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