University of South Florida


USF forensic anthropologist leads renewed effort to help solve Hillsborough County cold case homicides

Erin Kimmerle, associate professor of forensic anthropology and executive director of the Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at USF, is collaborating with the Hillsborough County Sheriff and Medical Examiner’s offices to help solve several cold case homicides.

Funded by the Florida Sheriff’s Association, three bodies were exhumed from the Rest Haven Cemetery in Tampa. Kimmerle and her team of graduate students are working to identify the victims and determine how they died. Investigators believe the victims were killed between 1982 and 2008, bringing urgency to their exhumation.

“Long-term unidentified remains and cold cases can be solved through new scientific methods and DNA testing, but the total number of cases grows each year while there is less funding available to utilize all the possible resources,” Kimmerle said. 

 The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has nine open unidentified cold cases selected for review at this time, as these specific cases are not up to current investigative standards. Researchers will develop the victims’ biological profiles, sample for DNA, conduct chemical isotope testing and create facial reconstructions to share with the public during a virtual exhibit in 2021. Investigators will also review evidence currently in storage for further testing.

Erin Kimmerle, associate professor of forensic anthropology, assists a body exhumation at the Rest Haven Cemetery in Tampa.

Erin Kimmerle, associate professor of forensic anthropology, assists a body exhumation at the Rest Haven Cemetery in Tampa.

Kimmerle has a lengthy history working with area law enforcement and serves on the Florida Sheriff’s Association Cold Case Commission. Together, they’ve re-examined 28 Hillsborough cold cases and brought them to current investigation standards. In total, 14 bodies have been exhumed, with five victims positively identified. One individual, whose death was initially ruled “accidental,” was reclassified as a being a victim of homicide.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first time in the 2020 fall semester that students enrolled in Kimmerle’s “Forensic Anthropology and Cold Case Methods” course have been able to gain hands-on experience in the field. They’ve spent the majority of the semester learning remotely.

Kimmerle received the 2020 AAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award for her research that uncovered the remains of 51 boys in unmarked graves at the former Arthur G. Dozier School of Boys. She’s worked with law enforcement agencies across the country to help identify missing people and solve cold case homicides. In 2018, her efforts were showcased during “Art of Forensics: Solving the Nation’s Cold Cases,” a month-long exhibit at the Tampa Bay History Center. Exhibition displays consisted of clay busts and drawings, digital compositions, artifacts and information about the crime scenes.

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