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ISU student uses forensic anthropology to help solve cold cases

May 16, 2007
ISU Marketing and Communications

When southeast Idaho law enforcement began reinvestigating a remote Oneida County site connected to the apparent murders of three girls, Idaho State University student Lynn Porter thought it logical to contact Oneida County Sheriff Jeff Semrad and volunteer her help.

A soon-to-be senior at ISU, Porter has the double major of anthropology and criminal justice administration. She intends to pursue a career working with law enforcement in forensic anthropology.

Forensic anthropology is the use of anthropological knowledge and techniques in a legal context and can involve detailed knowledge of osteology (skeletal anatomy and biology) to aid in the identification and cause of death of skeletal remains,

Porter estimates she has handled trained dogs on more than 100 missions ranging from the recovery of a human body to homicide investigation and cemetery relocation.

<>“Lynn was with us on Sunday (at the Oneida County site),” Semrad says. “She is going to be able to bring equipment and knowledge to help us sift through the evidence.”

<>Porter became interested in forensic anthropology when she started in nursing, then volunteered in 1988 with search and rescue for the Idaho Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. She started using dogs to search for crash victims in 1991.

“We always train the dogs to alert the handler if they find a deceased person,” she says.

Porter describes herself as “dogless” at the moment. Her own cadaver-sniffing dog died a year ago, so she will be working with a trained dog and handler from Boise in hilly terrain near Malad, where, according to the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office, the bodies of apparent 1978 homicide victims Patricia Campbell, 15, and Tina Anderson, 12, were found in 1981 and a “Jane Doe” was found in 1986.     Porter is in her second year at ISU after previously studying at the College of Southern Idaho and Boise State University.    “Most of the remains (found in Oneida County) were taken care of years ago,” Porter says. “Anything that’s still out there and any other evidence, that’s what we’ll be looking at,”     Porter has worked on high-profile cases before. In 1979 and 1991, body parts of a still unidentified human male were found in a cave near Dubois. She did a full biological summary on the remains as her project for forensic archaeology class.

She has done cemetery and museum work, including a 2005 project at the Pleasant Ridge Cemetery in Caldwell. A group of Eagle Scouts was restoring an old cemetery and wanted to locate the approximately 80 graves before starting.

Her current project is not the first to attract media attention. The Associated Press covered the Caldwell restoration project. And she was once, to her discomfiture, a guest on the fX Network’s “Breakfast Time” television show, which is now off the air.

“I learned to always make sure you watch the show before you agree to be on it,” Porter says. “I figured it was like the “Today” show, but it was a cross with that and “Saturday Night Live.” I was playing it straight and they weren’t.”


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