AFP DNA program to help identify unknown and missing Australians

The AFP has started testing unidentified human remains using cutting-edge technology to help solve some of Australia’s most enduring missing persons’ cases. 

Unidentified bone and teeth fragments – held in police and forensic facilities across the country – are being sent to the AFP’s dedicated forensics laboratory under the National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons. 

The Program’s nation-wide audit recorded 850 sets of unidentified human remains. 

Some of the remains have been stored in morgues for up to 70 years, while others were only discovered last year.  

There are about 2600 long-term missing persons in Australia who have been missing for more than three months.  

In a bid to help give families much-needed answers, a team of AFP forensic specialists in Canberra will use the latest forensic techniques and databases to link the samples to known missing persons. 

As well as searching dental records and DNA profiles looking for matches, forensic specialists will use new tools to estimate an unidentified individual’s year of birth and death, ancestral origin, hair and eye colour, facial appearance and genetic relatives. 

The Program was launched in August 2020 but human remains are now being tested for the first time. 

The Program was funded under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cth) funding, which allows the Commonwealth to redirect ill-gotten gains back to the community. 

Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews said the program aimed to bring answers to friends and family, many of whom spend years hoping, searching and waiting for news of missing loved ones.  

“If the AFP can identify these missing Australians, they could provide the deceased with a dignified burial, reinvigorate cold investigations, and – in some cases – ensure justice is finally served,” Minster Andrews said. 

The Program’s Lead, Associate Professor Jodie Ward, said these were not just case numbers but 850 unknown individuals who have names, families and stories that were yet to be discovered.  

“Human remains determined to be of coronial significance, will now undergo a series of forensic examinations in the hope of restoring their names and faces and providing answers to families and police that have been searching for them for years,’’ Associate Professor Ward said. 

The Program’s success relies on families providing police and forensic investigators with vital information, records and samples for comparison. 

“Along with recovering DNA profiles from the bones, we need DNA profiles from relatives of every missing person,’’ Associate Professor Ward said. 

“We are also seeking the missing person’s personal effects, medical samples, dental records, physical information and photographs.” 

The AFP National Missing Persons Coordination Centre is encouraging anyone with a long-term missing relative to register to participate in the Program.  

It is particularly important for the Program to be informed of individuals who went missing decades ago, including disappearances that were never formally reported to police. 

Family of long-term missing persons are encouraged to register their interest to participate in the Program by emailing [email protected]

Anyone with information relating to a missing person is urged to contact their local police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.  

Media enquiries 

AFP Media: (02) 5126 9297  

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