A decades-old mystery has been solved through the use of DNA, according to the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office.
In a statement Monday, Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub announced his office worked with Othram Inc., a private forensic DNA laboratory based in Texas, to identify the skull found in 1986 on the banks of the Delaware River at a boat ramp near the Morrisville Borough and Lower Makefield Township border.
The skull belonged to Richard Thomas Alt, 31. He was reported missing to the Trenton Police Department in early 1985 and was last confirmed to have been seen on Christmas Eve 1984 by his parents. according to investigators.
Othram used forensic-grade genome sequencing and forensic genetic genealogy to link the skull to Alt.
When a fisherman discovered a human skull near the Morrisville Boat Ramp on the Delaware River’s banks in June 1986, the initial investigation was launched. The fisherman brought the skull to the Buckingham Township Police Department because he resided there.
The investigation stalled over the years.
In October 2019, while looking into a homicide case, the Bucks County Detectives seized control of the human skull, but later turned it over to the Bucks County Coroner’s Office, authorities said.
After gaining custody of the skull, the Bucks County Coroner’s Office added it to the database of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
The skull was taken from the coroner’s office by Bucks County Detectives in September 2022 and sent to Othram in Texas for forensic genealogy testing.
Detectives from the district attorney’s office spoke with the possible DNA match – a 49-year-old Florida woman – at the start of 2023.
The woman said she was 11 years old at the time of her father’s disappearance in Trenton. She said that her father, Alt, had not been seen since the 1985 murder of his girlfriend, according to authorities.
The Florida woman consented to let Othram see her full DNA results from the genealogy website where she had entered them, authorities said.
Othram came back four days later with a verified parent-child relationship match for the woman and Alt.
Alt and his girlfriend were thought to have been the victims of a homicide in New Jersey at the time of his disappearance. Her body was found in the Delaware River in Trenton in April 1985.
According to the Mercer County (New Jersey) Prosecutor’s Office, the cases remain open.
“The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office considers our investigation closed due to lack of evidence of any crime being committed in Bucks County,” a statement said.
“I can’t even imagine wondering and worrying about a lost family member for even a day, let alone for 37 years. That wait is now over for Mr. Alt’s family,” Weintraub said. “I’m just glad that we could give them some peace of mind with this identification, and the eventual return of his remains to his family.”
“This would not have been possible but for the technical expertise that Othram provided to us, for free,” Weintraub added. “I hope that this powerful combination of technology and genealogy becomes the template for solving cold and current cases now and in the future.”
Weintraub’s office has pushed to solve several old, unsolved cases in recent years, including the 1991 murder of Joy Hibbs in Bristol Township.
In addition to the Bucks County Detectives and Bucks County Coroner’s Office, the Trenton Police Department assisted. Ortham was able to cover the cost of the DNA testing through funding provided by Audiochuck, a Indianapolis-based media company known for producing crime podcasts.
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