New details released on the technology that identified Sarasota woman’s remains

WWSB ABC7 News at 6pm
Published: Aug. 4, 2023 at 6:39 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with DNA Labs International in Deerfield Beach to identify remains found in 2007. It is a major breakthrough that was decades in the making.

“The manner in which the remains were discovered, the location to which they were discovered, and the conditions of those bones indicate it was not a natural death,” said Mark LeFebvre of SCSO.

It has been more than 15 years since Jeana Burrus was found in a shallow grave in Sarasota. Her skeletal remains were just identified earlier this week. It all happened thanks to new technology that is turning things once viewed as lost causes into things that are real possibilities.

SCSO sent the remains to DNA Labs International, where they can find DNA matches from different sources, from blood to bones.

“This particular case where we have skeletal remains that are much older, we have specialized techniques that we use to help that out,” said the lab’s Chief Scientific Officer Rachel Oefelein.

The lab breaks down the bone in what is called a mixer mill, a steel jar and metal ball that is used to pulverize the bone.

“We get this powder bone material and that’s going to get a whole lot of things like chemicals and heat added to it to help us break out that DNA,” said Oefelein.

Then the lab sequences the DNA, which allows them to look into a person’s biogeographical ancestry.

“For example, is this person of European descent? Phenotyping tells us about their hair color and eye color. And then last is kinship location, so trying to help us build out the family tree,” said Oefelein.

But through this whole process, they are focused on the families who are left in the dark.

“Hopefully this case can give them hope. Technology is always evolving, and hopefully one day their case can be solved too,” said Oefelein.