NCIC’s Dental Matching Program Plays Key Role in Solving Cold Case

April 9, 2014
Originally published in the April 2014 edition of the CJIS Link, Volume 16, Number 1

On Friday, October 11, 2013, a Forensic Odontologist with the Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit (MUPU) of the Washington State Patrol (WSP) positively identified remains recovered more than 21 years ago by matching them to the dental records of a missing person.

The remains of the man were discovered in the Columbia River in Multnomah County, Oregon, in April 1992. The man was wearing a ski mask and had suffered a gunshot wound to his head. Information, including dental coding for the unidentified man, was entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) but produced no immediate results. 

Twenty years later, the Cold Case Unit at the Tacoma (Washington) Police Department pulled the missing persons report for John W. Nolen, who was reported missing by his mother in March 1992. Investigators discovered that he was still a missing person, but his record had been mistakenly removed from the NCIC several years earlier. Investigators reentered Nolen’s record and staff from the MUPU added the dental information from the records collected from his dentist in 1992. (Coincidently, the NCIC’s system of comparing the dental information of missing, wanted, and unidentified persons was upgraded in April 2004.)

The NCIC automatically generated a dental cross match report, also known as a $M Report, and the information was sent to the MUPU, the Tacoma Police Department, and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. The report provided a ranked list of records with possible matches to dental characteristics that have been coded and entered into the NCIC. The first record was for an unidentified person, located less than a month after Nolen was last seen in Tacoma. The physical description of the unidentified person was similar to Nolen, and the dental coding was nearly the same.

The MUPU checked the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), which is an Internet site that serves as a repository and resource center for records of missing and unidentified deceased persons. The MUPU staff located an entry for the unidentified man that included dental information, including X-rays. The X-rays were e-mailed to the Forensic Odontologist with the MUPU, who made the positive identification. The MUPU immediately notified the Tacoma Police Department and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office of the match.

Thanks to the work of the departments involved and NCIC’s dental matching capabilities, two cold cases found progress through identifying the remains of a man who─unknown to authorities─had also been reported missing. For law enforcement agencies with questions about the dental matching capabilities in the NCIC, contact the FBI’s CJIS Training and Advisory Process Unit at (877) FBI-NCIC or (877) 324‑6242.