Tarrant County

Tarrant County Scientist Tries to Put Faces to Old Skeletal Remains

Dr. Dana Austin is forensic anthropologist for Tarrant County Medical Examiner

When old skeletal remains are discovered, investigators often have little to go on. But in Tarrant County, one woman has made it her mission to solve the most challenging mysteries: Who are they and how did they die?

Dr. Dana Austin is a forensic anthropologist with the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Police often call her to the scene when human remains are found.

"We may get lucky and they have their wallet with their driver's license in their back pocket,” she said. “And that happens. But we occasionally get a case where we get none of that information so we're completely blind who that person may be."

Those are the challenges, but Austin never gives up.

One of her newest cases involves some human bones discovered in December in neighboring Parker County with one unique clue: A pink bathrobe tie.

"We don't have a tentative ID on this individual,” she said in an interview in her lab.

But Austin already has a few clues.

The victim was as short as 4 foot 6 inches, Hispanic and a woman.

"If we have the pelvis and we have the cranium, yes we can answer those questions,” she said.

Using DNA, she's sometimes able to get an image of what the victim may have looked like.

Such was the case in another Parker County mystery dating to 1985.

His remains were found between Weatherford and Springtown.

"We would very much like to figure out who he is," Austin said. "Even though his skeleton has been here in our lab for a long time, he has certainly not been forgotten."

One clue: He was wearing Guess jeans.

"We have ruled out a lot of individuals," she said. "We've done a lot of investigation in this case. We have compared this person to probably 100 missing persons."

But still nothing.

In every case, Dr. Austin works hard for that moment she can make a positive identification, help police if it’s a homicide, and bring long-awaited answers to the victim’s family.

"It is the most fantastic thing that happens," she said. "It's the best part of my job by far."

Anyone with information in either case is urged to call the Parker County Sheriff’s Office.

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