JEFFERSON CITY – On Monday, the Boone/Callaway County Medical Examiner's Office said an outside forensic odontologist would work with a local forensic anthropologist to identify skeletal remains found in Columbia on March 26.

The Columbia Police Department believes those remains belong to Mengqi Ji, a missing Columbia woman.

Confirming that belief through DNA testing and forensics is an exact science, according to a Jefferson City forensic odontologist.

"There are some situations where DNA can't be harvested, cannot be tested," Dr. Ernest W. Jackson said. "And those are the situations when the forensic odontologist comes in to play."

Jackson is not the forensic odontologist working the Mengqi Ji case, although he is only one of 81 forensic odontologists worldwide. There are only two in Missouri.

He has worked many forensic investigations, including for the United States Air Force and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As a result, he has an idea of the thought process behind the Mengqi Ji investigation.

"He's considering facts, he's considering, obviously, the collection of evidence," Jackson said.

According to Jackson, forensic odontology can tell a more complete story. His work can provide information on age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and diet; all variables, he says, which help criminal investigators make an identification.

"One facet of medicine doesn't tell the whole story," he said. "It takes a team."

The work of forensic odontologists is at a unique intersection between forensics and medicine. Break-throughs in investigations are even more rewarding.

"Knowing what happened to your loved one, to your relative, to your mom and dad – your friend – that helps to get and gain closure," Jackson said. "No case is more important than the others, but it's most important to the families."

The medical examiner's office has not yet identified the remains. Earlier in the week, Boone County Medical Examiner Dori Burke told KOMU 8 that the identification could come as soon as Friday. CPD said Friday that the identification will now come sometime next week. 

To report an error or typo, email news@komu.com.

Recommended for you