By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Gardai and dental specialists are developing a high-tech identification system as part of a series of initiatives to step up measures to help solve missing-person cases.
There are 60 files still open of people who have vanished without a trace from 1995-99.
Dublin Dental Hospital chief executive Brian Murray said the hospital hopes to become the country’s first center specializing in forensic dentistry.
The funding of a national computer dental database at the hospital by the Department of Justice will complement a unique new computer system already developed as part of the operation code-named "TRACE".
Based in Naas, Co. Kildare, Operation TRACE (Tracing, Reviewing and Collating Evidence) is a special team of detectives established in 1998 by Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne.
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Modeled on the so-called "cold case" teams of U.S. police departments, it reopened files on the cases of six women who went missing since 1993 amid speculation that a serial killer was involved.
The six missing women — who are all believed to have been murdered — are U.S. student Annie McCarrick, 26; Fiona Pender, 25, from Tullamore; Jo Jo Dullard, 21, from Kilkenny; Fiona Sinnott, 19, from Wexford; Ciara Breen, 18, from Dundalk, and Deirdre Jacob, 18, from Newbridge.
Justice Minister John O’Donoghue, in a written Dail reply, said the TRACE team had devised a unique database "which facilitates cross-referencing of detail and highlighting of similarities among the vast amount of information which has been collated.
"Operation TRACE has yielded new lines of inquiries which have been pursued in conjunction with the original investigation teams," he said.
Gardai are also working with Interpol and Europol as part of worldwide network to trace missing persons.
Hugh Barry, a forensic odontologist at the Dublin Dental Hospital, said the hospital will use a software system called Computer-Assisted Post Mortem Identification Four (CAPMI4), developed by the U.S. armed forces and supplied by the Pentagon.
Dental charts are currently compared manually by staff, but they plan to enter all the charts of missing people on the program.
"Then, as any remains are found and charted, we will be able to plug them into the program and it will do a quick search and see if we have any matching files," Barry said.
The country’s top specialist in the field, Barry and his team have worked on identification of the dead after Air India crash off the southwest coast, the Betelgeuse oil tanker explosion in Bantry, and the Stardust fire disaster.
Barry said the new system would be invaluable in situations where large numbers of people were killed or missing.
The CAPMI4 system is already out of date. A new version is only being made available to government agencies by the Pentagon.
"We don’t have official standing at the moment, though we do all the work," Barry said. "We have three dentists and a radiographer involved here and we have been keen to be recognized as a national forensic dental unit."