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Monitoring of simulated clandestine graves of dismembered victims using UAVs, electrical tomography, and GPR over one year to aid investigations of human rights violations in Colombia, South America

Molina, Carlos Martín; Vasquez, AJB; Wisniewski, Kristopher; Heaton, Vivienne; Pringle, JamieK.; Avila, Edier Fernando; Herrera, Luis Alberto; Guerrero, Jorge; Saumett, Miguel; Echeverry, Raúl; Duarte, Mario; Baena, Alejandra


Carlos Martín Molina

AJB Vasquez

Kristopher Wisniewski

Edier Fernando Avila

Luis Alberto Herrera

Jorge Guerrero

Miguel Saumett

Raúl Echeverry

Mario Duarte

Alejandra Baena


In most Latin American countries there are significant numbers of missing people and forced disappearances, over 90,000 in Colombia alone. Successful detection of shallow buried human remains by forensic search teams is difficult in varying terrain and climates. Previous research has created controlled simulated clandestine graves of murder victims to optimize search techniques and methodologies. This paper reports on a study on controlled test site results over four simulated dismembered victims' clandestine graves as this is sadly a common scenario encountered in Latin America. Multispectral images were collected once post-burial, electrical resistivity surveys were collected 4 times and ground penetrating radar (GPR) surveys collected three times up to the end of the 371 day survey monitoring period. After data processing, results showed that the multispectral dataset could detect the simulated clandestine and control graves, with electrical resistivity imaging relative high resistances over some of the simulated graves but not over the empty control graves. GPR results showed good imaging on the Day 8 surveys, medium imaging on the Day 294 surveys and medium to good imaging on the Day 371 surveys. Study implications suggest that, whilst clandestine graves of dismembered homicide victims would likely result in smaller-sized graves when compared to graves containing intact bodies, these graves can still potentially be detected using remote sensing and geophysical methods.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 8, 2021
Online Publication Date Dec 20, 2021
Publication Date 2022-05
Publicly Available Date May 30, 2023
Journal Journal of Forensic Sciences
Print ISSN 0022-1198
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 67
Issue 3
Pages 1060-1071
Keywords Genetics, Pathology and Forensic Medicine
Publisher URL