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New Forensics Tool: Development of an Advanced Sensor for Detecting Clandestine Graves

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2010
39 pages

Using a specific and unique database of human decompositional odor, this project developed a sensor package capable of locating clandestine graves.


The detector was constructed with off-the shelf components and has a 12-sensor array platform designed to detect the major classes of chemical compounds relevant in human decomposition. It is self-contained, portable, and built for field use. Both visual and auditory cues are provided to the operator. The detector is called the LABRADOR, an acronym for "light-weight analyzer for buried remains and decomposition odor recognition." The LABRADOR is the next step forward in clandestine grave detection and will take the guess-work out of current methods that use canines and ground-penetrating radar, which have historically been unreliable. Although not as sensitive as a mass spectrometer, the LABRADOR has been show to provide qualitative data comparable to the of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry headspace analysis with collected field soil samples. A data port allows the operator to store data. Batteries, if fully charged, will last up to 6 hours of constant use. The cost per unit is estimated at $1,000-$1,500. The database composing the odor emanation from human cadavers was developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in conjunction with the University of Tennessee's Decay Research Facility, and it continues to be developed for long-term burials. 2 tables, 7 figures, 30 references, and appended draft of the user manual

Date Published: July 1, 2010