Success Stories

Opal Jennings

Opal Jennings was a beautiful 6 year-old child who was abducted from the front yard of her grandparent's home in Saginaw, Texas on March 26, 1999. She was playing with two other children when the abduction took place. The two children playing with her told police that a man grabbed Opal and forced her into a car. She was killed by blunt force trauma to the right side of her forehead.

Opal's remains went undiscovered for almost four years until one afternoon in December of 2003 a couple, enjoying a day of horseback riding, spotted a section of skull along the western shore of Lake Worth. Tarrant County Medical Examiner's investigators, the FBI and volunteers later found more bone fragments. Less than 20% of her actual remains were found in an area measuring roughly 300 to 400 square feet. The Medical Examiner's office determined that the bones belonged to a small child.

Shortly after the remains were found, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's office submitted a small fragment of bone to the UNT System, Center for Human Identification. The Center collected a family reference sample from Opal's mother, Leola Sandeford, for inclusion in the Texas Missing Persons DNA Database. Due to the condition of the bone, forensic analysts were unable to obtain much DNA from the sample. The only DNA marker recovered from the first sample determined the sex of the remains. The remains belonged to a female.

Representatives from the Center contacted Dr. Dana Austin, Forensic Anthropologist, with the Medical Examiner's office and asked if they could provide another sample. Dr. Austin accommodated the forensic analysts by reviewing the remains. A small intact tooth was chosen for the next round of DNA testing.

The tooth ultimately rendered almost all of the standard DNA markers used for nuclear DNA testing along with a complete mitochondrial DNA profile. These results were compared to Leola Sandeford's DNA profile and yielded conclusive DNA evidence indicating, with a 99.9% probability, that the remains belonged to Opal Jennings. Leola said in an interview that "The identification just told us what we already knew or suspected. Now we are going to put her to rest."