Drone aerial imagery for the simulation of a neonate burial based on the geoforensic search strategy (GSS)

Benjamin Rocke, Alastair Ruffell, Laurance Donnelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
212 Downloads (Pure)


A woman reporting the homicide and burial of an infant in 2004 prompted the creation of an experimental simulated neonate grave shortly before the real search commenced. The real case, documented here, did not use aerial imagery, but used ground-penetrating radar (calibrated to the test site described here) to identify two locations that were probed for gas release and the deployment of victim recovery dogs. We suggest technological advances in remotely sensed aerial imagery that have developed since 2004 will demonstrate their use in focusing such searches by informing a Geoforensic Search Strategy (GSS) and suggesting locations accessible by a perpetrator to identify a burial location using the still-existent analogue site. To test this, in the spring of 2020 a DJI Mavic Pro drone was flown over the control site containing the simulated 2004 burial. Aerial image processing included the creation of orthomosaics, Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), Visual Atmospheric Resistance Index (VARI), and photogrammetry. Conventional ground-based geophysical surveys using ground-penetrating radar, guided by this new type of information integrated into the GSS, confirmed that anomalies seen in drone data were the 16-year-old burial. We test this strategy using both the original simulated burial in Northern Ireland and further evaluate it in two recent simulated graves in the United States in more complex scenarios, but with successful results.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Early online date12 Feb 2021
Publication statusEarly online date - 12 Feb 2021


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