PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Under a beating August sun, the painstaking work begins slowly to unravel a mystery. A nondescript potter’s field is the final resting place for hundreds, according to Philadelphia officials.READ MORE: 4 Shot Inside Park City Center Mall, Lancaster Police Say
Seven unidentified homicide victims buried there caught the attention of an anthropologist. She is Dr. Erin Kimmerle of the University of South Florida.
“I think what drives us is just the overwhelming number of unsolved cases that exist,” she said.
Veteran homicide detectives kept close watch over the progress. The nameless victims are buried 6 feet below the earth. The only guide in locating each grave is a round marker, most of which are buried beneath years of soil and grass.
“Once we get to where the top of the coffin had been, because the wood is deteriorated, it’s hand excavation, pretty much a traditional archaeology method at that point,” Kimmerle said.
The remains of two teens, one fatally shot and the other stabbed, will come out of the ground to a world with remarkably different technology.
“They’ll do chemical isotope analysis, which basically looks at elements in water and food, to tell were these victims from the Philadelphia area,” Detective Thomas McAndrew of the Lehigh County Homicide Unit said.READ MORE: 'Everyone Was In Pure Panic': Good Samaritans Rush To Shooting Victims' Aid At Park City Center Mall
Then there is the lesser-known case of “the girl in the box,” a crime eerily similar to Philadelphia’s infamous “boy in the box.”
“(She was a) little African-American girl found in 1962,” McAndrew said.
She was inside a box, thrown into the Schuylkill River, she had been dismembered, murdered.
She’s been lying in an unmarked grave ever since the 1960s.
Advances in DNA technology and facial recognition give these dedicated investigators a new shot at solving a mystery.
“There are a couple hundred people in this field, they die these violent deaths, and there are people who knew them and loved them, and maybe they don’t even know,” said Anthony Voci, chief of the homicide unit at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
“You’re dealing with victims who have long been in unmarked graves,” McAndrew said. “I really think every one of us has the right to have our name attached to us in death.”MORE NEWS: Man In Critical Condition After Fairhill Shooting, Police Say
Detectives encourage anyone with a missing relative to submit to an oral swab, which is entered into a specialized database that scientists can cross-reference.