Science is making real strides in solving cold cases – finding murderers and the identities of murder victims.
Everywhere you turn, DNA is being submitted to run through a new avenue of crime fighting called genetic genealogy.
This is how the Golden State Killer was finally identified and it’s how the murderers in other cold cases are being identified all over the country, often decades after crimes are committed.
When the Golden State Killer was arrested, District Attorney of Sacramento County, California, Anne Marie Schubert said, “I believe 100% that DNA is the greatest tool ever given to law enforcement to find the truth, whatever that is.”
According to the Library of Congress, genetic genealogy “creates family history profiles by using DNA test results in combination with traditional genealogical methods. By using genealogical DNA testing, genetic genealogy can determine the levels and types of biological relationships between or among individuals.”
In a nutshell, DNA gets submitted to websites like GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA where public DNA information is available. Companies and law enforcement agencies use it to create family trees to track down murderers and the identities of unidentified murder victims through familial relationships.
It’s a new branch of DNA forensics.
Companies like Parabon Nonolabs are leading the effort to solve crimes and help law enforcement agencies do the same.
Chief Genetic Genealogist for Parabon, DNA detective CeCe Moore has appeared on many true crime shows explaining how DNA forensics works and how successful it can be. She is considered to be an innovator and pioneer in the field. She originally started out using it to help adoptive children find their birth families but soon realized how her techniques could be applied to crime solving. She appeared in her own true crime ABC documentary called “The Genetic Detective.”
The DNA lab, Othram, which recently expanded, helped track down a killer 60 years after the violent murder of a young girl. Kristen Mittelman, their Chief Development Officer, describes the amazing discovery on the podcast “True Crime Daily.” Mittelman predicted being able to solve about 10,000 cold cases in the next three years.
Once a match to a crime is found on the family tree using DNA, police will use their regular tactics to confirm the person is the murderer in the crime that they have been investigating.
They will obtain DNA from the suspect surreptitiously (sneakily but legal). They will obtain spit from things like coffee cups or spoons.
Then if the match is validated, then they get a warrant to get a direct DNA swab from the suspect.
Often times, genetic genealogy is a last ditch effort to find a murderer when all else has failed in turning up a suspect. It has often been the ONLY thing that has led police to be able to solve a violent crime, sometimes turning up a person who was never even on their radar during their investigation.
In 2019, genetic genealogy helped find the kidnapper and murderer of an 11-year-old California girl who was killed in 1972. DNA forensics pointed to Jake Edward Brown and his body was exhumed to match the DNA evidence to the crime.
When the criminal is finally caught, it has also exonerated innocent people who have been under the microscope for decades as potential suspects.
Genetic genealogy is also immensely helpful in identifying murder victims who have been John and Jane Does for years.
The all-volunteer organization DNA Doe Project uses genetic genealogy to identify John and Jane Does, helping law enforcement and medical examiners all over the country when they’re run out of leads to chase.
Critics (criminal advocates and defense attorneys) don’t like genetic genealogy used to nab killers because they say it’s a menace to privacy rights and they are trying to stop or restrict police from searching genetic code databases.
A Pew research center survey shows that 48% of Americans are okay with DNA testing companies sharing user data with law enforcement but I believe that number will get much higher as the public is educated about what genetic genealogy and how it is used successfully.
Hopefully, the lawyers, politicians and the pro-criminal movement won’t be successful in taking away this valuable crime fighting tool out of the hands of law enforcement in order to give criminals another way to get a free pass.