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DNA Solving Crimes

Posted on Tuesday, August 15, 2023
DNA has taken such big steps in the crime and cold case world lately. Many crimes are being solved with old DNA that was gathered at a crime scene and stored. Here we are going to look at 5 cases that have went to cold case to solved and what helped lead them there. But stick around, because we will also discuss more information about DNA testing.

CASE: Rita Curran
(Cold Case for over 50 years)
DEATH: Strangled to death in 1971 in her home in Vermont, after being attacked and sexually assaulted.
SUSPECTS: Police suspected Tim Bundy but had about a dozen other suspects.
DNA EVIDENCE pointed to her neighbor, William DeRoos, who died in 1986 from a cigarette at the crime scene. DNA came back and positively identified DeRoos as the attacker. CASE CLOSED in 2023

CASE: Anna Kane
(Cold Case for 34 years)
DEATH: October 1988 when Kane was found in a wooded area near Reading, PA. She had bailing twine around her neck and after investigation it was revealed she was strangled and dumped.
DETAILS: After her murder, a local newspaper received an anonymous letter with information only the killer would have known. DNA was found on the envelope when it was licked. In 2022, police used genetic testing to identify the cold case killer.
GUILTY: Scott Grim was found guilty in 2022.

CASE: Catherine and George Peacock
(Cold Case for 33 years)
DEATH: Stabbed to death in their Danby, VT home in 1989
DETAILS: No forced entry left detectives with little to go on. They did list the couple's son in law as a suspect but had no evidence against him until May 2020 when they were able to link a drop of blood inside Louise's car that belonged to George Peacock.
GUILTY: Michael Anthony Louise was arrested and charged with the couple's murder in 2022 thanks to advances in forensic technology.

CASE: Fawn Cox
(Cold case for 31 years)
DEATH: 16-year-old Cox was raped and strangled in her own bed in Kansas City, MO in 1989.
SUSPECTS: Three different teenage boys were charged with Cox's murder. But without evidence, the longest one was in jail was over 8 months.
DNA EVIDENCE: Since DNA was collected at the crime scene, the Cox family fought for the use of advanced DNA testing. In 2019 the FBI stepped in and within a few weeks they had answers to the 31-year-old cold case.
GUILTY: Cox's own cousin, Donald Cox Jr. was guilty, but passed away of a drug overdose in 2006.

CASE: Golden State Killer (Joseph James DeAngelo)
(Cold Case for 42 years)
CASE: Through the 1970s and 1980s a masked gunman terrorized California with a series of killings, rapes and assaults. He is believed to be linked to more than a dozen homicides and at least 50 rapes in California.
DNA EVIDENCE: In 2001 DNA proved that the Golden State Killer was the same as the East Area Rapist as well as the Original Night Stalker. Then in 2018 detectives used a DNA matching system known as GEDMatch. DeAngelo's name popped up in a pool of suspects. Detectives took DNA unknowingly from DeAngelo's trash and car door handle and matched it to some evidence.
GUILTY: DeAngelo was charged with 13 counts of murder with special circumstances, including murder committed during the course of a burglary and rape, as well as 13 counts of kidnapping for robbery.

As you can see, DNA testing has helped close these five cold cases, but in reality, DNA has helped close thousands of cases every year, some not even making it to a cold case because of advancement in the DNA technology. This is why it is important to have DNA collected from any crime scene. If someone is raped, get that rape kit done! Even if it seems like a lost cause, that DNA can be uploaded to the CODIS system.

What is the CODIS System?
CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) was developed in the United States (though other countries have similar databases) as a central location for law enforcement to compare the DNA profiles of individuals who had been convicted of a certain class of crime. The idea was that as the database grew, they would be able to take DNA from a crime scene, and upload it into CODIS to look for a match.
When used by the correct agencies, it has the potential to:
- Link an unknown sample to a convicted offender. This gives the investigator the name of a previously unidentified suspect.
- Link an unknown sample to a solved case. This would also identify a suspect for the investigator.
- Link two or more unsolved cases. Linking unsolved cases can help an investigator look for similarities in the crimes, define geographical areas, compare victim statements, etc. If the crimes occurred in different jurisdictions, linked cases would enable the investigators to compare notes and possibly develop a suspect.
- Exclude suspects. This can often be as important as identifying a suspect. Exclusion of a particular individual can allow the investigator to change the focus of the investigation.

You can learn more about CODIS here

How is genetic testing linked to solving crimes when someone is not in the CODIS system?
Private DNA test kits like Ancestry and 23andMe offer users downloads of their genetic code, which they can later upload to sites like GEDMatch. These private DNA bases are closed to law enforcement due to privacy concerns. Press says access to private databases like 23andMe or Ancestry would make the search process for law enforcement much quicker. This is how the Golden State Killer was captures, as well as a Fort Wayne, IN crime, April Marie Tinsley - which was solved 30 years later and her killer caught.
You can learn more about GEDMatch and Private DNA databases here

Can I donate my DNA to a database to help track down suspects?
You absolutely can donate your DNA to a database. You can do a genealogy report, which automatically gets added to the GEDMatch database, or there are some smaller companies that are trying to build their own database for law enforcement to use like this one. But with every good deed, be aware that if your DNA has a hit of someone who committed a crime, you or your family can be quickly swept into a police investigation.

All in all, technology has come such a long way - just look at all the cold cases being solved every year by DNA matching!

What are your thoughts on DNA technology? Tell us in the comments!