Genetic Genealogy as a crime fighting tool

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 5:19 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - After decades of murder, rapes, and burglaries, Joseph DeAngelo otherwise known as the Golden State Killer, was finally captured in 2019 and convicted in 2020. It took years of detective work.

But ironically tiny pieces of DNA collected from crimes scenes throughout California would finally connect DeAngelo to the colossal crimes spree.

“Take that sample and run it through a different process that you are able to get the complete gnome,” says Christine Burke with Genetic Genealogy for Law Enforcement. “And then through the commercial services at this point, it matches you through relatives. And then you take those matches through a particular process, and you narrow it down and it basically points you to the person,” she says.

Former detective and current trainer to law enforcement, Burke says she only realized the magic of genetic genealogy while searching her own family history.

There was plenty of drama she says. But she’s taken what she has learned from her own journey to educate other law enforcement personnel about this new crime solving technology.

“These are all bodies found….”says Burke.

She shows us a map of where unidentified bodies have been found throughout Washoe County. Genetic Genealogy could help connect these people to family or loved ones.

A little more than two years ago, investigators were able to put a name to a body found on Mount Rose back in 1982. Detectives knew the woman was shot to death. In early 2018 a local forensic investigator attended a forensic genealogy class. Armed with new information, five months later, they tentatively identified the woman as Mary Silvani. Further investigation would ultimately locate the man suspected of killing Silvani as James Richard Curry. That identification too was through genetic genealogy.

Burke sees these types of cases as just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to solving crimes. While she speculates it will require plenty of capital investment for law enforcement labs, that investment will pay off she says.

She gives the DeAngelo case as an example.

“The fact that in the Gold State Killer, I believe it was $10,000,000 dollars the cost of that. As opposed to a $218 dollar DNA Kit, and I believe 64 days. You can’t touch that,” she says.

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