Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Solving Crimes Using Genealogy and DNA

I'm sure everyone has heard of the new technique of solving crimes using DNA and genealogy. I thought I'd review the television shows out there that deal directly with this process of solving cold cases, along with how it touches our lives.

The first case that gained publicity for being solved using genetic genealogy was the Golden State Killer case. In this case, the perpetrator committed at least 100 burglaries, 50 rapes and 13 murders between 1974 until 1986. I'm not sure this could be considered a cold case since the lead investigator never let up in trying to find the killer. The technique of using DNA triangulation along with family tree building of DNA matches found on led to the arrest of the murderer in 2018.

The investigator on this case, Paul Holes, has now retired and moved to television, hosting the show "The DNA of Murder" on Hulu. It can also be streamed on several other platforms including Sling and Youtube. In this show, Mr. Holes finds cold cases with DNA evidence and sends this evidence for analysis in order to use the DNA matches and family trees of these matches to track down the identity of the perpetrator. While DNA does play a role in this show, especially with Mr. Holes' history with the Golden State Killer, that is mostly behind the scenes. Much of the show shows him examining evidence using fresh eyes in order to further the investigation. The first episode of this show, double the normal show length ended up with a suprising identification of the murderer. I don't want to spoil the ending but the killer was no one the investigators had their eyes on.

The other show is the one everyone is currently talking about. "The Genetic Detective" with Cece Moore on ABC. If you've ever seen Cece on any of the ABC News investigative shows or heard her on various genealogy podcasts, you'll know that she is a genealogist through and through. In each episode, you learn a little about Cece's family life and her story that led her to being the preeminent genetic crime investigator. A bit of the show can be accurately described as "reality television" in that it shows the character of Cece during her investigation. Based on these snippets, I can confidently call Cece, and I mean this in the most complimentary way, a "geek". Her quirky charm makes the show fun to watch, compared to Paul Holes' serious, by-the-book show.

In the end, I enjoy both of these shows enormously. I encourage you to watch them both.

These shows touch on each of our lives because they both, along with law enforcement organizations across the nation, now use genetic genealogy web sites, along with the matches found there, yes, even yours, to identify relatives of the matches to find the guilty parties. After initial controversy, these sites now allow you to opt-in, or at least opt-out, of law enforcement use of your DNA matches.

These investigators use the same techniques that I used, and many other genealogists use, to find the identity of the parents of adoptees. A cousin of mine commented after a recent genealogical discovery, that I should be a detective. I told him that I already am, both in my job and my hobby. He thought I should go into crime solving. While watching a recent episode of Cece's show, my wife suggested that I should call up the local police department and Parabon Nanolabs, which Cece works with, and tell them I can help investigate. Trust me, if I thought they'd consider me, I would. Sadly, it's not that easy. So I'll have to stick with genealogy as a hobby and I'm okay with that.

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