The future of the fight against crime is the study of tree genealogies
Former police officer Joseph James Diangelo, accused of being the “ Killer of the Golden State, ” in a courtroom in Sacramento, pc. California, May 29, 2018, at a time when the judge decides how much information related to his arrest can be given to the public. Diangelo is suspected of at least a dozen murders and approximately 50 cases of rape in the 1970s and 80s.
In April, Barbara Rye-Venter, a non-staff forensic scientist, used the obscure GEDMatch site to help investigators find a man wanted for almost 40 years: the “killer of the Golden State”. Over the next few months, US law enforcement agencies jumped at the technology and managed to arrest a whole crowd of more than 20 people associated with the most terrible "hangers" over the past five decades. Genetic genealogy ceases to be an anomaly of forensic medicine and quickly becomes a routine procedure. At least one company already offers a full range of genetic genealogy services for law enforcement customers. And Paradise-Venter's experience is so highly valued that it has already begun to teach its secrets to the largest law enforcement organizations in the United States, including the FBI.
Identifying individuals based on their distant genetic kinship, a technique called family long-range search , is becoming a potential alternative to the common DNA search methods available to cops. The use of these bases is strongly limited by laws, and they can only determine close relatives - brothers, sisters, parents or children. And to search the open database GEDMatch does not require a court order, despite the fact that it is a storehouse of potential pickups, while, unlike judicial databases, it contains genetic data that can be tied to health-related features and other information that can help determine the identity of a person.
So far there are no laws regulating the use of long-range family search by law enforcement agencies, while various amateurs and volunteers who work for the good of society have turned to these databases for years to find biological families of adopted children. But some experts in jurisprudence claim that the use of these bases in the investigation of crimes raises serious concerns about the threats to personal life. They believe that at some point this practice will lead to trials, although perhaps not in the coming year. In the meantime, GEDMatch is increasing its capacity, increasing by almost a thousand downloads daily. Considering that in the hands of the builders of family trees who deal with this professionally, there are hundreds of new cases, we can confidently say
On the last Saturday of June, Sisi Moore worked, sitting on a couch and bending over her laptop, for the 16th hour in a row. A month before her as a genetic genealogist for the role of the head of the division engaged in family long-range search, the company from Virginia, Parabon, engaged in the study of DNA for judicial purposes, hired. She plunged into the study of a case that originated from the city of Fort Wayne in Indiana. In the spring of 1998, eight-year-old April Tinsley was abducted from her home. Three days later, a runner discovered her body in a ditch on highway 68, passing through Dikalb district, 30 km from the city. She was raped and strangled.
For years, Tinsley's murderer terrorized the northeastern part of Indiana, leaving messages on the walls of the sheds, in which he boasted of his crime. In 2004, four threats appeared on girls' bicycles and lying in the courtyards of their homes. These messages were in bathing shorts, along with used condoms. The sperm DNA coincided with the one that was found in Tinsley’s underwear.
In the summer, Indiana investigators obtained DNA from the scene of the first crime and sent it to Parabon. There, the company received a DNA-based profile, similar to that sent to you by commercial DNA decryption companies, such as 23andMe or Ancestry. Then they uploaded this profile to GEDMatch and started looking for matches. They found 12 people, relatives from the fifth to the third generation.
Sisi Moore, August 14, 2018
From this weekend of June Moore and began her search. The relatives belonged to four different family trees containing thousands of people, and all this was somehow connected with the killer from Fort Wayne. The first thing she did was go back in time to discover ancestors that were common to the suspect and 12 relatives she found. As a result, she found 4 couples born from 1809 to 1849. After that, she could easily move through the history already ahead, building family trees for each generation up to the present. She did this by tracking names and faces through census data, newspaper archives, school albums and social networks.
By the time evening arrived in San Diego, where her house is located, she had already entered a single branch of the tree into which all four genetic streams merged. From that moment on, work went faster. When the clock struck midnight, she discovered relatives who had moved to Indiana. It took not so long to reach the two brothers who lived in the area where Tinsley was killed. Brothers and sisters - this is the highest accuracy available genetic genealogy. But Moore became suspicious about one of the brothers - he was a recluse, he had no wife and children, he lived in a trailer, the Internet did not have his photos, and his family did not even mention him on Facebook.
All this Moore issued to investigators from Indiana. A few days later, they returned to her with a photo of one of two brothers, under which was an inscription made by hand. She gasped. “I thought it was him, but I wasn’t sure until I saw his handwriting,” says Moore. - He coincided with the inscriptions on the barn.
In the first week of July, Indiana authorities watched the trailer and retrieved an item with traces of suspect's DNA from the trash. Laboratory tests confirmed that DNA, which was collected from condoms in 2004 and from the crime scene in 1989, belongs to one person: 59-year-old John Dale Miller. July 15, he was arrested by the police. According to reports, when the police asked him if he knew why they came to him, he replied: "April Tinsley." On December 7, Miller confessed to murdering and abusing a child in a court in Allen County. On December 21, the judge sentenced him to 80 years in prison.
Miller was the first man who was put behind bars thanks to genetic genealogy. Soon, others may follow. Parabon has published information about its participation in 20 “disclosed” cases, and eight more, which remain in the process of consideration. At least 4 people in these cases have already died. The company was able to quickly unwind after news of the “killer of the Golden State” appeared, as it had already created about hundreds of genetic profiles thanks to its phenotyping service — it allows you to create a composite image based on DNA that the police are distributing in the hope of getting a tip. Having hired Moore, in the summer they quickly found three more genetic genealogists, and are negotiating with one more. The company says that it has already loaded about 200 profiles on GEDMatch, relating to unsolved cases held by several dozen law enforcement agencies from all over the United States. Parabon is actively working on the disclosure of about 40 such cases.
Some of them are considered active, and are not limited to crimes committed several decades ago. For example, in April, a week after the announcement of the disclosure of the “killer of the Golden State”, someone broke into a house located in St. George, Utah, and sexually abused a 79-year-old woman who lived there. Three months later, the authorities arrested the suspect, Spencer Glen Monet, on the basis of Moore’s genetic detective work. She says that now everyone gives priority to active affairs. At the moment, Parabon is working on at least one active affair related to the repeat offender, but the company expects that in 2019 there will be more such cases.
“In active cases for which it is not possible to find coincidences in the CODIS [federal base of criminals] base, law enforcement officers begin to realize that they do not have to wait until all possibilities have been exhausted, and you can immediately contact us”, says Helen Greytek, head of the advanced DNA services division. "Genetic genealogy can be a tool that is addressed directly right away."
Paradise-Venter, a genetic genealogist that uncovered the “killer state of the Golden State,” also began to engage in active affairs, enlisting the help of a small team of volunteers. Now she works 12-15 hours a day and six days a week, trying to track down a serial rapist who is still committing his crimes. In addition, her group works out 25-30 old unsolved cases. And she is still working closely with the detectives from Sacramento County, with whom she worked on the case of the "killer state of the Golden State." Paradise-Venter says that most of her turn consists of people who came on the recommendation of the FBI.
And the feds really don't want to leave her alone. That year, the FBI organized the Rye-Venter flight to Houston, Texas, to give a seven-hour presentation on genetic genealogy for hundreds of people — federal agents, local police, and even one Texas ranger in a characteristic cowboy hat. “This topic really attracts people's attention,” she says. And although experts on the history of families, as she is, can lead in this nascent field, she believes that it makes sense to train and issue certificates to people from law enforcement agencies, instead of attracting people for whom this is a hobby. She believes that as a result, each major law enforcement agency will have its own specialists of this kind. "I think this is the area of detective activity, not genealogist," says Ray-Venter.
As an example, she cites the September arrest of a man who was considered a rapist from northern California, another recidivist who had terrorized victims in six districts of California for 15 years from 1991. Detectives from the county prosecutor's office, who studied at Paradise-Venter, downloaded the suspect's genetic profile and built the family trees themselves. According to the prosecutor’s office, they went to the person they arrested, Roy Charles Waller, in just 10 days.
But genetic genealogy alone is not enough to arrest. Investigators need confirmatory DNA testing, they must take genetic material from a suspect, which can usually be removed from the trash, and compare it with DNA found at the crime scene. But lawyers are worried that the widespread use of long-range family search will result in a lot of innocent people following genetic surveillance.
GEDMatch, which already contains 1.2 million profiles from people who have analyzed their DNA in services such as 23andMe and Ancestry, can already be used to search for about 60% of all Americans of European descent, regardless of whether they did testing or not. These figures gave two recent analyzes conducted by genetic researchers, who believe that such bases will grow so much over the next few years that it will be possible to find any person on the basis of their DNA, even if they did not place it voluntarily in the public domain.
“You cannot delete the profile of your second cousin, whose existence you do not even suspect,” says Erin Murphy, law professor at New York University Law School, an expert on searching for family DNA. If someone falls into the trap of long-range family search, she says, they will have little chance of legal protection. “This search clearly demonstrates that the legal privacy protection we have, based on the 4th amendment , is not enough to work with the methods that the police have in 2018”.
There is still insufficient data on public opinion on whether the police can access non-criminal genetic databases in their work. Primary surveys indicate that most Americans actively support such searches, if this is related to the capture of people committing crimes with the use of violence. If we are not talking about the use of violence, then support drops from 80 to 40%.
And while genetic genealogy remains an expensive way, it is unlikely to be used to catch thieves or drug dealers. But this, too, seems to be changing. The more people send their saliva for DNA analysis and upload the results to GEDMatch, the more often there is a match. The 80-year-old Curtis Rogers, one of the creators of the website, says that since the change of the rules of work in May, the site has grown by 200,000 profiles. And the search capabilities have just become more extensive. Last week, a team of computer scientists Rogers, consisting of retired computer scientists, rolled up an update that would allow people to find even more matches with even more distant relatives. They also added a tool called “revolutionary” by him - he lets the cops decide is a small piece of DNA a real match, or just noise. Since volunteers mostly work on the site, it took them two years. But now Rogers says that you can begin to think about how to turn their hobby, a Wikipedia-like site for Web 1.0, into something more professional — for example, add backups and increase security. “We want to make sure that this project will live long,” he says.