Texas lab helping law enforcement catch murderers, rapists

Law enforcement turning to genetic genealogy to solve cold cases

By Erica Hernandez - Digital Journalist

HOUSTON - In April 2018, the FBI announced an arrest in a cold case over 30 years old. 

Joseph DeAngelo was accused of being the Golden State Killer, and is believed to have committed at least 13 murders and more than 50 rapes.

Police in California say genetic genealogy was the newest form of forensic evidence that was used to solve the case. 

The development of this new crime-solving method was historic, and a company in Houston is behind it.

Since 2000, Family Tree DNA has been collecting DNA kits to help people across the world find who they are and where their ancestors are from.

"In effect, you could say that genetic genealogy started right here in Houston, Texas," founder and president of Family Tree DNA Bennett Greenspan said.

Currently, Family Tree DNA's database has more than 2 million DNA samples, but more than 4 million DNA samples have been tested in the past 19 years in its lab. 

In 2017, the company received a subpoena from the FBI and tested a DNA sample to see if there was any match from its database.

That testing led to the arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, who is suspected of being the Golden State Killer.

Since that case, Family Tree DNA has helped in solving several different cases across the country.

"I think at this point, it's not unfair to say that a crime a week or a couple crimes a week are being solved by us or the other people in the industry," Greenspan said.

This new form of crime-solving has been a huge asset for the FBI, whose CODIS system only had DNA samples from people who had been arrested in the past or are currently in jail. 

Family Tree DNA's database opens up DNA samples that weren't available before and samples from people who had never been arrested.

"It's a new technology to solve that crime that otherwise would not have been solvable," Greenspan said.

Currently, Family Tree DNA has control of what cases it will test on and will only do tests for cases involving murders or rapes. 

Law enforcement, on their end, have a process to follow and must register their cases in the Family Tree DNA database. 

 

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