This story originally appeared in The New York Times. Used with permission.
In the year since the arrest of the man believed to be the notorious Golden State Killer, the world of criminal investigation has been radically transformed.
Using an unconventional technique that relies on DNA submitted to online genealogy sites, investigators have solved dozens of violent crimes, in many cases decades after they hit dead ends. Experts believe the technique could be used to revive investigations into a vast number of cases that have gone cold across the country, including at least 100,000 unsolved major violent crimes and 40,000 unidentified bodies.
Many have called it a revolutionary new technology. But credit for this method largely belongs to a number of mostly female, mostly retired family-history lovers who tried for years to convince law enforcement officials that their techniques could be used for more than locating the biological parents of adoptees.
One was Diane Harman Hoog, 78, director of education at DNA Adoption, who realized in 2013 that she could apply the techniques she was using to identify two bodies she had read about in a Seattle newspaper. “This is too complicated,” she said she was told when she reached out to a detective. Four years later, Margaret Press, 72, a retired computer programmer and skilled family-tree builder in California, tried to help her local sheriff with a similar case. No one would return her calls.
Fast-forward to April 25, 2018, the day that a gaggle of California prosecutors announced that an “innovative DNA technology” had been used in the Golden State Killer case. The innovator was Barbara Rae-Venter, a genetic genealogist who had uploaded crime scene DNA to GEDmatch.com, a low-key genealogical research site run out of a little yellow house in Florida. Rae-Venter, 70, and her team soon found a suspect by …read more
Source:: The Week – Science