So it was a thrill to me to read about the use of genealogy and GEDmatch to help law enforcement help capture Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected Golden State Killer! Although I wasn't familiar with the case, I was familiar with the process of using DNA to solve cold cases, exonerate those wrongly convicted, and the popularity of DNA kits, such as Ancestry.

If you aren't familiar with the Golden State Killer case, I've included some information from Wired.com:

Three hundred and sixty-six days ago, CeCe Moore woke up to the headline that would change her world: “Suspected Golden State Killer, East Area Rapist Arrested After Eluding Authorities for Decades.” Later that day, those authorities would hold a press conference in front of the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office to explain how, a day earlier, they had finally put handcuffs on the man believed to have committed a series of sadistic rapes and murders that spread terror through California for more than 40 years. But Moore didn’t have to tune in to know how they had done it. “I knew immediately they had cracked it with genetic genealogy and GEDmatch,” she says.

She knew it because at the time, Moore was working as the genetic genealogy researcher on the PBS show Finding Your Roots and had a consulting business helping adoptees find their biological parents. To aid her searches, she regularly logged on to GEDmatch, a public database where hobbyists upload results from consumer genetic testing companies like 23andMe and Ancestry to find relatives with shared DNA and to reverse-engineer their family trees. It had come to her attention that another genealogist on the site, Barbara Rae-Venter, had been uploading files that seemed out of place, and Moore suspected they came not from family members, but from crime scenes. But she had never imagined that one of them belonged to the man believed to be one of the most notorious serial killers in US history. “This was going to be huge,” she remembers telling people that day.

But not even Moore could have predicted just how huge it would become. In the year since the dramatic arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, the alleged Golden State Killer, investigative genetic genealogy has emerged as the most powerful new crime-fighting tool since DNA itself. The technique has been used to identify suspects in more than 50 additional cases. Its vast potential to crack tens of thousands more has given rise to a lucrative new forensic science business, the formation of dedicated family-tree-building police units, and the first-ever home DNA kit marketing campaign to get people to send in their spit to solve crimes.

The practice also raises grave genetic privacy concerns. Namely, a single user can unknowingly cast a web of legal suspicion around hundreds of their family members, who not only haven’t consented to a police search but haven’t even taken a DNA test themselves. There are no laws or policies governing how and when cops can use forensic genetic genealogy. Prosecutors will have to defend the constitutionality of the technique when the first cases go to trial this summer; meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are increasingly reaching into consumer DNA databases for leads, with only those websites’ terms and conditions to keep them in check.

(the full story can be read here)(the full story can be read here)


DNA is a very powerful forensic tool and its use in investigations is now very common place, provided DNA evidence is available. If you're not familiar with what DNA is and how forensic science uses DNA evidence, view this video:

This case will be showcased at The Southern California Association for Fingerprint Officers (SCAFO) training conference being held next month. This professional organization provides relevant training and is a great way to network with others!

For more information about SCAFO and register for the conference, please visit http://www.scafo.org.