Various law enforcement agencies across the country are using results from home genealogy test kits to solve criminal cases that have gone cold, and Missouri is no exception.
Darren Haslag is a master sergeant with the Missouri State Highway Patrol who’s assigned to the Division of Drug and Crime Control. He doesn’t know exactly when the use of genetic genealogy to solve cold cases started, but said it really took off about five years ago with the identity of the Golden State Killer in California.
“They were collecting DNA, but the DNA really wasn’t matching to anybody that’s in a system that many states have,” Haslag told Missourinet. “At that point a group of investigators and detectives decided to submit samples to ancestry websites, basically.”
Joseph James DeAngelo is now serving 12 life sentences without parole for 13 murders and 51 rapes committed in California during the 1970’s and 80’s. Haslag explained how genetic genealogy works as a crime fighting tool.
“You can get a line of family members that share the DNA of the sample that you submitted, but you still have to do the work,” he said. “You still have to figure out of this group of family members, and depending on how the markers in the DNA and the results come back, you may have three brothers that could have done this crime or you could have the ancestors of a certain great grandpa.”
But that has led some people to raise privacy concerns about submitting DNA samples to learn about their ancestry. Haslag said some companies choose not to share their customers’ DNA info with law enforcement.
“Other ones that do (share) give the customers an option to opt out of it when they submit their sample,” he said. “There’s always an option that when you submit it that you can opt out of it. Most sites have that. The ones that will not participate with us just are not available for those searches through companies that we use.”
Haslag said the Highway Patrol is currently using genetic genealogy to investigate two violent sexual assaults that occurred in southern Missouri. He can’t comment any further on those two cases.
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