Written by Jennifer Moore
How investigative genetic genealogy
helps law enforcement agencies find possible suspects in murders, rapes, and
infanticides from many years ago.
YOU SIMPLY CANNOT listen to or
read the news without the story of some 30- or 40-year-old murder being solved.
Ever since Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. was charged with eight counts of murder on
April 24, 2018, based on DNA evidence and genetic genealogy, there has been a
resurgence of cold case re-openings. Since then, over 100 cold cases consisting
of murder, rape, and infanticide have been solved using the new science of investigative
genetic genealogy (IGG). For victims and victims’ families, this new technology
has provided much-needed answers. For law enforcement and investigative
agencies, the new technology relieves years of hard work and enables the removal
of potentially dangerous perpetrators from our streets as courts allow
admission of DNA analysis and IGG at trials.
At the same time, as more cold
cases are revived, more companies and people jump on the IGG bandwagon. They
offer laboratory services, genetic genealogy, and investigation services. Police
investigators can spend as much time looking for appropriate IGG companies to
work with as they would on the case. There has to be an easier way. And there
is. It begins with understanding the process, expectations, and results.
Many law enforcement agencies
have their own forensic and investigative teams. Normally, all violent crime
cases start evaluation within the agency’s departments. The Combined DNA Index
System (CODIS) is the resource law enforcement agencies use for procuring
information gleaned from evidence at a crime scene. The CODIS database, run by
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is comprised of three levels of
information: the Local DNA Index System (LDIS), where the DNA profiles
originate from a State DNA Index System (SDIS), by which laboratories within a
given state can share information; and the National DNA Index System (NDIS),
which then allows the states to share DNA information with each other.
Within the CODIS system software
are databases that include the forensic sample information from crime scenes, plus
databases of convicted offenders, missing persons, etc. The CODIS information
does not include the personal information belonging to the sample, and if an
agency gets a “hit” on a submitted sample with an existing CODIS sample, it is then
up to the agency to gather the personal information within the laws of their
jurisdiction. When the submitting agency does not get a “hit” within the CODIS
databases and the trail of leads slows down or stops, the case becomes a “cold
With over a quarter of a million
cold cases on the books, we can see why there is a rush to employ the new investigative
genetic genealogy tools and services—but, a word to the wise: choosing the
right IGG company will shorten lead time, save money, and provide the
investigators with the information and resources to complete their
investigation through arrest, trial, and conviction.
Finding the right IGG Partner
So, your evidence did not come
up with any hits from CODIS. Whether the case is fresh, or if you’ve just blown
the dust off the manilla folder of a decades-old case, it's time to outsource
the evidence with hopes of fresh leads. Usually, the evidence is packed off and
sent to one of the many federal, state, county, or municipal labs for testing.
But with over 400 of these labs, there are more than 1.2 million forensic service
requests backlogged as of 2009, and that has remained relatively unchanged over
the years. Each lab may supply different forensic services, such as
fingerprints, ballistics, and DNA analysis, and within those labs will be
varying levels of technologies and equipment.
The very first task of finding
the right lab partner has become an overwhelming albatross. With DNA evidence
in hand, the best solution is partnering with an established IGG company that
has the experience of working with law enforcement forensic samples and
matching the appropriate partner lab with the type of DNA evidence to be
analyzed. Your IGG partner already has the experience of working with various
labs around the country and should be able to identify which lab will provide
their law enforcement client with the best analysis. By taking this step, the
law enforcement agency has already saved a great deal of time by letting their
IGG partner shoulder this portion of the job.
It Takes a Village to Solve a
When a criminal investigation
reaches a dead end, outsourcing the case to an IGG company can provide the law
enforcement agency with additional capabilities that may not be available
within the agency. Through a partnership with an IGG company, the agency will
have access to broader databases of DNA and experienced genetic genealogists
using state-of-the-art genealogy methodology.
That cooperation between your
team of police investigators and your IGG partner will bring your agency a greater
likelihood of finding answers to your current load of criminal and cold cases.
Your IGG partner will focus on two key aspects of the case: 1) finding and
working with the right lab and then running the DNA analysis through their
genetic genealogy software, and 2) partnering with public DNA databases that
work with law enforcement (currently FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch). Finding the
right IGG company for your case involves several considerations: experience,
solved cases, ability to work within police and legal parameters, and costs.
Experience is first and
foremost. Does the IGG company have experience in solving your type of case? If
you have a murder case on your desk, how is a company with a predominance of
experience in tracing missing persons going to perform for you? Does the IGG
company have experience in working with law enforcement investigation teams? If
the IGG company’s experience lies mostly in the commercial or business world,
will they understand police procedurals and the necessity for documentation and,
most importantly, will they know the laws of evidence submission for that
particular state where the arrest and trial will occur?
Ask about the company’s solve
rate and what types of cases they are having success in. Again, if you are
looking for a resolution on outstanding rape or murder cases, a company that
has solved thousands of fraud cases may not be the right choice. Investigative genetic
genealogy is still in its infancy as an industry and new companies are popping
up like mushrooms. As a law enforcement investigator, it is imperative that
your IGG partner has established ethics and a professional code, as well as
proven solved cases. Ask about credentials. Do any of the IGG team members have
previous law enforcement, judicial, or investigative experience? Are they
members of established associations for homicide investigations or forensic
The final consideration is cost.
The lab will charge a fee based on the type of evidence to analyze and other
factors, such as degradation, amount, and type of processes required to produce
DNA analytics. The IGG company will also charge fees. These fees may include
the lab, or not. They may include a sliding scale based on hours required to
analyze and produce a profile. Generally, law enforcement agencies will have
budgets for these types of investigations. If not, some programs can provide
funding or grant applications that may cover these costs. A couple of great
resources include the Department of Justice Forensic
and the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice
Assistance Grant (JAG) Program. As the number of case-solves
within a given agency rises due to IGG, budgets may increase, since clearing
out these long-overdue cases will save the agency money by decreasing working
hours and available resources.
with an experienced, professional, and reputable IGG company offers law
enforcement agencies many benefits, including diminishing the available pool of
suspects in a given case, arresting and sentencing some of the country’s most
heinous criminals, and giving victims and victims’ families the answers that
many of them have been waiting decades to hear.
About the Author
Moore is the founder and CEO of Innovative Forensic
Investigations. Moore is an Investigative
Genetic Genealogist, with extensive IGG experience within the industry, as well
as working with many law enforcement agencies. A Licensed Private Investigator
in the state of Virginia, Moore is experienced in using DNA profiles from crime
scenes and unidentified remains, along with IGG, to produce successful leads
for law enforcement. Additionally, she gained legal experience with the Link
Law Firm as an assistant in criminal cases. Her previous experience working with law enforcement as a genetic genealogist has been the impetus for creating Innovative Forensic Investigations.