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Cracking Old Cases

Genetic genealogy is enabling criminal investigators to solve numerous cold cases, the Washington Post writes.

Last year, a genetic genealogy approach enabled law enforcement officials to arrest Joseph James DeAngelo in the decades-old Golden State Killer case and, separately, William Earl Talbott II in the 1987 killing of a vacationing Canadian couple in Washington State. In these cases, investigators uploaded crime scene DNA to a publicly available genetic genealogy site like GEDMatch to see if they could uncover anyone related to the suspect and, if so, they used public and other records to move from that relative to the suspect. They then collected abandoned DNA from the suspect for confirmation.

Parabon Nanolab says its genetic genealogy methods have helped solve about 30 cases. "These are cases that it's entirely possible never would have been solved without the information that we're giving to them," Ellen Greytak, director of bioinformatics at Parabon tells the Post, "and we're always giving those detectives something they didn't have before, which is really what is the challenge in these cold cases."

But these approaches also raise privacy concerns, as the Post notes. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing firms like Ancestry and 23andMe adopted new guidelines in July for when they would share customers' data with other companies or law enforcement.