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The Genetic Detective

A few years after meeting a new cousin on the Family Tree DNA site, retired patent attorney Barbara Rae-Venter started using her newfound expertise in genetic genealogy to help detectives solve crimes, the New York Times reports. Her most famous case so far? The case of the alleged Golden State Killer, retired police officer Joseph DeAngelo. 

The 70-year-old Rae-Venter — who holds a Ph.D. in biology and was previously married to geneticist J. Craig Venter —  "insists that she still considers genetic genealogy a hobby," Heather Murphy writes. Even so, "she's now talking to various law enforcement agencies about 50 cases involving homicide and unidentified victims."

The Golden State Killer case and others like it are still sparking debate in the genealogy community and beyond, though, particularly when it comes to searching DNA sequences from crime scenes against GEDmatch, a database that does not have the same privacy agreements as some commercial genetic testing firms.

"Ms. Rae-Venter said she was not aware of these conversations," Murphy notes. "The more she learned [about the Golden State Killer case] … the more determined she was."