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Police used DNA from a genetics testing company to locate the notorious Golden State Killer

This breakthrough gave police the information needed to begin closing the book on a 40-year-old case.

Dna testing
Image: ZME Science

In a case that has been a mystery for decades, police in San Francisco now have a suspect for who they believe to be the Golden State Killer, thanks to an unlikely tool – a DNA testing website for genealogy.

Using DNA collected at a crime scene years ago, investigators submitted the sample to open-source genealogy website, GEDmatch. As it turns out, a distant relative to the suspect had submitted their DNA to the website for testing and, after sorting through the large pool of possible suspects, investigators landed on 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer.

From StatNews:

Investigators took DNA collected years ago from one of the crime scenes and submitted it in some form to one or more websites that have built up a vast database of consumer genetic information. The results led law enforcement to the suspected killer’s distant relatives, who were presumably among the millions of consumers who have paid up and mailed in a spit kit to track down long-lost family members, learn more about their ancestry, or gauge their risk for medical conditions. That created a pool of potential suspects under the same family tree that investigators eventually narrowed down to 72-year-old former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, the Sacramento Bee and other news outlets reported.

Because GEDmatch is open-source and allows members to share their DNA profile, police were not required to obtain a court order before researching the lineage.

While this is definitely a big win for the victims and those surrounding the case, it is a stark reminder that many DNA companies, even those that aren’t open-source, have to cooperate with police investigations when called upon.

Have you ever used a genealogy website to check your family history? Did you know that police could access the findings? Let us know down in the comments below. 

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Former KnowTechie editor.

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