07.09.18 | Finding Killers From the Couch

Eight years ago I received a phone call from my son saying two detectives were at his fraternity house seeking a cheek swab. As neither of us had any idea what this could have been about I suggested he politely decline the opportunity and maybe we'd look forward if necessary to a follow-on chat with the authorities about the meaning of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches. Well, that was that, until we discovered a number of my son's kindergarten classmates similarly had been approached even after all those ensuing years. Another classmate happened to have been JonBenet Ramsey.

Member Monday (7/9) is about the fascinating and exploding world of genetic genealogy. The detective effort had been aimed at, not the then children, but rather the elimination of their blood relatives as suspects in her murder. Our focus article (Finding Killers From The Couch) takes us into this brave new world combining DNA, newly-massive data bases, family tree analysis, public records, and Facebook. 

And to an attractive woman from San Diego sitting in her pajamas on a large beige sofa with her laptop, a wi-fi connection, a notebook, and a large whiteboard putting crime puzzles together. CeCe Moore may not have been the one credited with solving the recent Golden State Killer DNA-based case but she since then managed to crack in two days a twenty-year-old double murder Seattle case using the same genetic sleuthing. She is working on another ten cases and a pending arrest in one promises to be "shocking."

DNA profiling goes well beyond cold-case murder, of course. As members of a family, even distant ones, share segments of genetic material, DNA samples can precisely determine maternity/paternity, relative matching, and incest. Genetic databases are exploding -- GEDmatch alone has one million profiles. Also shocking is what can be established from just a single sample, such as the creation of a police sketch so accurate that a Texas murderer turned himself in.

Among the many possible applications of genetic science let us hope it might finally bring to closure the JonBenet case now well over two decades old. 

- Steve Smith.