Reheating Cold Cases
Written by Jennifer Moore   

This article appeared in the March-April 2021 issue of Evidence Technology Magazine.
You can view that full issue here.

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 case”.

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.

An experienced IGG company can help match your partner lab with the type of evidecne that needs to be analyzed.

It Takes a Village to Solve a Crime

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 research?

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 Science Programs 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.

Working 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
Jennifer 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.

< Prev   Next >

Interview with an Expert

One of the more specialized areas of crime-scene investigation has to do with searching for evidence of arson. To get some background in this area, we spoke with an individual who has had more than 46 years in fire service, 24 of which have focused specifically on fire/arson investigation.