Earlier this week, the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo, was arrested by police, ending a 27-year-old search for the person responsible for 12 homicides and 51 rapes. That is nothing but great news, a huge relief to all of his victims, and a satisfying closing chapter to the late Michelle McNamara’s meticulous search for the killer. A measure of justice will finally be served.
We are also beginning to understand how police were able to track DeAngelo down, and apparently, the first big break in the case came from … genealogy websites. Sacramento investigators used DNA from one of the crime scenes and, through a long, painstaking process, attempted to match that DNA to DNA samples collected by online genealogy websites submitted by individuals who wanted to know more about their families.
Police didn’t find an exact match online, but they were able to match DeAngelo’s DNA to an online family tree, zero in on a particular family, and then find a member of that family who fit the description of the suspect, namely someone who lived in the Sacramento area and was in the right age range. Once they found their suspect, they took DeAngelo’s DNA from a piece of trash that he had discarded and found the exact match.
The crime lab began testing the material and [Sacramento County District Attorney’s Anne Marie] Schubert said she got a call last Friday night from Grippi while she was at a high school fundraiser telling her that the DeAngelo DNA matched that found at decades-old murder scenes in Ventura and Orange counties.
“I was at a dinner at Cristo Rey High School and Steve Grippi called me,” she said. “And so I probably used a few words I wouldn’t put in a newspaper, but basically said, ‘You’d better not be lying to me.’”
The sample provided “overwhelming evidence that it was him,” Schubert said, but she decided they wanted a second sample, which sheriff’s officials recovered.
The second sample provided a conclusive match, and DeAngelo was arrested on Tuesday.
And that’s great news, but it may also raise some privacy concerns from people who submit their DNA to genealogy websites now that they know that their DNA sample could potentially be used to connect them or their relatives to past crimes. I suppose I wouldn’t be too concerned at the moment (after all, users voluntarily give up their DNA), but it’s one more step toward a future that is looking more and more like a Philip K. Dick novel.
Source: The Sacramento Bee