Genetic Genealogy: Closing Cold Cases with the Power of DNA
In the last decade, ancestry companies have made genetic genealogy a societal phenomenon. But this practice of bringing together genetic analysis with traditional historical and genealogical research to study family history is not only helping civilians learn more about their family trees, but it is also helping Law Enforcement agencies successfully close long-cold cases. While this technology has shown its value in the forensic world, it remains controversial, primarily in terms of consumer privacy. Some states like Maryland and Utah, legislation has been proposed or passed that limit Law Enforcement’s use of this technology and the databases involved.
In this program, we will break down the science behind genetic genealogy, discuss its merits in the Law Enforcement world, while also debunking some of the myths that are leading to greater controversy regarding the civilian privacy concerns that surround Law Enforcement’s use of genetic ancestry and kinship data.
- GED Match
- US Department of Justice Interim Policy: Forensic Genetic
- Forensic Technology Center for Excellence, An Introduction to Forensic Genetic Genealogy Technology for Forensic Science Service Providers,
- Genealogy Explained, Investigative Genetic Genealogy: How Does it Work?
- Michelle Taylor, Forensic Magazine, Maryland, Montana Become First States to Restrict Genetic Genealogy Searches (forensicmag.com)
- Office of the District Attorney – County of Santa Clara Cold Case Unit
- Fort Wayne Police Department (IN)
- Eric Levinson, Amanda Watts, CNN, April Tinsley Cold Case: Genealogy tests lead to arrest in 1988 child murder
- Precinct 444 Law and Disorder: A Closer Look at Forensic Genealogy: How Family Trees are Closing Cold Cases
Dr. Jenifer Smith, Principal, BioForensics Consulting LLC
- Dr. Cydne Holt, Independent Biotechnology & Forensic Genomics Consultant
- Detective Brian Martin, Lead Homicide Detective, Fort Wayne Police Department (IN)
- Deputy District Attorney Rob Baker, Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Unit (CA)
Dr. Jenifer Smith
Principal, BioForensics Consulting LLC
Dr. Jenifer Smith is a nationally recognized leader in biological forensic science, with experience working at the highest levels of the federal government. Dr. Smith retired from the FBI after a 23-year career as a Special Agent in 2009. She served in several roles throughout her tenure with the agency, retiring as a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and the agency’s Section Chief of the Intelligence & Analysis Section in the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and Directorate as Unit Chief of the DNA Analysis Unit at the FBI Laboratory. She was involved in the establishment of the National DNA Database and helped establish quality assurance and quality control standards for the forensic community. She worked hundreds of DNA cases to include numerous serial rape and murder investigations, the Unabomber investigation, and the Oklahoma City bombing. She has given testimony in approximately 100 trials and admissibility hearings throughout the United States.
Following retirement from the FBI, she became the principal of Bioforensics Consulting and in 2010 she joined the faculty at Penn State University as a Professor in the Forensic Science Program in the Eberly College of Science.
In July of 2015, Dr. Smith became the Director of DC’s Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS). As Director, she implemented new technologies in DNA analysis, latent fingerprint examination and digital forensic analysis as well as supervised the civilianization of crime scene teams for DC.
Dr. Smith holds a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Pennsylvania State University, a Ph.D. in Physiological Chemistry from Ohio State University and she conducted Post Doctorate research at Harvard University.
Dr. Cydne Holt
Independent Biotechnology & Forensic Genomics Consultant
Dr. Cydne Holt has dedicated her 28-year professional career to forensic science. Cydne currently serves as an expert consultant, bridging advanced genomics and forensic DNA operations to increase solvability of violent crimes and unidentified human remains. After graduate school at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Cydne moved to California and joined the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Criminalistics Laboratory as a DNA Analyst, and later led the San Francisco City and County Forensic Services Division. Cydne was an R&D scientist in a small, foundational technical team at Applied Biosystems that developed the first DNA kits, software, and genetic analyzers compatible with CODIS, our nation’s criminal DNA database. In 2011 at Illumina in San Diego, Cydne led multidisciplinary teams responsible for forensic genomics innovation and technology development then in 2017 founded Verogen and served as Chief Scientific Officer.
Detective Brian Martin
Lead Homicide Detective, Fort Wayne Police Department (IN)
Det. Brian Martin been a police officer for 28 years, has spent the last 13 years as a lead homicide detective with the Fort Wayne Police Department in Fort Wayne, Indiana. For the last two years, Det. Martin has been the department’s lead cold case detective. Prior to his current assignment in the Homicide Division, Det. Brian Martin spent nearly 10 years working in undercover narcotics and helped to form the Clandestine Laboratory team, which he led for two years. Additionally, Det. Brian Martin has been a member of the F.B.I. Northeast Indiana Bank Robbery Task Force.
Det. Brian Martin has been a member of the Fort Wayne Police Department Emergency Services Team for the past 21 years, serving several years as an Assistant Squad leader. Det. Brian Martin has also worked a temporary duty assignment with the F.B.I. Safe Streets Task Force, with a focus on narcotics and violent street gangs.
Det. Brian Martin holds a Bachelor Degree in Criminal Justice from Indiana State University.
Deputy District Attorney Rob Baker
Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Unit (CA)
Deputy District Attorney Rob Baker leads the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Cold Case Unit. Established in 2011 by the current elected DA Jeff Rosen, the Cold Case Unit has solved 25 cold case homicides and 15 sexual assaults. So far, three cold cases have been solved with the use of forensic investigative genealogy:
- In 2018, John Getreu was identified as the man who killed two young women in the early 1970s, Leslie Perlov and Janet Taylor.
- In 2022, Gary Ramirez was identified as the killer of 15-year-old Karen Stitt in 1982.
- In 2023, Richard Martinez was identified as the perpetrator of the forcible sodomy of a 7-year-old girl in 1995.
Mr. Baker, a prosecutor for over 25 years, was the recipient of the DA’s Office 2019 Trial Attorney of the Year Award. A graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, he prosecuted major drug trafficking cases for three years, sexual assault cases for five years, and gang homicides for seven years. He has first-chaired over 60 felony jury trials and secured multiple convictions for murder and special circumstance murder.