Thursday, August 13, 2020

Forensic genealogy group helps Cumberland County investigators crack 21-year-old cold case

Must read

Will ‘DNA Phenotyping’ Lead to Racial Profiling by Police?

An unknown serial killer wreaking havoc in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the summer of 2002 led local police and the FBI to employ a...

Woman’s body found in suitcase after spending month in Tokyo Station

A worker at Tokyo Station got an unpleasant shock after opening an abandoned suitcase that no one had claimed for a month — the...

Shoe dunnit: Burglars being nabbed by new forensic evidence found in their footprints

More than 70 burglars have been caught by detectives using cutting-edge technology that allows officers to match suspects’ shoeprints quickly to the scenes of...

Video: Where do fingerprints come from?

From cradle to grave, no matter how much fingers grow, everyone's fingerprints are unique and unchanging. The Smithsonian Channel have created an informative video...
Michael Whyte
Crime Scene Officer and Fingerprint Expert with over 12 years experience in Crime Scene Investigation and Latent Print Analysis. The opinions or assertions contained on this site are the private views of the author and are not to be construed as those of any professional organisation or policing body.
- Forensic Podcast -

A popular genealogy website helped crack a cold case murder of a baby from 21 years ago.

“Baby Michael” was not even a day old when a Fort Bragg Soldier found him dead inside a plastic bag on the side of Canady Pond Road on March 3, 1999. The baby’s umbilical cord was still attached.

Bode Technology, the largest private DNA forensic lab in the country based out of Virginia helped the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office solve the case. Cumberland County investigators said ‘forensic genealogy’ led to the arrest of the baby’s mother.

“Traditional forensic DNA testing was unable to identify or provide investigative leads in this case,” said Andrew Singer, vice president of marketing and sales for Bode Technology. They were able to help analyze Baby Michael’s DNA leading to the arrest of 54-year-old Deborah Riddle O’ Conner in Burke County. She was charged with first-degree murder.

Similar genealogical testing was used to help lead to the arrest of the suspected killer in the ‘Golden State Killer’ case in 2018.

“Rather than traditional forensics where you’re looking at a one-to-one match evidence to an individual, you’re able to establish more familial relationships to try and identify the unknown,” Singer said.

Bode takes information from a “spit in the tube” type of test and uses its own genealogist. From unknown evidence, the forensic lab is able to get a profile to compare to individuals who have voluntarily done similar testing.

“There are databases out there and people have voluntarily put their profiles in,” Singer said.

The forensic group said it will use information from a site like “Family Tree DNA” only if a person has ‘opted in.’ Law enforcement will not comb through ancestry websites like and 23 and Me.

A company spokesperson for issued this statement:

Protecting our customers’ privacy and being good stewards of their data is Ancestry’s highest priority. Not only will Ancestry not share customer information with law enforcement unless compelled to by valid legal process, such as a court order or search warrant, we will also always advocate for our customers’ privacy and seek to narrow the scope of any compelled disclosure, or even eliminate it entirely.

Sara Katsanis, an assistant profess of pediatrics at Northwestern University, believes the question moving forward will be how often will the forensic genealogy approach be used to find random people who may or may not have been collected.

“I think it’s important to distinguish this approach from consumer genomics because it’s been apparent in the last two years that as people see more and more of these cases cropping up and the use of genetic information in criminal cases is rising, people have become fearful of using these companies anymore,” Katsansis said.

Nearly a year ago, Family Tree DNA came under fire for voluntarily giving the FBI routine access to its database of more than 1 million users’ data. They apologized to customers for not disclosing that agreement.

Family Tree said law enforcement has no ability to search their databases.

- Advertisement -

More articles

- Advertisement -

Latest article

Using the NCIC Bayesian Network to improve your AFIS searches

This National Crime Information Centre (NCIC) Bayesian network is based on the statistical data of general patterns of fingerprints on the hands...

DNA decontamination of fingerprint brushes

Using fingerprint brushes across multiple crime scenes yields a high risk of DNA cross-contamination. Thankfully an Australian study has discovered a quick and easy way to safely decontaminate fingerprint brushes to prevent this contamination risk and allows the brushes to be safely reused even after multiple cleaning cycles.

Detection of latent fingerprint hidden beneath adhesive tape by optical coherence tomography

Adhesive tape is a common item which can be encountered in criminal cases involving rape, murder, kidnapping and explosives. It is often the case...

Presenting Fingerprint Comparisons in Court using Forensic Comparison Software

This video gives the fingerprint technician some ideas on how to present a Fingerprint Comparison result to the court that looks professional. To accomplish this...

New modified fingerprint chemical that fluoresces touch DNA on clothing

In sexual assault and burglary investigations, the recovery of DNA from items that have been handled by the suspect is very important....