Following the big news last spring that the maddening case of the Golden State Killer was cracked by comparing offender DNA to a commercial DNA website, dominoes continue to fall around the country with the solving of decades-old murders. It is likely more bitter than sweet for the families of the victims, but must surely be of some comfort to finally know who was responsible for their loved ones’ deaths.
Among the cases solved in the last few months using familial DNA and genealogical databases:
- The kidnapping and murder of April Marie Tinsley in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1988. April, 8 years old, disappeared off the street as she walked to her friend’s house to retrieve an umbrella. Her raped and strangled body was found a few days later. Despite eye-witness to her abduction and the brazen taunts made by her killer in the years after, the case went unsolved until last month, when DNA left behind by the perpetrator was compared to a geneology database, as was done in the Golden State Killer case. The results led authorities to arrest John Miller, 58. When authorities showed up at his door and asked Miller if he knew why there were there, he did: “April Tinsley”. Miller is in custody and awaits trial.
- The 1986 rape and murder of 12-year-old Michella Welch who disappeared while out playing with her sisters in Tacoma Washington. Tacoma police in May arrested 66 year old Gary Hartman, a registered nurse employed by the State of Washington, charging him with Michella’s murder. Familial DNA led police to collect a napkin discarded by Hartman, the DNA on which was compared to that found on the young girl’s body. It was a match.
- The 1992 murder of school teacher Christy Mirack in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Familial DNA from a genealogy database proved the culprit to be Raymond “DJ Freez” Rowe, which was confirmed after investigators collected his discarded gum and water bottle from his gig at an elementary school dance.
- The 1987 double murder of 20-year-old Jay Cook and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Tanya Van Cuylenburg in Bellingham, Washington. Charged in that case was 55-year-old William Talbott, who raped the young woman before killing both young victims.
- The 1981 Texas murder of real estate agent Virginia Freeman. The woman’s body was found after she went to meet with a potential buyer at a rural property. The case went unsolved for 37 years, but officials say DNA points to James Otto Earhart, who was executed in 1999 for the murder of a 9-year-old girl.
There appears no end in sight for this trend of solving cold cases – a light at the end of the tunnel for families of the victims, and an oncoming train for the perpetrators.