DNA Stored On Genealogy Website Led Cops To Suspected Golden State Killer

The district attorney’s office in Sacramento has confirmed that they identified the key suspect in the Golden State Killer case thanks to an online genealogy database.

Yeah – turns out the case, which has been ongoing in some form for nearly forty years, was busted wide open thanks to one of your stock-standard Ancestry.com or 23andme style platforms. According to the New York Times, investigators plugged DNA samples from historic GSK crime scenes into an online genealogy database, which turned up matches for some of Joseph James DeAngelo‘s distant relatives.

“We found a person that was the right age and lived in this area — and that was Mr. DeAngelo,” said Steve Grippi, the assistant chief in the Sacramento district attorney’s office.

The specifics of how they eventually made the connection to DeAngelo and not other relatives in the Sacramento area isn’t known at this point, but at some point investigators obtained what is known as “discarded” DNA from the suspect – i.e. DNA that he left somewhere in the public domain.

By studying the obtained DNA, investigators were able to link it to 10 unsolved murders in California.

Representatives for 23andme and several other large genealogy websites denied being involved in the search, and it is speculated that it may have involved a smaller ’boutique’ DNA search platform. It obviously raises a bunch of issues, given that customers haven’t really consented to having their submitted DNA be considered as part of a murder investigation.

But that’s how they did it. It didn’t require a warrant – they just did exactly what any person would do in attempting to match their DNA with an existing database, through regular consumer channels. It’s definitely a novel way of doing detective legwork, but it does raise questions about privacy. Presumably most people are not serial rapists and murderers, and they should be aware when submitting their DNA to platforms like these that it may be swept up in a police investigation.

DeAngelo, a former policeman, has been charged with two murders, but investigators accuse him of committing more than 50 rapes and 12 murders.