Family Trees Grow into Clues to Solve Crime

Family Trees Grow into Clues to Solve Crime

BALTIMORE (WBFF) - Police may be using your DNA to track down rapists and killers, without you even knowing it. This new approach to catching the most violent criminals has led some to question its constitutionality.

In the summer of 2007, police say a serial rapist first struck in Montgomery County. Police found a t-shirt at the scene with the suspect’s DNA, but no arrests were made. For years, the crimes went unsolved, including the rape of an 87-year-old woman.

A break in the case happened a few months ago. Montgomery County detectives used the same high tech DNA analysis, and old fashioned family genealogy, that was used to find the suspected killers and rapists across the country.

Operation: Crime and Justice traveled to Reston, Virginia, to speak with Parabon Nanolabs about genetic genealogy.

“The DNA of relatives is helping to catch killers, and for the most part, these are really distant relatives. This is not someone’s brother. This is their third cousin once removed, someone they most certainly never heard of. But, the records and DNA still connect them, and we’re able to put the pieces together,” said Dr. Ellen Graytak, of Parabon Nanolabs.

As a result, your DNA may be used to track a rapist or killer without you even knowing it, if you upload your DNA profile to a public database.

Genealogical detective work led to the arrest of Marlon Alexander for the Montgomery County rapes. He is awaiting trial.

Not everyone is on board with the technology. University of Baltimore Law Professor Natalie Ram warns tracing someone through genetic genealogy may violate their constitutional rights.

“It gives a search first and a suspect second which is different from the way things are often done in the criminal investigative space,” Ram said.

For Parabon Nanolabs, its work is causing criminals to worry. Even if they have been free for years, genetic genealogy may finally bring them to justice.

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