DNA, genealogy led to arrest in Phoenix canal murders case
First arrest using technique that matches crime scene DNA to DNA home test kits
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The key to arresting Bryan Patrick Miller for the Phoenix canal murders was his DNA and last name. That is according to the genetic genealogist credited with helping solve the case.
Colleen Fitzpatrick was trained as a nuclear physicist. But ten years ago, she was toying with the idea of using DNA databases to solve cold cases. At that time, people were using the databases and companies that operated them to track down relatives and complete family trees. Adopted children were using the databases to track down their genetic parents.
“It occurred to many of us, ‘Why can’t we use it to solve cold cases?’ Because a John Doe or Jane Doe or an unidentified assailant is the same as an adoptee. You don’t know who they are. You don’t know their parents but you can use DNA to find out,” said Fitzpatrick.
She was attending a conference in Phoenix in 2014 when she approached the Phoenix Police Department with her idea. She offered to apply this technique to one of their cold cases. “And then several weeks later, they sent me the Y DNA profile for the crime scene from the Phoenix canal murders,” said Fitzpatrick.
Those murders took place in 1992 and 1993. They were brutal. The killer used a knife to murder and mutilate the victims, 22-year-old Angela Brosso and 17-year-old Melanie Bernas. “And so we entered the numbers from the forensic profile into our software, and I did the search and that’s when I came up with six matches to the name, ‘Miller,’” said Fitzpatrick.
That meant six people with the last name Miller had submitted DNA samples to one of the commercially available DNA home test kits. And the canal killer’s DNA matched them perfectly. It didn’t mean that one of those people was the killer, but it meant that the killer was likely to be related to them and the Miller family. “Y DNA is passed intact from father to son through the generations,” said Fitzpatrick.
When Phoenix police received the information, their detectives identified someone with the last name of Miller, who they had spoken to about the murders years before. They devised a plan to obtain the man’s DNA, which turned out to be a match.
On January 13, 2015, police arrested Bryan Patrick Miller and charged him with the murders of Brosso and Bernas. “It’s amazing to me that after so many years, exactly one word cracked that case. And that word was ‘Miller,” said Fitzpatrick.
Miller’s trial is set to begin on Monday, October 3.
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