New genetic genealogy database for solved crimes reveals startling trends

A new database has been created that keeps track of cold cases solved by genetic testing and it reveals a surprising trend among the cases.
Published: Nov. 6, 2023 at 8:05 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Genetic genealogy leads to perpetrators being arrested and victims being identified in previously unsolved cold cases going back decades. Now, a company has created the first-ever database to track cases being solved by this technology.

Some of the trends they’ve already discovered are surprising.

Several cases featured by True Crime Arizona on forensic genetic genealogy have focused on Jane or John Does being identified after years, but not all cases have been fully solved. This new database sheds some light as to how many genetic genealogy cases have resulted in arrests, and there’s something pretty startling that comes to light from this data.

“It’s a treasure trove for anyone wanting to see the real-world impact of DNA and genetic genealogy with crime solving,” said Marc McDermott, who founded ‘Genealogy Explained.’ McDermott created the first searchable online database, ‘Genealogy Explained, ’ detailing cases solved by genetic genealogy, all coming from the Forensic Genetic Genealogy Project.

To date, the database shows 621 criminal cases have been solved involving 293 perpetrators.

Two of those are well-known and high-profile in Arizona. Bryan Patrick Miller, known as ‘The Zombie Hunter,’ was linked in 2015 to the 1990s Phoenix Canal Murders of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas.

And just this year, Bryan Bennett was linked to the 1987 hiking trail murder of Prescott College student Cathy Sposito, leading to a string of other victims Bennett assaulted in Arizona who barely survived.

McDermott said notably, this data shows the startling serial nature of so many rapists and killers. “One of the standout things was the sheer concentration of cases linked to a handful of perpetrators. Over 25% of the 621 cases are linked to just 10 individuals. That’s pretty staggering. The Golden State Killer, of course, was connected to 72 of those,” said McDermott.

Many of these solved cases revealed another troubling statistic

“80% of these cases involved sexual violence,” McDermott said. It can be easy for the spotlight to fall on cases that happen in big cities and catch the attention of those who live nearby, but McDermott said the other big takeaway so far is where many of these cases are coming from.

“These cases were primarily from lower income and rural U.S. counties, where the largest metro areas in the U.S. represented only a fraction of the cases,” McDermott said.

As McDermott and his team continue to research and update their findings, he predicts that once law enforcement begins using forensic genetic genealogy independently, it will be a game changer for many unsolved cases. “I’m pretty sure the data set is going to explode with new cases,” McDermott said.

The database is fully interactive, allowing public users to click on any case to learn details about it. Details include where the crime happened, the victims involved, and which genealogy company solved it.

A handful of the cases in the database list show their status as ‘solved’ by the FBI or other law enforcement. However, a majority of the background work at this point is handled by various companies that are contracted by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

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