DNA databases spur new leads in Upstate cold cases

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Genetic genealogy has spurred new leads in two high-profile cold cases in the Upstate. 

Experts tell 7News the technology took off after the Golden State Killer was caught and is revolutionizing crime solving in the 21st century.

“It’s a powerful tool, no question about it,” USC Upstate Professor George Labanick told 7News. 

Labanick believes genetic genealogy, which measures the amount of DNA shared between people, is the new frontier.

Companies like AncestryDNA use science to help customers trace their family tree. 

Jasmin Jimenez, a spokesperson for AncestryDNA, tells 7News they do not share the data with third parties. 

However, investigators can access the private database with a court-ordered search warrant. 

Protecting our customers’ privacy is Ancestry’s top priority. We do not share DNA data with insurers, employers, or third-party marketers. Ancestry does not voluntarily cooperate with law enforcement and we will not share customer’s personal information with law enforcement unless compelled to by valid legal processes, such as a court order or search warrant. We will always advocate for our customers’ privacy and seek to narrow the scope of any compelled disclosure. For more information, please see our Privacy Philosophy: https://www.ancestry.com/cs/privacyphilosophy.

Websites like GEDmatch allow users to submit their DNA into the public database. 

Detectives have started using the service to test DNA evidence in their caseloads, but it only works if there’s a match to a close family member of the potential suspect. 

“If you get a first cousin that’s like gold,” Labanick told 7News. 

GEDmatch partner Curtis Rogers tells 7News the service only allows users to see those whose DNA matches their input. Using that information detectives assemble a genealogical family tree that traces back to a potential suspect.  

The forensic tool is used with old fashioned police work. 

“They are looking at many, many other databases such as looking at census databases… family tree databases,” Rogers said. 

Rogers says 43 cases nationwide have been solved using the GEDmatch DNA database. 

In the Upstate, Greenville investigators say the service has generated new leads in the Jenny Zitricki murder and Julie Valentine homicide. 

“What we do is to supply a person of interest,” said Rogers. “Once the police have that, they are basically where they would have liked to have been when the case was first opened.” 

Rogers tells 7News he knows of many individuals that have voluntarily submitted their DNA to GEDmatch in hopes of helping law enforcement. 

He says over the years, the service has given many families closure.

Genetic genealogy analysis has also been used by Spartanburg County investigators to indentify a potential serial rapist with crimes dating back to 1995. Click here to read more.

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