Thank you very much to a reader who sent me this article from today’s New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/16/science/hair-dna-murder.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share. The article does a great job of describing advancements in the processing of rootless hair shafts for DNA, the players involved in this testing, and the cases that have been solved using this technology. Earlier this summer, podcaster Nina Innsted sent me information about this new technology and its use in catching the Golden State Killer, as well as in identifying murder victims in New Hampshire.
On July 12, 2012–yes, SEVEN years ago, Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper announced that DNA testing by the FBI found that hair found on Mark Stebbins and Tim King belonged to the same person and that this hair matched hair found in Arch Sloan’s 1966 Pontiac Bonneville. Sloan’s Bonneville was searched and evidence collected after his name was turned in as a suspect after Mark’s abduction. But not to worry, Arch–the prosecutor let you and everybody else know that this hair did not belong to you.
Leaving aside the glaringly obvious question–why did it take until 2012 to conduct tests on this hair evidence that was collected in 1977??–I am going to assume that these hairs were all mtDNA sequenced by the FBI and that they can in fact establish that these hairs are from the same source. In other words, they match. For decades we had to listen to Ray Anger wailing about how there was literally no evidence in these cases. In the early 90’s suspect David Norberg was exhumed in Recluse Wyoming so his mtDNA could be tested against–law enforcement acknowledged–a hair found on my brother Tim. I can find no news article where the press asks the obvious question–hey, I thought there was no evidence?! But, Norberg was just another scumbag who got away with his pedophelia and maybe even murder and in what might have been the most cynical attempt to divert attention ever made, there was no match, end of story.
The fact that these hairs exist has been acknowledged by the prosecutor. They must be tested using the most advanced technology available. To solve the Bear Brook (New Hampshire) murders, NH State Police sent hair fragments–hair pieces without a root to a lab for testing. They used Bode Cellmark Forensics. This lab, using hair fragments, was able to obtain GED Match quality DNA results, which allowed the victims in the Bear Brook case, kept in barrels over a 35-45 year period, to be identified.
As described in this abstract, there is now an enhanced DNA extraction method for hair shaft forensic evidence which when combined with a recently developed nuclear DNA typing assay, improves “the success rate for obtaining informative results from highly compromised, degraded and trace forensic samples such as rootless hair shafts.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/28993934/?fbclid=IwAR34WTLENUUIeB4GbNa_67FUQsK_FiiQgPKXqCCXcygAvhb8S_GeQ9H2Hzg The result: “These methodologies can produce nuclear DNA results with high statistical power from rootless hair shafts.”
The results from Bode labs can then be sent to an independent research firm for genealogy research in order to identify the owner of these hair. For example, the results could be outsourced for the genetic GED Match inquiry to a genetic genealogist such as Barbara Rae- Venter. https://barbara.genealogyconsult.com/about-me/. After her instrumental role in helping to solve the Golden State Killer Case, as well as identifying the victims in the Bear Brook murder cases, she has since been approached to assist in over 50 unsolved homicide and unidentified victim cases.
Venter has been a very busy person after success in these cases, but again—notice these are sometimes cases involving rootless hair shaft evidence. For example:
Thirty-three years after the crime, breaks in the case are happening fast. On Nov. 13, 2018, Dr. Rae-Venter uploaded the adult victim’s DNA profile to GEDmatch. “I got the results at 6 a.m. the next morning and identified her by 8 through a second-cousin match. All because of atDNA from rootless hair.
“Extracting atDNA from the hair shaft was not possible before,” she emphasized, adding that final identification must still be confirmed by DNA testing of a family member. “The implications of this technology for solving cold cases worldwide are just huge.”
Testing exists to obtain nuclear DNA results with high statistical power from rootless hair shafts. The kind found on Mark and Tim, and in Sloan’s Bonneville. It is done by outsourcing it to experts in relevant methodologies, who have quickly learned to whittle down the time necessary to perform a genetic DNA match with a family member. A couple of phone calls, some guidance from the experts, and send the lab the hairs.
More trusted law enforcement has been approached with this information and seems willing to investigate. Most of the people who would be in a position to shut this down are either retired or dead. No excuses.