“Why This Scientist Keeps Receiving Packages of Serial Killer’s Hair.”

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.


9 thoughts on ““Why This Scientist Keeps Receiving Packages of Serial Killer’s Hair.””

  1. Thank you. That was fascinating and encouraging to learn. I want to ask, what is the “at” designation in front of DNA? Thanks

  2. Hi Cathy,

    Thank you for your interesting post. It was a great read.

    My condolences on the murder of your brother and I hope that answers are provided regarding the investigation for yourself and your family.

    I do have a few questions to pose to you, as I am interested in the perspective you may have on them and information you could provide. The questions I have are as follows:

    • Do you think Ray Anger’s wailing on the lack of evidence helped get the evidence examined? Why or why not?
    • What do you think the reasons were for taking so long to do further DNA testing?
    • Just to clarify, were the results from Bode labs sent to an independent research firm?
    • Who has been approached with this information?
    • When you say trusted law enforcement, which agency or person/s are you speaking of?
    • Do you think that people are likely to shut down further investigation into this case? If so, why do you think this?
    • What do you believe is the importance of solving cold cases and how do you believe law enforcement should tackle this?



  3. Amazing how advanced DNA testing has become. It’s been a long wait for the “cover up” players to go away. And away they have gone. Hoping the ball gets rolling on the DNA testing soon.

  4. Cathy – does the request to test using the implied method have to come from the investigators or can you initiate it?

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. It has to come from law enforcement because they have the evidence and the results of the DNA testing by the FBI on those hairs. All we can do, and have done, is offer to pay for this testing in case they play the “no budget” card.

  5. Cathy, Please don’t take this in the wrong way, but if they exhumed your brother, maybe there is more evidence on his body, and the other children that we did not know about in the late 70’s possible fibers on the children, or even sheds of skin, I mean you watch forensic files and they solve cases off plants, paint chips, carpet fibers, and all kinds of things, I would think if the killers spent any amount of time with the children no matter how they tried to cover their crime, it just seems like there is always something that those rotten criminals over look to cover up.
    I hope I did not upset you by suggesting this I just feel very strong that there could be something on the children that could connect the dots to who all of these creeps are involved in the Oakland County Child Killer.

      1. I am sorry that is not an option, well I guess eventually they will figure out who they are, as all the cases from over 40 yrs. ago seem to be getting solved.
        Prayers with you and your family

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