Those DNA tests that the family history sites run are quite fun. You can find relatives that you never knew that you had. However, once those DNA profiles are out there for public consumption, crimes can be solved. For example, over three decades ago, two young people were found dead in Washington state. The police had nothing to go on except a semen sample found on one of the teen’s clothing. By 1994, DNA testing emerged, and the detectives tried to find a match, with even the FBI unable to help. To find a match, the DNA data bases have to have that person in there. There is no nationwide, universal DNA test or data base. One of the detectives in the case realized that there was a bigger DNA data base than what he and the FBI were working with in their quest. Oh, those ancestry sites!
Detective James H. Scharf of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office used the DNA from the victim’s clothing and found two second cousins of the suspect with a DNA match. CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist, traced the cousins’ family tree and found great-grandparents and then traced forward from them, which led her to a couple with a son in a home seven miles from where one of the teen’s boys was found. That son, William Talbott II, was 24 at the time of the murders, and his DNA matched the sample from the teen’s clothing. Heather Murphy, “Milestone for Genealogy Sites: First Guilty Verdict,” New York Times, July 1 2019, p. A11. All achieved through the use of public records. No warrant needed.
Mr. Talbott was convicted of two counts of murder. Detective Scharf was only on the stand for six minutes. The jury deliberated for two days. The case must have troubled them, and that would be because a harsh reality emerged with this first-ever case. Truth percolates. It finds a way. It took scientific discovery and broader use of that tool in the private sector, but DNA spreads. And it tells a tale.
One question the Barometer is always asked, “How can you say that truth percolates? There are many things we will never know about or many more no one can ever find.” There is one variable in truth percolation: Time. It took from 1987 until 2019 to get a conviction of Talbott, but it all percolated through what amounts to science being on the side of truth. The defense introduced evidence of letters from family, friends, and neighbors — no one could believe that Mr. Talbott could have done such a thing. The Barometer has interviewed friends and family of white-collar criminals who all say, “This is the last person I would ever expect to do such a thing.” As Detective Scharf, with years of investigating crimes against children, explained, “Everyone in this world has secrets.” Yes, there are secrets, temporarily, but truth percolates.