Genetic Genealogy: DNA Samples Are Solving Cold-Case Crimes

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.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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