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Armchair Genealogy

By Melinda Cohenour

Thoughts on DNA in the News

This past month, Joseph DeAngelo, known most commonly as the Golden State Killer, plead Guilty to13 murders and 13 rape/ kidnappings. His DNA was matched to more than 175 crimes where samples were preserved by law enforcement officials prior to advances that made replication of minute traces capable of being used to provide a full genetic profile of the person depositing that DNA. We now know that DNA profile was uploaded under a fictitious user name to the Gedmatch website and close matches were utilized to build a family tree that, ultimately led to identification of DeAngelo as the perpetrator of these heinous crimes. (A number of his double murders involved the bludgeoning of couples who had been bound and rendered helpless to his sick rage.)

"DeAngelo pleaded guilty in Sacramento County Superior Court last week to the 26 crimes he was formally charged with. He also admitted to 161 offenses he was never formally accused of because the deadline to prosecute them had long since passed, Temple said."
SOURCE: Ventura's County Star, 4 July 2020.

The plea agreement was negotiated to serve two purposes: to avoid a public trial that would expose his still-living victims to reliving the agony and terrors he had forced upon them, and to ensure a punishment that would prevent DeAngelo from ever leaving prison for the balance of his natural life.

The crimes now proven to have been committed by this one former police officer took place in the 1970s and '80's with many of the victims who survived his attacks having died since. The monikers attributed to this prolific madman were initially associated with, first, the common locations of the crimes and, second, a descriptive term of the crimes in which he engaged.


Over a hundred break-ins were his first known criminal activity where homeowners would return to their homes to find them in complete disarray - drawers and closets open, their contents strewn throughout, items of jewelry missing having been selected, apparently, not for their marketable value but for their intrinsic nostalgic value. This series of crimes earned DeAngelo the nick of the Visalia Ransacker. A clue to his perversions, however, was evident in his tendency to paw through, select, and maliciously smear and display feminine lingerie.


His crimes quickly escalated to rapes where the lone female victims were awakened by a bright flashlight shown in their face by an intruder wearing a variety of face coverings (ski masks, typically) and gloves. The trademark knot used to bind these victims earned him the Diamond Knot Rapist nickname. He later chose to remove his unused, pre-tied bindings (often heavy shoelaces brought with him.)


Later, his propensity for targeting victims on the Eastern suburbs of Sacramento brought on the published alias of the East Area Rapist.


As his crimes further escalated to violent murders in connection with his rapes, he was given the name of the Original Night Stalker in a move to distinguish his killings from those of Richard Ramirez who carried out his serial killings in Los Angeles and San Francisco for about a year 1974 - 1975 and was called the Night Stalker.


It was not until homicide and major crime detectives began to suspect a lone perpetrator of all these crimes and began to share case files, evidence, and - most importantly - DNA results, that Michelle McNamara coined the term the Golden State Killer.

The last horrific bludgeoning death post-rape carried out by this monster took place in 1986. The victim, Janelle Cruz, was a gorgeous eighteen-year-old, his last known victim, but certainly not his youngest. That was a girl only a few weeks beyond her thirteenth birthday when she was raped, her life spared.


Two prominent names arise when discussing use of DNA results combined with genealogical research savvy: Paul Holes, whose long law enforcement career began as a CSI (crime scene investigation) specialist and morphed into classic criminal investigation as a detective. Paul Holes was the man who managed to use his combination of skills to identify John Joseph DeAngelo and arrange his capture.

The other name most commonly associated with this skillset is CeCe Moore whose interest in genealogy and the emerging science of DNA led to her changing careers from model, spokesperson, actress to Genetic Detective. Ms. Moore's expertise began as a researcher and consultant for such shows as Finding Your Roots, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. where her focus was on reuniting splintered families due to abandonment or adoption. More recently, she worked with Parabon NanoLabs to solve more than 150 cold case crimes of murder and rape-murder in one year. This led to a television series, Genetic Detective, which aired six shows in its first season.

Controversy surrounding the use of publicly shared DNA to identify, capture, try, and imprison these cold, violent rapists and murderers has caused Gedmatch to change their policy concerning release of results. Since many, many of these heinous crimes are committed by persons who have eluded identification through CODIS (*), this change in policy has had an extreme detrimental effect on its use to bring these criminals to justice.

Thus, we arrive at my reason for including young six-year-old victim JonBenet Ramsey in this discussion.

This high profile mystery sexual assault murder caused by instrumental suffocation (asphyxiation by employment of a garrote) has never been solved. Tens of thousands of man-hours have been expended in the attempt.

From Wikipedia we find this:
"In 2002, the DA's successor took over investigation of the case from the police and primarily pursued the theory that an intruder had committed the killing. In 2003, trace DNA that was taken from the victim's clothes was found to belong to an unknown male; each of the family's DNA had been excluded from this match. The DA sent the Ramseys a letter of apology in 2008, declaring the family "completely cleared" by the DNA results."

This finding seems to SCREAM for a Genetic Detective to solve this case!! In spite of my typical leaning toward a more liberal outlook, in this regard, my years as a paralegal in both criminal (prosecutorial) and corporate fields of law demand this roadblock to justice be removed.

Even though Gedmatch has made it far more difficult to utilize DNA results, perhaps either Paul Holes or CeCe Moore or another specialist in this emerging field of investigation will choose to take on this challenge.

(*) CODIS is the acronym for the Combined DNA Index System and is the generic term used to describe the FBI's program of support for criminal justice DNA databases as well as the software used to run these databases.
(SOURCE: website)

A public plea has been issued August 31, 2020, by CeCe Moore, the lady who does the reality TV series, The Genetic Detective, to participate in an effort to assist Parabon Nano Labs in augmenting their DNA base. Here is the announcement:
Do you want to help Parabon fight crime and advance science? If so, please consider joining the Snapshot DNA Phenotypic Trait and Ancestry Study. All you need is (1) an iPhone and (2) a little bit of uninterrupted time to complete the in-app instructions. If you have an existing genotype file from a consumer testing site (e.g., 23andMe, AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA, etc.), you can donate it to the study too and elect to receive a free Snapshot DNA Ancestry Analysis report. To learn more visit: If you have any questions or donít have an iPhone, please check out the FAQs. For questions not answered in the FAQ's please email:

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