Detectives are using a new forensic tool to chase down murderers: DNA data mining, reports the New York Times. This week, Snohomish County police announced the arrest of William Earl Talbott, 55, in the 1987 murders of Canadians Jay Cook, 20, and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18. The Washington investigators used a process similar to the one used to crack the notorious Golden State killer case, uploading DNA taken from the crime scene to GEDmatch, a public genealogy site. The suspect’s DNA profile led them to family members of the suspect who had shared their DNA information on the site. Based on the suspect’s DNA profile, a genetic genealogist was able to create an extensive family tree using information from the site, as well as other publicly available and social media sites.
Once the detectives had their suspect, they still needed to get an exact match to his DNA, so they followed him and eventually collected a cup he had used. GEDmatch users have mixed feelings about investigators mining the site for clues. Some view it as a violation of privacy. "This is really tough," an ethicist told the Times about the Golden State Killer case. "He was a horrible man and it is good that he was identified, but does the end justify the means?" But others applaud the results. For Lee Cook, the mother of Jay Cook, the value is clear, while the loss never diminishes. "Jay … would be 51 now," she says. "He probably would have married and had kids. I would have more grandchildren. I miss all that could have been." (Police are also hoping that a genetic match will lead them to the Zodiac Killer.)