Barbara Rae-Venter isn't exactly a household name—but the 70-year-old retired attorney and genealogist was a key factor in the Golden State Killer investigation, the San Jose Mercury News reports. "Her expertise proved to be invaluable," says Paul Holes, a retired inspector who's been credited with solving the case (and even became an "unlikely sex symbol," per the Sacremento Bee). Rae-Venter herself probably never expected this: She was volunteering as a "search angel" for DNAadoption.com, where she helped people find their missing birth parents, when a detective's 2003 email drew her into the complex case of a girl abandoned in a California trailer park by a man who had murdered his girlfriend.
Rae-Venter's DNA searches helped investigators identify the girl and link the man, Terry Peder Rasmussen, to multiple murders in New Hampshire. Then Holes contacted her in 2017 for help finding the Golden State Killer, the perpetrator of several rapes and murders in the 1970s and 80s. "She came in and was like, 'No, no, no, you need to do it this way,'" says Holes. "She gave us structure." Using a Golden State Killer DNA sample, Rae-Venter traced his lineage, learning he was partly Italian and likely had blue eyes—which shone a strong spotlight on suspect Joseph DeAngelo, who was ultimately arrested. Now the Northern California amateur sleuth is in demand with law enforcement and receiving praise of her own. As a woman who knew two Golden State Killer victims recently told her: "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" (Read more Golden State Killer stories.)