After eluding capture for decades, suspected serial killer, Joseph DeAngelo was taken down by an unsuspecting relative.
ABC Action News learned that GEDMatch Inc., a company based in Lake Worth just south of West Palm Beach, had the DNA profile of a distant relative of DeAngelo’s on file.
The company did not respond to our request for comment about how many users’ DNA they have online. But they did post a statement on their website that their “database was used to help identify the Golden State Killer. Although we were not approached by law enforcement or anyone else about this case or about the DNA, it has always been GEDMatch's policy to inform users that the database could be used for other uses.”
Investigators in California were able to meticulously work their way through the family tree of the DNA profile uploaded to GEDMatch, leading them to DeAngelo.
When investigators released information that DNA used on a genealogy website was used to track DeAngelo, a lot of people assumed it came from ancestry.com or 23andMe, two of the most recognizable. But, law enforcement didn’t use any of the big-name DNA analysis firms. It was a tiny site run by two Florida businessman.
Online documents show GEDMatch formed in 2011. Their purpose is to help people track their family history and find long lost relatives.
Kelsey Hentschel-Fey, a University of South Florida Forensic Anthropologist, said this case and the use of an open source DNA website is extremely interesting to them. They are tasked with identifying human remains from recent crimes and cold cases.
“There’s so much DNA that is out there and so many different DNA databases, but it’s all a matter of privacy and what are you trying to use that DNA information for,” Hentschel-Fey said.
Hentschel-Fey said they have access to law enforcement databases but none of the private DNA analysis companies.
“I would like to, at least in the realm of unidentified, be able to utilize more of the DNA database and the genealogy to track down who these unidentified are.
In the Golden State Killer case, GEDMatch said their policy for people uploading their DNA has always been clear:
While the database was created for genealogical research, it is important that GEDmatch participants understand the possible uses of their DNA, including identification of relatives that have committed crimes or were victims of crimes. If you are concerned about non-genealogical uses of your DNA, you should not upload your DNA to the database and/or you should remove DNA that has already been uploaded.To delete your registration contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Authorities said tracking DeAngelo through the genealogy DNA was an extremely long and painstaking process.
Police placed DeAngelo under surveillance and later obtained his DNA from an item officers collected. It was confirmed as a match.
He is believed to have committed 12 murders, at least 50 rapes and multiple home burglaries in the 1970s and 1980s.