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Genealogy DNA helps arrest man for two Florida rape cases dating back 21 years

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Posted at 4:50 PM, Dec 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-17 08:52:50-05

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A 61-year-old man is behind bars after genealogy DNA linked him to two sexual battery cases in Pinellas and Sarasota counties, dating back 21 years.

Robert Brian Thomas, who currently lives in Michigan, is being charged with armed sexual battery for the rape of two women back in 1998.

“On October 9, 1998, 21 years ago, deputies responded to a sexual battery call in Indian Rocks Beach,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri in a press conference held Monday.

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A 20-year-old woman was raped at the 12th Avenue beach access at Indian Rocks Beach. Detectives conducted a sexual assault victim exam (SAVE) where they gathered DNA evidence, but unfortunately for the victim and detectives, that DNA evidence did not match DNA in national or state databases.

Then in May of 1999, that evidence matched DNA of another rape, which also occurred in 1998, this one in Venice, Florida.

“The circumstances of the Venice rape were different, in that the victim was sleeping at a location where the suspect broke in and raped the victim,” said Sheriff Gualtieri.

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Detectives originally identified 90 suspects in the two rape cases, all 90 of which were cleared, causing the case to go cold up until 2019. Genealogy mapping became accepted in Florida in December of 2018, and it was through genealogy mapping that detectives were able to narrow their search for a suspect.

Using third-party genealogy services like Ancestry and 23 and Me, among a list of others, people submit their DNA, and receive information back from those companies about their relatives. In that process, those companies give customers the option to submit their DNA to a national database.

In this case, a distant family member matched the DNA of the rape suspect.

“It was estimated that the person who loaded their DNA and the rapist were somewhere around 4th cousins,” said Sheriff Gualtieri.

After extensive work on detectives parts, they were finally able to narrow down DNA from both rape cases to 61-year-old Robert Brian Thomas.

Thomas is currently being held at a county jail in Michigan where he has been living. Sheriff Gualtieri said the plan is to extradite him to Florida to face charges.