Genealogy DNA Databases Help Police Identify Suspected Serial Rapist
Sep 26, 2019, 6:29 PM | Updated: Sep 27, 2019, 5:02 am
CLEARFIELD, Utah – Investigators said searching open-source genealogy databases with DNA evidence was key in identifying the suspect in the Clearfield serial rapist case.
Those searches helped detectives find relatives that ultimately led to the arrest of Mark Douglas Burns on Wednesday.
Without that genealogical data, investigators said they were at a dead-end in the case.
Clearfield Police detectives had the suspect’s DNA from multiple crime scenes going back a couple of decades, but until they started shaking the family tree, they had no real suspects.
“I think you’re going to see more people participating in these databases,” said Jay Henry, Utah Department of Public Safety Crime Lab director.
Henry said he remembers the crime-solving revolution brought on by forensic DNA technology nearly three decades ago. When the combined DNA database known as CODIS came online in the 90s, crime-solving surged.
Almost two decades later, Henry said we can see the influence DNA testing has had on forensic science.
“Even in a small state like Utah, we get about one hit a day,” Henry said.
Now, investigators can run DNA profiles through genealogy databases hunting for suspects or their relatives.
“I think this is going to rank as the third revolution, the third cog,” Henry said. “It’s that significant.”
In the Clearfield rapist case, investigators had suspect DNA from multiple crime scenes going back more than two decades. However, they didn’t get any results from CODIS.
Two years ago, Clearfield detectives started working with a genealogist in California who searched those open databases.
“That consultant played a very vital role,” said Clearfield PD Detective Josh Carlson, lead detective on the case.
He said the genealogist developed family trees that included relatives of the suspect.
“Through that, she was able to identify people that were closely related or distantly related, as well,” Carlson said.
That led to a distant relative and eventually a half-brother of the suspect. It wasn’t simple and took a lot of investigative work within the family tree on the phone and in person, including finding an adoption record, to zero in on Burns.
“I think it’s awesome,” Carlson said. “It helped us identify the suspect that we’ve been hunting down for the last 30 years.”
“There are investigations going on all over the country, perhaps all over the world, right now, where law enforcement is using genealogy to help generate a lead that the crime lab can help confirm,” Henry said.