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Genealogical DNA Leads Pinellas County Deputies To Arrest In 1998 Cold-Case Rapes

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Pinellas County authorities made an arrest last week in a pair of cold-case rapes thanks to a match between genetic material left at the scenes and samples sent to commercial genealogical companies.

Police say a nude man was walking along the beach near Indian Rocks in October 1998 when he approached a woman and asked her for a cigarette. The woman attempted to flee the man, but he allegedly caught up with her, brandished a knife, and raped her. He then forced her to clean herself in the Gulf of Mexico and fled the scene.

Collecting DNA from the scenes of violent crimes was only just starting at that point, but collect it they did, and the material was stored in a database for comparison with other samples. At the time, no match was made and the case went cold.

A second rape case that year yielded another opportunity for collection of genetic material, and investigators were able to match the DNA between the two cases, but no suspect was identified. A pair of additional rapes in that time period were linked to these two cases via other evidence, but the quartet of crimes went cold at that point.

Almost 20 years later the sheriff's office assigned a deputy to the cases, and he compared fingerprints found at the scene to those in another database, yielding possible hits. The suspects' DNA samples were obtained via search warrant, but they were not a match.

With the cases opened again, investigators took the DNA profiles from genetic material at the crime scene and compared it with a nationwide DNA database that compiles genetic profiles from private genealogical testing firms. The database yielded a distant match to a woman in Ocala, and detectives worked up a family tree that led them to a particular genetic line within the family. Initially interested in the suspect's son, his DNA did not match. However, investigators say his father's DNA did.

Investigators ultimately obtained a sample of his DNA via unspecified means, and he was tracked to Michigan. The 61-year-old man was apprehended last week and awaits extradition to Pinellas County to face charges.

The Law Offices of Bjorn Brunvand have been representing people charged with capital murder, felony drug charges, drunk driving, government fraud, and white-collar crimes for over a quarter century. Contact our office today to discuss your Tampa Bay-area state or federal charges.

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