MASUD OLUFANI: TODAY, WITH A SWAB OF YOUR CHEEK, DO-IT-YOURSELF DNA KITS PROMISE TO UNLOCK EVERYTHING FROM YOUR FUTURE HEALTH RISKS TO A MAP OF YOUR ANCESTRY.
BUT THE BIGGEST BREAKTHROUGH MAY WELL BE FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT. A GROWING NUMBER OF COLD CASES ARE BEING SOLVED USING DNA DATA THAT PRIVATE CITIZENS HAVE SUBMITTED TO GENEALOGY WEBSITES.
AND THATS OPENING UP A WHOLE NEW RANGE OF CONCERNS ABOUT THE POWER OF DNA, AND THE PERILS TO OUR PRIVACY.
CELESTE HEADLEE: THIS STORY REALLY BEGINS IN THE 1980S NOT IN A HIGH TECH DNA LAB, BUT WHEN POLICE IN A SLEEPY NEW HAMPSHIRE TOWN FOUND A MYSTERIOUS BARREL IN THE WOODS. LITTLE DID THEY KNOW, THAT IT WOULD PUT THEM IN THE MIDDLE OF TODAYS DNA CONTROVERSY.
TEXT ON SCREEN: June 2019
ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFFREY STRELZIN (AT A PRESS BRIEFING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE): Weve called this press briefing today because we have additional information regarding the Allenstown, New Hampshire murder case.
CECE MOORE (GENETIC GENEALOGIST CONSULTANT, FINDING YOUR ROOTS): This case, I dont know what to call it, but it was really a one-in-a-million chance. I dont know if it was meant to be or if its just a happenstance, but it was certainly not something that was foreseen by anyone.
ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFFREY STRELZIN (AT A PRESS BRIEFING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE): Based on DNA testing and genealogical research, weve identified three of the Allenstown murder victims.
CECE MOORE: And now, with the use of genetic genealogy for law enforcement purposes, I think weve seen the next big breakthrough.
ARCHIVAL (KNTV, 2018):NEWS REPORT: Genetic genealogy.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, GOOD MORNING AMERICA, 4-14-19):ANCHOR: Genetic genealogy.
ARCHIVAL (KNTV, 2018):ANCHOR: Genetic genealogy.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 7-17-18):LESTER HOLT: Thanks to the rise in personal genetic testing kits.The big break that has finally led to an arrest in an infamous cold case.
ARCHIVAL:NEWS REPORT: Law enforcement agencies used the technique in at least 11
ARCHIVAL:NEWS REPORT: 15
ARCHIVAL:NEWS REPORT: 43 cases nationwide
CECE MOORE: This is the most significant happening in criminal investigations in decades.
NARRATION: The promise is real, and the technology cutting edge. But todays use of DNA science and genealogy research to solve crimes arose out of a tangled, cross-country police investigation sparked by a curious telephone call made nearly 20 years ago.
ON SCREEN: RICHMOND, CALIFORNIA
ROXANE GRUENHEID (FORMER HOMICIDE DETECTIVE, CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA): In September 2002, a friend contacted our sheriffs dispatch to report that her friend Eunsoon had been missing. The deputy went out to the residence and contacted Eunsoon Juns common-law husband. A gentleman by the name of Lawrence William Vanner.
NARRATION: Vanner acted suspiciously, and police brought him in for questioning.
ARCHIVAL (POLICE INTERROGATION, 2002):LAWRENCE WILLIAM VANNER: Youre not my priest, and youre not my doctor, but Im just not going say anything more about Eunsoon or myself right now.POLICE OFFICER: Maybe she hurt herself, and youre concerned about that getting out. That shes harmed herself.LAWRENCE WILLIAM VANNER: No.
NARRATION: Vanner was a complete enigma.
ROXANE GRUENHEID: There was no drivers license. There was no criminal history. And thats really unusual. Thats like a ghost person.
NARRATION: On the ride to the records bureau for fingerprinting, Detective Gruenheid struck up a conversation in the backseat.
ROXANE GRUENHEID: Whenever youre interviewing somebody, you always want to try to find some sort of common thread. And I said something, you know, whered you grow up? And all of a sudden he stopped, and he looked at me, and he had these bright piercing blue eyes. And he kind of like leaned in a little bit, and he said, thats none of your damn business.
ARCHIVAL (POLICE INTERROGATION, 2002):POLICE OFFICER: Alright Larry, your prints came back. You know your other name right?POLICE OFFICER: Curtis or Gerald or Jerry or whatever name youre going by this week.POLICE OFFICER: Curtis Kimball.POLICE OFFICER: Curtis Kimball.
NARRATION: Curtis Kimball, thats how his fingerprints identified him. He jumped parole and had been on the run for 12 years.
Gruenheid went back to search Juns house.
ROXANE GRUENHEID: My partner and I went around to the garage. My partner took a few steps in and he told me, you need to come in here and take a look at this.
NARRATION: Inside was an enormous mound of cat litter. Scraping some of it aside revealed a human foot, with a flip-flop still on it. Eunsoon Jun was no longer missing.
Vanner, charged with Juns murder, was soon connected to another alias, Gordon Jensen. Jensen had abandoned a five-year-old girl named Lisa, believed to be his daughter, 16 years earlier at a northern California RV park.
Gruenheid tracked down information about Lisa, now an adult, and a DNA test revealed that Lisa wasnt his daughter after all.
ROXANE GRUENHEID: Im reading all through this and my mind is going, where did he get this girl?
JASON MOON (HOST, BEAR BROOK PODCAST): Investigators do not know her identity. And so Lisa becomes a sort of living Jane Doe.
NARRATION: And because of all his aliases, police had no idea who the man really was.
ROXANE GRUENHEID: It became a quest of mine to try to identify her and identify him.
ON SCREEN: 17 YEARS EARLIER, ALLENSTOWN, NEW HAMPSHIRE
JASON MOON: It was 1985, and there were a group of kids who lived in the Bear Brook Gardens trailer park and they were basically playing hide and seek and they found a barrel. They didnt realize what they had actually found until later that fall when a hunter came across the same barrel.
RON MONTPLAISIR (FORMER POLICE CAPTAIN, ALLENSTOWN, NEW HAMPSHIRE): I was on routine patrol. I was dispatched to the area of Bear Brook Gardens Number One. And thats when I found a body that was decomposed and it was dismembered.
JASON MOON: There are human remains of two people. One, an adult female. The other is a female child.
NARRATION: But the case went colduntil 2000, when a state trooper stumbled upon a second barrel just 100 yards away from the first one.
JASON MOON: In the second barrel were the remains of two more victims. These were both young girls. They had been out there just as long as the victims in the first barrel.
RON MONTPLAISIR: In 1985 DNA wasnt scientifically accepted in law enforcement. We didnt even have computers. My report was done on an IBM electric typewriter with carbon paper.
NARRATION: Crime scene DNA technology burst into use shortly after the first barrel was found.
ARCHIVAL (1998):NEWS REPORT: Today police can get what they call a DNA fingerprint.
NARRATION: But in this case, the bodies had deteriorated so badly, the samples were useless for DNA forensics of the time.
JASON MOON: When you dont have the identity of the victims, its almost impossible to learn anything about who might have killed them.
ARCHIVAL(ANCESTRY.COM COMMERCIAL):Your DNA plays a big part in defining who you are.
NARRATION: But by 2015 DNA testing had become mainstream.
ARCHIVAL(ANCESTRY.COM COMMERCIAL):It can even unlock family mysteries from your distant past.
NARRATION: And Lisa, the girl who had been abandoned at the California trailer park years earlier, still didnt know who she was. But she had an idea. Was there a way to use the genealogy tests that had become so popular to find her own family? So police reached out to Barbara Rae-Venter, an expert in helping adoptees find their birth parents.
BARBARA RAE-VENTER (GENETIC GENEALOGIST): Id never worked on a Jane Doe case like this before. Shes the ultimate test of how this technique works because we quite literally knew nothing about her.
NARRATION: Lisa submitted her DNA, and Rae-Venter and her team began constructing her family tree.
BARBARA RAE-VENTER: She had two fairly close matches: one was on Ancestry, and then she had another match on 23andMe. We know from matching DNA that one of Lisas parents has to be a first cousin once removed to the matches.
NARRATION: The team then used public records to build out the family trees of those matches, while police asked the newly IDd relatives if they would submit to a DNA test to see if they were even more closely related to Lisa. The case would become a proof of concept for law enforcement.
JASON MOON: It took upwards of 10,000 hours to do this, but eventually they did narrow down Lisas family tree to a family in New Hampshire.
NARRATION: In July of 2016, Rae-Venter and police felt they finally could tell Lisa who she was. Her name was Dawn Beaudin. And as an infant, she and her mother Denise had gone missing from Manchester, New Hampshire.
JASON MOON: One Thanksgiving, Denises family comes over to visit, and shes gone, the house is empty, and that was the last that they had seen of her. And at the time she had a boyfriend who was going by the name Bob Evans.
BARBARA RAE-VENTER: So, who the heck is Bob Evans?
NARRATION: To answer that question New Hampshire authorities turned to a photo sent to them by police in California.
BARBARA RAE-VENTER: They sent a picture of the guy who had been Lisas abductor who had a whole string of aliases. You used the name Larry Vanner.
MARK GELINAS (CO-WORKER OF BOB EVANS): State police came to my house. They took a picture, threw it on the table and said, Do you know who that is? And I said, Yeah, thats Bob Evans.
NARRATION: Mark Gelinas knew this man They worked at the same New Hampshire mill in the 80s.
After 30 years, authorities announced they knew who the Bear Brook murderer was after DNA tests revealed that his biological daughter had been inside one of the barrels.
ARCHIVAL (WMUR, 2016):NEWS REPORT: In New Hampshire he was known as Bob Evans.
JASON MOON: Hes a serial killer. Eunsoon Jun and the Bear Brook victimsLisas kidnapping, he was the same guy and what happened to Denise? We dont know.
NARRATION: Bob Evans never answered for his Bear Brook victims. He died in prison in 2010 after pleading guilty to the murder of Eunsoon Jun.
JASON MOON: But the investigation into the identity of Lisa kicks off this, you know, revolution into how we use DNA to solve crimes.
NARRATION: After Bear Brook, detectives in California wondered if the same DNA techniques could be used to help solve one of Americas biggest mysteries.
ARCHIVAL (GOLDEN STATE KILLER AUDIO):GOLDEN STATE KILLER: Im going to kill you.
ARCHIVAL (KRON, 3-14-18):STEVE AVESON: The Golden State killer.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 6-15-16):JONATHAN BLOOM: The Golden State killer.
ARCHIVAL (KCRA):NEWS REPORT: Violent and ruthless rampage started in the 1970s.
BARBARA RAE-VENTER: I was pretty confident that we could solve it. Its exactly the same technique.
NARRATION: Commercial genealogy websites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe say its their policy not to allow law enforcement to search their databases. So Rae-Venter used GEDMatch an open-source database where people voluntarily upload their DNA profiles. Sixty-three days later, she had a match.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 4-25-18):NEWS REPORT: Tonight, a four-decade old search for one of historys most infamous serial killers may be over, the elusive Golden State killer.
CECE MOORE: Golden State Killer changed everything.
NARRATION: After that arrest in 2018, genetic genealogists Cece Moore began working with law enforcement after GEDMatch clarified its policy.
CECE MOORE: That meant people now knew and had the choice to have their DNA used in this way or not. I had received dozens and dozens of inquiries asking if I could use my techniques.
NARRATION: In the past year alone, Moore and her team at Parabon NanoLabs have used genetic genealogy to unearth new information about more than 50 cold cases.
ARCHIVAL (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 6-14-19):POLICE DETECTIVE: The suspects DNA, collected at the scene was used to identify his ancestors, which in turn led us to the identification of Talbott.
NARRATION: With detectives narrowing in on people based on the DNA of their genetic relatives, privacy concerns are growing.
CHARLES E. SYDNOR III (MARYLAND STATE DELEGATE): Everyone wants to catch the bad guy. My question is though, at what cost?
ARCHIVAL (MARYLAND STATEHOUSE HEARING):SPEAKER: Delegate Sydnor with House bill 30.
CHARLES E. SYDNOR III: MY DNA is my DNA, my DNA will be my childrens DNA and their children and their childrens children. So, when you allow governments to begin using these techniques, youre essentially creating a huge genealogical dragnet, that even if I consented, my children, their children, their childrens children, they never consented to.
NARRATION: In May 2019, GEDMatch changed its policy so users have to opt in to allow for law enforcement searches.
JASON MOON: Most people would agree that solving cold cases and identifying remains are worthy and noble causes, but you start talking about a big database full of everyones DNA, you know, I think people start to get a little nervous.
NARRATION: Today, an estimated 29 million people have added their DNA to the leading databases. And while those are private, people still continue to upload their profiles to publicly-available databases.
CHARLES E. SYDNOR III: Essentially, were chasing after a genie thats already been let out of the bottle and trying to figure out how to contain it, how to regulate it.
NARRATION: In the Bear Brook case, Rae-Venter used genetic genealogy to discover one final detail about the murderer.
ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFFREY STRELZIN: In New Hampshire, he called himself Bob Evans. That mans real name was Terry Rasmussen.
NARRATION: And after an amateur genealogist heard Jason Moon report Rasmussens identity in his podcast, she helped police identify the other three Bear Brook victims. But Lisas mother, Denise Beaudin, remains missing. And no one knows how many other victims Rasmussen may have claimed.
ARCHIVAL (POLICE INTERROGATION, 2002):VANNER/KIMBALL/JENSEN/RASMUSSEN: Ive always tried to live by the model that theres no defense against the truth. But sometimes its hard to find out what the truth is.
JASON MOON: Genetic genealogy raises really interesting questions about who owns genetic information. Its really hard to find analogies to it in other areas of science and the law, because your DNA is simultaneously the most personal thing about you, but its also shared amongst all of us.