Within three years, the DNA of nearly every American of Northern European descent — the primary users of the site — will be identifiable through cousins in GEDmatch’s database.
Some twenty-two years after an unsolved California rape, investigators converted the assailant’s DNA to the kind of profile that family history websites such as 23andMe are built on, and uploaded it to GEDmatch.com, a free site open to all. Within five minutes, investigators located a close relative among the million or so profiles in the database. Within two hours, they had a suspect, who was soon arrested: Roy Waller, a safety specialist at the University of California Berkeley, reports the New York Times. The arrest marked the 15th time that GEDmatch provided essential clues leading to a suspect in a murder or sexual assault, starting with the April arrest of former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo for the rapes and murders in California in the 1970s and 1980s by the Golden State Killer.
The creators of GEDmatch — Curtis Rogers, 80, a retired businessman, and John Olson, 67, a transportation engineer from Texas — have unintentionally upended how investigators are trying to solve the coldest of cold cases. Within three years, the DNA of nearly every American of Northern European descent — the primary users of the site — will be identifiable through cousins in GEDmatch’s database, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. Since DeAngelo’s arrest, law enforcement agencies from Washington state to Florida have turned to the site to crack decades-old cold cases. It’s being used in recent cases as well. “Within a year I think it will be accepted,” Rogers said. Some genealogists find that notion profoundly problematic, given many ethical and privacy issues that have emerged as investigators have come to rely on a privately owned family history site to solve crimes. GEDmatch is based in Lake Worth, Fl. Its database can be used to identify at least 60 percent of Americans of European ancestry through their cousins.