Are you a member of Ancestry.com, 23 and Me, or some other genealogy site? Well, then police and law enforcement agencies just might use your information to solve crimes.
For some, this might sound exciting, being involved or found helpful in criminal cases. However, for others, it might be seen somewhat as a violation of privacy. Of course, if you’re a criminal, you should probably be very concerned.
We’ll let you decide what you think about the process after you hear how it recently helped law enforcement in Georgia find the identity of a 33-year-old cold case victim – and then her killer.
In 1988, a woman’s body was found along a Georgia highway. But her identity was never found.
Then in March, it was announced that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had found out who she was. Her name was Stacey Lyn Chahorski, a Michigan woman who had been missing for more than three decades.
And they used genealogy DNA to find her.
Then just last week, the team on case caught another break. Again, thanks to genealogy DNA, the murder suspect was identified. According to police records, DNA other than Chahorski’s was found on or near the body. It, too, had never been determined.
And so, for more than thirty years, this crime went unsolved.
FBI special agent in charge Keri Farley said that was the case until recently when they sent the DNA off to a special lab to be analyzed and a genealogy profile created. What resulted was a name with similar DNA or DNA that no small number of matches – a living relative. Farley said this individual was then contacted, “interviewed, cooperated, and a DNA match was confirmed.”
The suspected killer’s name was Henry Frederick Wise. Known as “Hoss,” Wise was a trucker and stunt driver who often took a route through Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee, and then down to Birmingham, Alabama. The highway on which Chahorski’s body was found was right along this route.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, however you want to look at it, Wise was burned to death in a car accident in 1999 at South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway.
Now, it was noted that Wise had a criminal past and had even been arrested a number of times. However, all his arrests came before it was standard or mandatory to take DNA samples after a felony arrest, according to police.
And so, he got away with his crime, so to speak.
The same cannot be said of a number of individuals who have recently been found out and incarcerated using the same genealogy DNA finding techniques.
For example, the Golden State killer was found in this manner.
And it’s likely many, many more will be too. Law enforcement agencies all across the nation are turning to genealogy DNA databases as yet another source to solve cases, particularly when it comes to those such as Chahorski’s, which have been nearly forgotten about and buried for decades.
The question is, just how ethical is it?
As I mentioned above, some view this as a direct violation of their privacy. And seeing how the practice is still fairly new, few safeguards exist regarding how the technique should be used or even when.
Several who have concerns about it have voiced those stating that a lack of boundaries could allow certain abuses of those systems to take place. My guess is that sometime in the not-so-distant future, laws will be made and policies enacted for just that purpose.
In the meantime, though, Farley and others are excited about what this could allow law enforcement agencies to find. And she states it should be a warning to all those out there thinking of ill intent.
“Let this serve as a warning to every murderer, rapist and violent offender out there. The FBI and our partners will not give up. It may take years or even decades, but we are determined and we will continually seek justice for victims and their families.”