For years, victims were listed on cold case files in law enforcement evidence boxes. While never forgotten, limitations in forensic science prevented their cases from being closed. Families waited decades for answers and justice while their killers remained unidentified.
In 2018, a new tool for crime solving rose to prominence as the notorious Golden State Killer was finally unmasked; forensic genetic genealogy. To begin, investigators upload their unknown DNA profile to the site, which generates a list of the closest genetic matches, based on how many centimorgans (cM) of DNA are shared with the unknown person. Next, investigators will begin to build back the unknown person’s family tree until a common ancestor is uncovered. Then, they will build the family trees forward, identifying every descendent possible, using traditional genealogy techniques. Once the trees have been fully built out, investigators look to identify candidate persons that might match the unknown person. Once a person of interest has been identified, new DNA can be collected to compare to the original forensic sample.
Full of life and with a bright future ahead, Carla Walker was just 17 when she was abducted from a Fort Worth parking lot and murdered in February of 1974. Carla and her boyfriend stopped by a local bowling alley to use the restrooms after attending a Valentine’s Day dance. The perpetrator jerked open the passenger side door and dragged Carla out of the car, threatening her boyfriend with a gun and beating him unconscious. Carla’s body was found in a culvert three days later; she had been raped, beaten, and strangled.
This brutal crime remained unsolved for nearly a half-century, with all available leads exhausted, including conventional forensic DNA testing. In April 2020, Carla’s story was featured on Oxygen’s “The DNA of Murder with Paul Holes.” Shortly after the Carla Walker episode aired, Holes connected Fort Worth PD Detectives Leah Wagner and Jeff Bennett with Othram to discuss the case. Within weeks, Othram’s advanced DNA analysis paired with exceptional investigative work from the detectives led to the identification of a suspect.