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.
In 1988, a passerby discovered the partially clothed remains of a young woman in an underground pump house on the former Publicker Distiller property in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Named the Publicker Girl, she was estimated to be 17-20 years old and six months pregnant when she died.
With little information for investigators, the case went cold and became the township’s oldest unidentified person. Over the years, investigators have attempted to identify “Publicker Girl” without success. In 2020, Bensalem PD partnered with Bode Technology to explore advanced DNA testing methods. The DNA extract developed at Bode Technology was then sent to Othram Inc. for further analysis. While the DNA evidence was severely degraded due to the age of the case and the condition in which the remains were found, the Bode-Othram partnership produced a genealogical profile that enabled genealogy search. Genealogical research performed by Bensalem PD produced the leads necessary to confirm Lisa Todd’s identity.
While her identity has now been restored, the circumstances surrounding Lisa Todd’s death have been ruled suspicious and investigators are now working to determine how she died and who might be responsible for her death.
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