In his keynote address at ISHI 30 this September, Paul Holes will detail how investigative genealogy techniques, determination, and more than a little bit of patience led to the identification and capture of the Golden State Killer. We recently interviewed Paul and asked him what drew him to the Golden State Killer case, how he learned of investigative genealogy, and what it meant to him to bring answers to the families of the victims.
Hi Paul, we are very excited to have you present the keynote address at the 30th International Symposium on Human Identification! Genealogy has been instrumental in closing a number of cold cases and it’s incredible to think that it was just a little over a year ago that the Golden State Killer was unmasked.
First, how did you become involved with the Golden State Killer Case? What was it about this case that drew you to it?
I literally stumbled across the Golden State Killer case. At the time, [he] was known as the East Area Rapist. As a new Deputy Sheriff Criminalist, I was just hungry for knowledge, and the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Crime Lab had this amazing library that the previous generation of criminalists had built up, and I spent a lot of time in there.
There was a file cabinet that nobody went into, and one of these days, I just decided to see what was in these drawers. In the bottom drawer was a set of manila folders with tabs that were labeled with a red EAR followed by a lab or agency case number. I started pulling these manila folders out, and that’s when I saw these case files that were detailing these series of rapes being committed by this EAR (East Area Rapist).
And immediately, I was drawn to this case, because I had been exposed to criminal profiling. My parents, of all people, had bought me the text “Sexual Homicide” by Bob Ressler, John Douglas, and Dr. Ann Burgess. I had read that and became fascinated with serial predators.
I recognized that this predator was different, and I wondered if this new DNA technology (DQ Alpha) might be able to solve the case. And I started doing DNA technology on the cases and I didn’t stop there. Obviously, it snowballed into me taking on a full-blown investigative role.
What led you to try a genetic genealogy technique as a way to solve this case?
I know [genetic genealogy is] how the genealogists refer to it, but we moved into calling it investigative genealogy. And there’s a reason for that. The information that I’m getting when I search a genealogy database does not provide me anything about somebody’s genetic information. I never have access to anybody’s DNA profile from the genealogy databases. So we want to emphasize that really what we’re doing is we’re trying to see how much DNA, how many centimorgans people in the database share with the offender. That’s all I get. I just get a number.
I ended up finding out about this technique from another case. In researching [a perpetrator’s background from a different crime], I found that he had been arrested for child abandonment in 1986. The child that he abandoned was this little girl named Lisa Jenson. We started looking into this for the more recent homicide case that occurred in 2002, and he was claiming Lisa was his biological daughter, and DNA quickly showed that it wasn’t. The primary investigator on the case was convinced that Lisa was probably abducted somewhere across the United States, and was a missing girl somewhere else. We spent 15 years trying to identify Lisa using traditional DNA and traditional law enforcement (missing persons investigative resources) and could never do that.
On February, 2017, I got pulled into a conference call with the lead investigator from that case as well as a San Bernardino Detective, Peter Headly. And Headly said that they had identified Lisa, and it turned out her name was Dawn Bodin, and she was a missing girl out of New Hampshire. I said, “how did you do that?” And he said, “I used a genetic genealogist through DNAadoption.com. Her name was Barbara Rae-Venter.”
So when I left from that meeting from that case, I called up Barbara, and was like, “I’ve got this other case. Could you help me with this?” And that’s how I got initially exposed to this investigative genealogy technique and how I got involved with it.
Who was involved in the efforts, and how many hours did it take to get the profile?
Getting the profile was a big step, and part of the problem that I had, because of all the Y testing I had done, I had consumed the DNA from the rape cases from Contra Costa County. In order to get the SNP profile generated, I needed one of the southern California agencies that still had their homicide DNA evidence to give me some of their DNA to get that SNP profile.
I talked to all the southern California agencies, and ultimately Ventura DA’s Office was the one who said, “You can use our sample.” And that sample was semen evidence from a vaginal swab that was collected at autopsy from Charlene Smith. Charlene and Lymon Smith had been bludgeoned to death by the Golden State Killer in their bed in Ventura back in March of 1980. Fortuitously, as it turned out, the pathologist made it a habit to collect two sexual assault kits at a time – one that he gave to the investigating agency, and one that was kept at the Coroner’s Office, which had never been touched.
When the Ventura Crime Lab tested the vaginal swab, it came back with a huge amount of the Golden State Killer’s semen, and they were able to extract and get very clean sperm fraction, and we ended up getting a lab to generate a SNP profile.
Then it’s just a matter of creating a user account in GEDmatch, uploading that profile, then waiting a day for the GEDmatch algorithms to generate the spreadsheet of individuals in the database and how much DNA they share with your offender profile.
So within 24 hours, we had a list of names, and that’s when we started doing the genealogy. One of the things that I point out with this investigative genealogy aspect is that it’s 99% traditional genealogy work. It’s building family trees and for Golden State Killer, because our best matches were just initially third cousins, this took a long time.
There were 5 of us on the law enforcement side and Barbara. We started building the family trees from these people that shared DNA with the Golden State Killer. The critical thing, initially, is identifying common ancestors between these matches from the database. Once you get that common ancestor, you’re identifying every single descendent from those common ancestors, and this is a huge undertaking when you’re talking about 3rd cousins. For the Golden State Killer, these were people who were born in the 1840’s. And these trees got huge as we were building them out. It took us four and a half months until we got down to where DeAngelo was the lone male remaining that appeared to have enough about him to pursue him investigatively.
What did it mean to you to be able to bring closure to DeAngelo’s victims?
You know, this is an interesting phrase – closure. Whether you talk to the surviving victims or families of the victims that were killed, they never feel closure, because no matter what, they’ve suffered a tremendous loss or a tremendous trauma. So instead of using the term closure, what I say is that I’m bringing them an answer. They now know who attacked them or they know who killed their loved one, and that is huge to these people, because up until this point in time – 40 years in some instances – it’s been a big unknown, and some of these living victims have lived in fear that this guy was still out there and he was going to come back and get them.
So, for them to understand who it was is a huge thing for them and a relief, and I experienced that relief first-hand in being able to tell them “We got the right guy. No question about it. And he’s never going to get out again.” And some of these victims just started sobbing from that relief. Biggest reward I’ve ever had in my career was talking to some of these victims.
Paul, thank you for talking with us today. We can’t wait to hear more in September!
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