True crime meets forensic science in the What Remains podcast
July 20, 2022

E6 Part 1 DNA Profiling | The New Tool in Solving Cold Cases

Online ancestry paves the way for forensic genealogy


Sitting in each state is a collection of skeletal remains, unnamed and gathering dust. These are cold cases that have proven to be uncrackable, unwilling to give up the secrets of who they are or what happened to them. Unsolved murders that refuse to be solved. 

The newest crime-solving tool, forensic genealogy, came onto the scene when it helped solve two of the most highly publicized cases in the U.S.: The Golden State Killer and the Bear Brook murders. We introduce you to the rockstar behind the forensic genealogy in those cases, Barbara Rae-Venter, and how her success breathed a new kind of life into unsolved murder cases around the country. In North Carolina, one scientist is now on a mission to put a name to each of the state’s 124 unnamed boxes of bones. She and a dream team of forensic experts are starting this mission with 13 cases. 

In this episode we go step-by-step through the process, explaining how DNA profiling, web research and forensic genealogy work together to help identify victims and suspects.

Transcript

DISCLAIMER: This podcast contains frank descriptions of human remains and physical violence. Listener discretion is advised. 

 

Opens with sounds of loud, scary breathing on the phone… 

 

Amanda:  In San Joaquin Valley people called him the Visalia Ransacker. In Sacramento, he was the East Area Rapist and he was the Night Stalker in Southern California. For decades a man terrorized various communities in California, even calling his victims, breathing heavily, saying “I’m gonna kill you.” 

 

Sound from telephone call…whispering ”I’m gonna kill you.”  

 

Amanda: Law enforcement eventually connected dozens of rapes and serial killings to the same perpetrator using DNA. But the man responsible, the source of that DNA remained elusive.  

 

He’s now most commonly called the Golden State Killer. 

 

First Coast News Archive 

Terror started with burglaries and rapes in Sacramento County in the summer of 1976, sketches were released to try and track him down, then the murders started in 1978. 

 

KCRA News Archive 

Press conferences about rapes became all too regular. 

 

By late fall, when the East Area Rapist began claiming 2 and 3 victims a month, citizens began buying everything they could think of to protect themselves. 

 

Self defense classes. People with no idea how to shoot, buying guns…. All the while the East Area Rapist grew more and more terrifying. 

 

Amanda: A cold case investigator with the Contra Costa Sheriff's office caught wind of a decades old quadruple homicide case that was solved in New Hampshire. The cold case had been cracked using something called forensic genealogy. It was a brand new approach to these kinds of cases, and it was spearheaded by a retired patent attorney, of all people, a woman named Barbara Rae-Venter. They asked her if she would help in the Golden State Killer case. 

 

Amanda:  

Barbara Rae-Venter, Forensic Genealogist: Of course it was also a very old cold case. Um, we lucked out, there was a sample that was available from, um, a very brutal rape homicide from Ventura County. Um, and it turned out that the, the medical examiner, in that case, he had actually done two rape kits. And, uh, one of them had been used for doing testing. The other one had just been stuck in the freezer. And so had just been sitting there. So we were able to use that.  

 

Amanda: So, you had a good amount of DNA to work with? 

 

Barbara: Right. 

 

Amanda: For 63 days, Barbara and a team of four other genealogists worked around the clock to identify the suspect. They loaded the DNA sample from Ventura County into a DNA database used by law enforcement to identify suspects. They built a family tree dating back to the 1800s. 

 

Barbara: For quite a while, you typically kind of wander around in a fog, not knowing, you know, how everything comes together and then suddenly you'll see a connection that you hadn't seen previously and it all falls into place. 

 

Amanda: The fog lifted when Barbara’s team discovered a close DNA match. 

 

Barbara: I think the big breakthrough in that case came when, we actually did a, a reference sample from somebody who was a close relative or somebody that looked like they might be a suspect. It turned out that the person that was a suspect wasn't a suspect, but she was a second cousin match.  

 

Amanda: This breakthrough led investigators to the front door of a retired police officer, Joseph DeAngelo. 

 

KCRA News Archive 

The answer has always been in Sacramento.  

For more than four decades the name East Area Rapist provoked fear and terror. A man without a name until now.  

We were looking for a needle in a haystack, but we also all knew the needle was there. 

 

CNN News Archive 

Investigators say they tracked him down using DNA and a genealogy website. 

 

Fox News Archive 

I mean this really is the most prolific unsolved serial murder case in modern history. He is a former police officer in Auburn, California… 

 

Amanda: He was arrested in April of 2018, and eventually pled to thirteen murders and multiple rapes. He admitted to dozens of other rapes, burglaries and crimes that were beyond the statute of limitations. Investigators believe there are many more victims of DeAngelo’s cruelty, victims that were never identified.  

 

But in August of 2019, he was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. 

 

Barbara: It's a lot of steps and it's a lot of just, you know, going with what you've got. 

 

Amanda: In this episode, how a forensic genealogist completely changed the way investigators approach cold cases. And how a forensic dream team is using that same approach to solve every single unidentified case in their state. 

 

Barbara: There really is no cookie cutter way of doing this because each case is going to have different little twists and turns in it. 

 

Amanda: From WRAL Studios, this is What Remains:​ stories of connecting unidentified human remains to the missing and the murdered. I’m Amanda Lamb. 

 

 

BREAK 

 

 

 

SEGMENT 1 

 

Amanda: Before she became a world-renowned forensic genealogist, Barbara Rae-Venter had a few other lives. Her first career was as a cancer researcher, then she went back to school, and became a patent attorney. 

 

Barbara: I retired back in 2005 from being a patent attorney. And so what I was doing is I was working on my own family history research and some of my ancestry is very difficult to research using paper trails. 

 

Amanda: She wasn’t finding exactly what she was looking for doing genealogy the old-fashioned way, by using public records she found online to connect the dots. But when consumer sites started to widely share people’s DNA, Barbara started getting some traction on her family tree and that wasn’t all she got. 

 

Barbara: I was getting a lot of matches with people who were adopted.  

 

Amanda: Barbara wasn’t sure why she was getting so many connections with people who were adopted, but she realized there was a big need out there – people who desperately wanted to find their roots, maybe even more than she did – people she might be able to help. 

 

Barbara: And I had absolutely no idea how to help them. And so what I did is I went online and I found a group called DNA adoption.org. And they offered online courses that helped teach adoptees how to use their autosomal DNA to find their birth relatives. 

 

Amanda: Barbara took the six-week online course and from there, she was off-and running, learning as she went. 

 

Barbara: They realized that I had a science background and so they asked me if I would join the group and actually then help teach the classes. And so that was what I ended up doing. 

 

Amanda: Part of Barbara’s role with the adoption group was to answer emails sent to the website. Emails from people looking for help. 

 

Barbara: And there was an email that came in from a deputy Peter Headley out of San Bernardino. And he wanted to know if the techniques that we were using to help adoptees, uh, find their birth relatives, could that be used to identify somebody who didn't know who she is and where she was from? 

 

Amanda: Barbara was intrigued by the question, and even more intrigued at the prospect of helping solve a real mystery, a criminal case. 

 

Barbara: She'd been abducted as an infant. And so, um, I said, sure. And I volunteered to work on that and sort of one thing led to another, and then I ended up doing what I'm doing. 

 

Amanda: Figuring out who that girl was, who her family was – that was crucial in solving a 30-year-old quadruple homicide in New Hampshire – called the Bear Brook Murders. 

 

News Archive 

Between 1985 and 2000 A woman and three girls were found dismembered in barrels in these Allenstown Woods the victims still unknown. 

 

A convoluted forensic trail, unsolved murders finally connected through genealogy…  

 

Barbara: Here you've got four, four people, an adult, three females, three little girls. And for 40 years, despite huge amounts of publicity about the case, nobody ever came forward. 

 

Amanda: But with DNA, you don’t really need anyone to come forward. The answers are in that twisted double helix. The basis of every human being’s uniqueness. You use the DNA to find matches of distant family members and you build out a family tree, narrowing down who is who. 

 

Barbara: You know, when you're identifying somebody, it's just, it's just a really nice feeling that you're going to be able to give this person back their name. 

 

Amanda: And in the Bear Brook case, she wasn’t just able to name the victims, she was also able to give law enforcement the name of the man responsible for it all. 

 

Barbara: When you're doing it, when you start closing in on who you think the person is, there's, it's actually quite a rush. 

 

Amanda: That rush was THE THING. She was hooked. And what she was able to do using what came to be called forensic genealogy, well it made huge ripples within law enforcement.  

 

Barbara: Paul Holes who was working on the Golden State Killer had heard about, uh, the fact that I'd been able to identify the victims and asked me if I would help on the Golden State Killer case. 

 

Amanda: Barbara Rae-Venter went on to help solve that case…. 

 

Barbara: Since GSK. Yeah. I mean, I had everybody calling from everywhere with their favorite cold case.  

 

Amanda: One of those, the Billboard Boy we talked about in the last episode…. 

 

Barbara: Oh I take them all.  

 

Amanda: You don't turn anybody away? 

 

Barbara: I don't, I really don't. Um, you know, if they don't have any money, we do it pro bono. Um, and no we just work on cases until we solve them.  

 

Amanda:  Her work to crack some of the most high-profile cases in the country, it marked the start of this huge new push to use genealogy as a forensic tool.  

 

I wanted to understand how exactly this kind of genealogy can help solve these cases. If it was so effective why wasn’t everyone doing it? So, trying to learn more, I met a few members of a kind of forensic dream team that is trying to solve every single unidentified remains case in North Carolina. 

 

And it all started with a woman we’ve met before… forensic anthropologist Ann Ross. 

 

Ann: What I tell my students is you're not going to make up some stupid name and just coin them with something cutesy, right. They had a name. 

 

Amanda: To Dr. Ross, respecting the dignity of life even in death is one of her highest priorities. She constantly reminds her students that the bones they are looking at belong to human beings. They’re not plastic, not theoretical, not laboratory props. 

 

Ann: When we know their name, we refer to them as Mr. or Mrs. Smith. They're not, you know, FA20-01. 

 

Amanda: Right now one of the unnamed cases in her lab is a 6-year-old little girl whose remains were found in North Hampton County, North Carolina in 1983.  

 

Ann: And there's a missing person case for it's the right time period. 

 

Amanda: And what fascinates you about this particular case?  

 

Ann: Well, it's the fact that it's a child, you know, an innocent child  

 

Amanda:  She just can’t get it out of her head. A dead child, discarded, and no one seemed to care until nearly four decades later. 

 

Ross doesn’t want to reveal too much about the case because it’s not solved yet.  

 

Ann: She has been sent for forensic genealogy. Unfortunately they were not able to get a good enough profile. So she's being sampled again.  

 

Amanda: The number of unnamed remains fluctuates as soon cases are solved and others are added. In 2019, Ross got to thinking, could she put together a group of people to unpack these cases – figure out a way to find out ALL their names. 

 

Ross knew she couldn’t do it alone. She would need help, resources and experts – someone to do the forensic genealogy like Barbara had done in the Bear Brook and the  Golden State Killer cases. 

 

Amanda: Why do you think this hasn't been historically been a priority?  

 

Ann: I think it's a lack of resources. A lot of them are from small counties, smaller counties, and law enforcement does not get the funding and a case goes cold really fast. And if you don't solve it, you move on to the next, you know, homicide.  

 

Amanda: Police and medical examiners have so much on their plates. People die every single day. Autopsies need to be performed, murders investigated. So, while these cold cases have been re-visited occasionally over the years when there’s a possible lead, for the most part they’ve been gathering dust in boxes at the state Medical Examiner, or ME’s, office. 

 

And beyond a lack of resources, Ross admits that back in the day when some of these people died, they were not considered to be very important by their communities. Many of them were low-income, homeless, drug addicted, living on the fringes of society. 

 

Ann: A lot of the older cases that we have, cause they date back to the 1960s, and I think, you know, we're seeing in the news systemic bias and racism. A lot of it has to do because a lot of the people that we get here are the already disenfranchised. A lot of them it's like drug addiction, you know, prostitution, African American, Hispanics, and these cases are not, you know, fully explored.  

 

Amanda: But Ross says the science today is so much better, and so much more advanced than it was ten, twenty, forty years ago. Taking another look at these cases is almost like starting from scratch.  

 

Ann: We have so many new standards and new ways to do things that everything needed to be done. And in some cases, even the biological profile was not correct. The age assessment was incorrect, the ancestral origin wasn't correct. Um, the stature wasn't correct. So these are things that we are redoing as part and developing protocols for cold cases. 

 

Amanda: Ross teamed up with a local forensic genealogist, Leslie Kaufman, to do this work. It was initially called The North Carolina Cold Case Initiative. It’s now morphed into a nonprofit called The North Carolina Unidentified Project. Ross and Kaufman work with investigators and DNA scientists in an effort to identify remains. Everyone who touches a case brings a different set of expertise, a different perspective, a different lens to help find answers to the unidentified cases. 

 

But the first step for the duo was getting the initial funding to get their project off the ground. Law enforcement agencies don’t have cash just sitting around for this kind of work. 

 

Ann: So forensic genealogy is very, very, very expensive. So the quote that we had received was for approximately like 29, $30,000 for five cases. That's why nobody does it. You know, law enforcement, MEs, me. We don't have that kind of cash. 

 

Amanda: So Ross and a colleague applied for a grant. 

 

Ann: And shockingly, we got the money.  

 

Amanda: Enough money to try and identify the remains of 13 people. It’s a start. 

 

After the break, a step-by-step guide to cracking a cold case. 

 

 

BREAK 

 

SEGMENT 2 

 

So the dream team started with 13 people whose cases had been gathering dust at the Medical Examiners’ office. They chose the cases with the most information, the ones that had already been assessed with the latest scientific methods, the ones they had the very best chance of solving. 

 

So here’s how the team is tackling these cold cases from start to finish. Step 1 - The Basics… 

 

Ross has this skill. She can quickly glance at a partial skeleton she has laid out on a metal table in her lab and tell you exactly what you’re looking at.  

 

Ann: We lay all the bones as they are the ribs, the, um, scapula, which are, you know, parts of your shoulders, your forearms, your hands, your vertebra, everything is laid out. And then we take a full inventory.   

 

Amanda: What's missing here? 

 

Ann: Um, actually to look at, we were missing some foot bones, missing some hand bones, it looks like we're missing some vertebra. 

 

Amanda: These unidentified remains we’re standing over were found in 1984. It looks like a jigsaw puzzle to me, but Ross can read this assortment of bones like a book. 

 

We walk a few feet to another long metal examination table where another skeleton is laid out.  

 

Amanda: Do you know anything about him? 

 

Ann: Um, yes, we know he's male. And he's very robust. African American male. And if you come to the side, this is what, this is very interesting. ...you see here, you see that big hole? Yes. Severe, severe otitis media. So he had such an awful middle ear infection, it obliterated all of the bone around it. So that was painful. You'd see areas of healing. So definitely deaf in the left side. Um, and that's due to no medical care. Right? 

 

Amanda: Ross then takes a shin bone from one table of remains and brings it over to compare with this one. She shows me the difference in size.  

 

Ann: The thinness and the narrowness of this tibia compared to this tibia, which is a lot bigger, thicker, more robust. 

 

Amanda: The difference tells her a lot about what the person looked like, his or her stature. It can also inform her about the sex and age of the person. Based on the shape and measurements of the skull, she can also tell what she calls “population affinity,” that’s a fancy way of saying the race the individual is most likely to belong to. 

 

All this basic information is a crucial first step, but it doesn’t tell her who the person is, who the person might be related to. 

 

That takes us to the second step - the DNA analysis. 

 

Justin Loe, Full Genomes: The consumer tests are sort of like getting one page in a thousand page book.  

 

Amanda: Justin Loe says when you hear about DNA testing, most people think about those home kits from websites like Ancestry.com or 23&Me. Those can be used when there’s someone living and willing to submit their DNA to a shared database, looking for a match with another living person. But those tests…. 

 

Justin: It’s a much smaller snapshot of what’s in the entire DNA sequence. There’s a reason for that because it’s a cheaper approach. 

 

Amanda: Loe runs a company called Full Genomes in Maryland. He’s one of the people who has worked with Ross and Kaufman on the project. And what his company offers is way more extensive than those at home kits. 

 

Justin: You’re getting really close to 3000 times more data ...And when you have that opportunity you can be much more precise.  

 

Amanda: Home kits are just looking at certain parts of the DNA. They’re called Microarray tests. They’re pretty quick, and pretty cheap. Loe says they cost the companies who sell them about 30 bucks a pop. 

 

What Loe’s company does is map the entire genome of a sample, reading and documenting what all the DNA they get says. 

 

Justin: A Microarray doesn’t work very well for degraded data. 

 

Amanda: So when you’re talking about someone’s bones that may have been out in the elements for years, even decades, Loe says you kind of have to use the high-level test. The simple one just doesn’t work. 

 

This technology, it just keeps getting faster and cheaper, and therefore more accessible to investigators and researchers around the country. 

 

After a company like Full Genomes receives all the data from the DNA, those results are then delivered to the team. Then the case enters Step 3 – Family Tree. 

 

Leslie Kaufman, Volunteer Forensic Genealogist: My name is Leslie Kaufman and currently I am still a full-time employee. Um, I work with Envista Forensics. I've been there about 13 years. 

 

Amanda: When we first spoke with Leslie Kaufman in the summer of 2020, she was getting ready to retire from her job at a computer forensics company. They do searches on computers and phones, mainly for lawyers in civil and criminal cases, looking for data that has been erased or hidden. Bank records, child pornography, evidence of adultery or volatile emails, that kind of thing. 

 

Back in 2008, Kaufman realized that if she could combine her skills in research with the scientific advancements in DNA testing, she could be a big help in identifying remains. 

 

Leslie: my hurdle was to learn about DNA and how to read that DNA and apply it in a genetic genealogy application. 

 

Amanda: She read a lot, talked with people who did this kind of work, watched videos; basically taught herself how to take DNA and make sense of it. She followed in the footsteps of Barbara Rae-Venter whose work she admired. She got into the field the way a lot of people do: as passionate hobbyists who eventually turn into professional genealogy sleuths. 

 

To a lay person, the results of the DNA tests look like a bunch of gibberish. Rows and rows of letters. 

 

Leslie: What it basically is is a zip file with all of the different combinations that identify the different strands of DNA in that DNA profile. 

 

Amanda But then she loads it into a database called GEDMatch.  If you’ve done one of the consumer home kits and you load it into GEDMatch and make it public Leslie can see it.  

 

Then, she’s looking for someone who’s DNA is a match with the sample – a hit. 

 

Leslie:  And when I say hits, it's going to be, it could be first cousins, second cousins, third cousins, fourth cousins. The closer hit you get the better and faster you can find a relative and identify that person. Um, it's reverse genealogy. 

 

Amanda: Then comes the hard part. Starting with that distant cousin, Kaufman tries to build a family tree that will reveal a relative close to the unidentified person. 

 

Leslie: We know we've got to go back four to five generations. So we're going to have to build, find those people all the way up here in that fifth generation, fourth generation and we’re going to start building it down. Who did they marry? Who are their children? Where are they? And you keep coming down until you meet in the right place. 

 

Amanda: You're building the tree… 

 

Leslie: Building the tree from the tree top down. And when it comes down to the right place and the right time with the right age, then I know I've got the right person.  

 

Amanda: A place, a time, and an age that matches up with what they know about the remains, when and where they were found. 

 

All the information Leslie uses to build this family tree: when people were born, got married, had children, died. It’s all out there if you know where to look for it. There’s real estate records, voting records, even the kind of ice cream you like is on social media. She uses a combination of what the government posts and what you post. 

 

Leslie: I read a lot of census records, birth records, death records, obituaries. Social media is a big thing.  

 

Amanda: Leslie Kaufman told me there was enough DNA in seven of the samples from the thirteen cases to begin their investigation. She had some promising returns from the GEDmatch database in three cases and was hopeful she’d have some definitive answers soon.  

 

I gave her a call early in the pandemic to catch up and see how things were going. 

 

Phone rings… 

 

Leslie: Hello. 

 

Amanda: Hey Leslie, how are you? 

 

Leslie: I’m good Amanda, how are you? 

 

Amanda: Sounds like you’ve been hard at work on this project? 

 

Leslie: Yes, I have. Yes, I have. 

 

Amanda: Kaufman said DNA testing was taking longer than usual because a lot of the labs were also doing COVID-19 testing, which of course took priority. But Kaufman is nothing if not patient. 

 

Amanda: So, you uploaded these four, what happened, did you get any hits?  

 

Leslie: I did and I am working on them now. So, I have three that are quite active.  

 

Amanda: Active means that Kaufman got information about possible relatives connected to the remains, and was building that family tree we talked about for each case. There’s one case in particular she’d gotten some real traction on. 

 

Leslie: I can tell you I got a pretty decent match, it was about second cousin range. And they had a GEDcom. A GEDcom is a tree, a family tree they’ve already built. 

 

Amanda: A family member from one of the unidentified remains had already constructed a partial family tree online that Kaufman could see and use. 

 

Leslie: They’re looking for other relatives and they’re sharing their family tree in case somebody matches to them and they would like to see where they’re related.  

 

Amanda: It was an incredible launching pad for Kaufmann as she built out an even bigger family tree.  

 

Kaufman already had a lot of information on the case from forensic anthropologist Dr. Ann Ross: the victim is a man, he was found in March of 1984 in Wake County, North Carolina. Ross told her the remains were there for about a year before he was discovered. The age range unfortunately is big, early twenties to 45.  

 

Kaufman figured out that the second cousin who uploaded their family tree...that person shares great grandparents with the man they’re trying to identify. 

 

Leslie: So what I have to do is I’m going to go and build a tree past his great grandparents to his great great grandparents. And then I’m going to build it back down.  

 

Right now, when I looked over the weekend, I had almost 1100 names in my tree at this point and I’m still following those lines. 

 

Amanda: So she was looking for a person whose historical records basically stopped after his death. 

 

Leslie: So we’re looking for people who have no records after 1983 would be a good stopping point. 

 

Amanda: You have a really good feeling about this case. 

 

Leslie: I do, we can never make guarantees, but I have a really good feeling we’re getting pretty close. And I think that hopefully, we’ll have some type of resolution before too long. 

 

Amanda: And it wasn’t too long. In November of 2020, Kaufman got a close match on the first of the thirteen cases. She was ultimately able to identify the man found in Wake County as 23-year-old David Howard Vernum of Glen Falls, New York. He disappeared in 1983. He was the son of Norris and Ethleyn Vernum.  At the time he was identified, his parents had already passed away, but a brother and a sister were still living.  

 

Vernum was finally laid to rest in April 2021, 37 years after his remains were found. His obituary said “David will be greatly missed by all who knew him.” 

 

For Kaufman, doing this work is the way she can help heal the broken hearts of families who have spent much of their lives not knowing. 

 

Leslie: There are people that are missing in this country that their families don't have any idea what happened to them. There is nothing worse than the unknown. And at least knowing where your loved one is or at least have some kind of a vigil. There is never closure on any of these cases, there is only resolution. 

 

Amanda: She is so dedicated to this work, she’s actually volunteering for Ross’ project.  It allowed them to more than double the number of cases they could get through with the initial grant money. 

 

Leslie: We all deserve to be buried and a decent burial for our families and loved ones to know who we are and we need to be able to reclaim our identities.  

 

Amanda: For Kaufman all this, it’s not just about identifying the remains, it’s also about getting justice for the victims when it’s possible.  

 

Leslie: You cannot get justice for these victims unless you find out who they are, and then you’ve got to find out who did it. One does not go without the other. You can't find out who did it, if you don't know who that person is.  

 

Joe Kennedy: Just because the justice is delayed, doesn't mean that justice should be denied. 

 

Amanda: Joe Kennedy is a former special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, NCIS. You’ve maybe seen the TV show with Mark Harmon. Well Kennedy was a key player in the real-life NCIS. 

 

Joe Kennedy, Carolinas Cold Case Coalition: Kind of my forte was cold cases.  

 

Amanda: Kennedy created and led the NCIS Cold Case Homicide Unit beginning in 1995. He designed the methods and wrote the protocol for how these cases should be investigated in the Navy. These methods have since been adopted by many law enforcement agencies throughout the country. 

 

Joe: Just imagine that your husband, your boyfriend, your daughter, your sister, your brother walks out the door one day and you never see them again. And so for me as an investigator, You know, these are the toughest cases to solve because you have so little evidence and information. 

 

Amanda: Since retiring, he started a group to help law enforcement in North and South Carolina take another look at cold cases of all kinds in their communities. Today, murders have a 60% chance of being solved and he says there are roughly 220,000 unsolved murders in the U-S dating back thirty years. He’s trying to chip away at that number case by case. Kennedy heads the Carolinas Cold Case Coalition. Ross and Kaufman are members. He helped connect them to one another and the group has since connected the duo to investigators in need of their expertise. 

 

Joe Kennedy: Ann had...before this...had reached out to us and said, look, will you partner with us on these unidentified remains? And I said, you know, when you start reading case files and you know, the old knuckle dragger approach. And I said, sure. 

 

Amanda: If forensic genealogy can identify who an unidentified murder victim is, Kennedy and his team can help local authorities figure who may be responsible for these deaths. 

 

This is the Fourth and final step - Criminal Investigations.  

 

When Leslie has built up enough of a family tree, she hands those names off to the law enforcement agency in charge of the case. They contact people close to the victim, try to interview them, try to get their DNA samples to compare with the victim’s. The buck ultimately stops with law enforcement.  

 

And cases like the Golden State Killer or the Bear Brook Murders – they reveal  the power of forensic genealogy. When folks like Barbara Rae-Venter and Leslie Kaufman team up with forensic anthropologists like Ann Ross and law enforcement like Joe Kennedy, there’s a pretty significant likelihood that they’re going to be able to get answers 

 

Joe: It's revolutionary. I mean it's, and we're at the tip of the iceberg now, you know, people, I need to think that, but since Golden State, there's only been about 500, you know, using forensic genealogy cases solved.  

 

Amanda: The bottom line here, the tools and answers are out there for the dozens of unsolved North Carolina cases. And through the North Carolina Unidentified Project, there’s a team that’s now dedicated to this work and find the resources to continue it. They care about the victims. They care about the victims’ families and they want to, as we say in the south, do right by them. 

 

It’s work Leslie Kaufman says she just can’t stop doing. 

 

Leslie: These people lived. They all lived, they had lives and those lives were taken for some reason. And we don't know what that is, but. They all need to be acknowledged. They should be identified. They should get their due justice in court.  

 

Amanda: On the next episode of What Remains… 

 

Phone rings… 

 

Leslie: Hi, Amanda.  

 

Amanda: In January of 2021, I got a call from Kaufman about the first case that she and Ross had solved that investigators were ready to go public with... 

 

John Hawley: I got a text from Leslie, and it was good news, we have a match 

 

Amanda: This episode of What Remains was written by me, Amanda Lamb and produced by Anita Normanly. Our executive producer was Wilson Sayre who also edited the episode, with mixing from Marc Maximov. What Remains was directed by Shelly Leslie. Please subscribe to our podcast on whatever app you use. That makes it easier for us to get you the latest episode. Thanks so much for listening.