How DNA-analysis technology is unlocking cold cases



Officer of justice to criminals: If you left DNA, we will look to you

File name: Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist speaks at conference in June 2018 after a suspect was named, using DNA from a napkin, in 1986 the murder of Michella Welch in Tacoma, Washington.

Nicole Eby was 9 years old when she last saw her sister Michella Welch alive—and all these years later, she never knew if there is a break in the heart-wrenching case.

The 32-year-old cold case is one of many in the last week that have been resolved thanks to the genealogical research made possible by the upload of DNA to an open-source origin site that was used for the cracking of the Golden State Killer case.

Nicole and her two sisters were playing at Puget Park in Tacoma, Washington, when the 12-year-old Michella disappeared. Her body was later that evening in a makeshift fire. She Had been sexually assaulted and died of blunt force trauma to her head.


In 2006, a DNA profile is developed on the basis of the place of the crime, but there was no match in databases.

Earlier this year, Tacoma Police detectives worked with a genetic genealogist by the name CeCe Moore, associated with Parabon NanoLabs, a forsensic consulting firm, to determine that the person had about 9 percent of the American indians DNA.

Gary Hartman, at left, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the first degree and rape in the disappearance of Michella Welch, seen to the right.


If that DNA was uploaded to GEDMatch is a free, open-source origin site, Moore identified someone who shared enough DNA with the person of a cousin.

Moore, the DNA expert on “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.,” was able to trace the suspicious origin back to his Native American great-great-grandparents on his father’s side, reports the New York Times.

It was not long after that, the researchers were able to find a match after the extraction of DNA from a crumpled up napkin that Gary Hartman, now 68, had left in a restaurant.

“You always hope they catch the man. But in the back of my mind [I thought] that he probably is dead,” Eby told ABC News. “It is really sad to think that he is the life of a free life when he cut off my sister’s life.”

Hartman, was arrested on 20 June and pleaded not guilty. He is held on $5 million bond.


“If you think you can run, you’re wrong,” he said. “If you think you can hide, you’re wrong. If you think the Tacoma Police Department is planning to give up, you’re wrong,” Tacoma police chief Don Ramsdell said on June 22 a press conference.

“I am very grateful that the court can do its work and that it was through the DNA,” Eby said. “You can’t argue.”

Christopher Carbone is a reporter and news editor covering science and technology for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @christocarbone.

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