DNA Doe Project: Two retired California doctors help detectives solve cold cases using forensic DNA

- Two retired doctors are using DNA and genealogy to identify victims and unmask killers from the comfort of their own homes.

Colleen Fitzpatrick lives in Orange County and Margaret Press lives in Sonoma County, but the two of them are solving cold cases at an impressive rate.

"You are a genealogist you are puzzling out all these relationships," said Colleen Fitzpatrick. "It's exciting."

Fitzpatrick is a former NASA contractor with a PhD in physics. She not only wrote the book on Forensic Genealogy but rose to fame by solving high profile cases such as the unidentified baby on the Titanic.

Press is holds a PhD in linguistics and has written several crime novels.The two met on Facebook about two years ago and months later they founded the DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit dedicated to solving decades old cold cases.

"Just seeing the name of the Doe in front of us and knowing they are no longer a Doe, about to get their own headstone with their name on it and their rightful place in the story of their family. How can you not get emotional," said Margaret Press.

The genealogists call their work a humanitarian effort because they like to focus on John and Jane Doe cases.

"We started out with John and Jane does simply because we thought it would be more acceptable to the genealogy community," said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick says this type of new cold case solving has some Genealogists worried about working with police. She says they worry about privacy issues.

"It's almost like the attitude that law enforcement has my DNA, now what is going to happen now?" said Fitzpatrick.

Currently, consumer sites like 23-and-me refuse to let law enforcement access data, or let users upload any DNA that is not their own.

So, investigators have come to rely on privately owned family history sites like GED-Match, to find distant family members, build family trees and identify the person of interest.

"We make it as if those John and Jane Doe's had tested with those companies without really having tested," said Fitzpatrick.

GED-Match is aware of how the DNA armchair detectives use their database. The site is also aware that Colleen and Margaret are considered a go-to team for detectives.

Building a DNA profile typically runs anywhere between $1500 and $2000 by an outside company. That company creates a profile that can be uploaded to GED-Match.

Press and Fitzpatrick typically get cases from law enforcement sources seeking help and if the agency cannot afford to pay, they crowd fund through their own site: http://dnadoeproject.org/

In recent months, police have made arrests in several high profile cases such as the "Golden State Killer" and the "NorCal Rapist" thanks to DNA evidence and Forensic Genealogists.

 

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