Genealogy website founders didn’t know DNA profile information was used to seek serial killer

A car is backed out of the garage of a home searched in connection with the arrest of a man on suspicion of murder, Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Citrus Heights, Calif. The Sacramento County District Attorney's Office plans to make a major announcement in the case of a serial killer they say committed at least 12 homicides, 45 rapes and dozens of burglaries across California in the 1970's and 1980s. | Associated Press photo by Rich Pedroncelli, St. George News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A genealogy website that investigators used to find the former police officer they believe was one of California’s most terrifying serial killers had no idea its services were being used to pursue a suspect who eluded law enforcement for four decades.

Florida-based GEDmatch said it was never approached by authorities or anyone else about the case. The free genealogy website, which pools DNA profiles that people upload and share publicly, says that it has always informed users its database can be used for other purposes.

But the site’s co-founder said he has privacy concerns after learning that law enforcement used the site and insists that his company does not “hand out data.”

This was done without our knowledge, and it’s been overwhelming,” Curtis Rogers told The Associated Press.

Lead investigator Paul Holes told the Mercury News in San Jose, California, that GEDmatch was one of his team’s biggest tools.

Holes said officials did not need a court order to access GEDMatch’s large database of genetic blueprints. Major commercial DNA companies say they do not give law enforcement access their genetic data without a court order.

This undated law enforcement photo provided by the Sacramento County, Calif., Sheriff’s Office shows Joseph James DeAngelo. DeAngelo, a suspected California serial killer who committed at least 12 homicides and 45 rapes throughout the state in the 1970s and ’80s was identified Wednesday, April 25, 2018, as a former police officer, an official said. | Photo courtesy Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office via The Associated Press, St. George News

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested Tuesday after investigators matched crime-scene DNA with genetic material stored by a distant relative on an online site. From there, they narrowed it down to the Sacramento-area grandfather using DNA obtained from material he had discarded, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said.

Civil libertarians said the practice raises troubling legal and privacy concerns for the millions of people who submit their DNA to such sites to discover their heritage.

There are not strong privacy laws to keep police from trolling ancestry site databases, said Steve Mercer, the chief attorney for the forensic division of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.

“People who submit DNA for ancestors testing are unwittingly becoming genetic informants on their innocent family,” Mercer said, adding that they “have fewer privacy protections than convicted offenders whose DNA is contained in regulated databanks.”

GEDMatch is a free site where users who have DNA profiles from commercial companies such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe can upload them to expand their search for relatives.

Holes said officials did not need a court order to access GEDMatch’s database of genetic blueprints.

DNA was just coming into use as a criminal investigative tool in 1986 when the predator variously known as the East Area Rapist and the Golden State Killer apparently ended his decade-long wave of attacks.

DeAngelo, a former police officer, probably would have known about the new method, experts said.

“He knew police techniques,” said John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Louis Schlesinger. “He was smart.”

No one who knew DeAngelo over the decades connected him with the string of at least a dozen murders, 50 rapes and dozens of burglaries that happened throughout California from 1976 to 1986.

After he was identified as the suspect, prosecutors rushed to charge him with eight killings.

In addition, police in the central California farming town of Visalia said Thursday that DeAngelo is now a suspect in a 13th killing and about 100 burglaries.

In 1975, community college teacher Claude Snelling was shot while trying to stop a masked intruder from kidnapping his 16-year-old daughter from his home.

An arrest had been made in the case of a man responsible for at least 12 killings and 50 rapes throughout California in the 1970s and 80s | Graphic courtesy The Associated Press, St. George News

Investigators lacked DNA evidence so Snelling’s death and the burglaries weren’t included in the tally of Golden State Killer crimes but fingerprints and shoe tracks will be reviewed for matches to DeAngelo, Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar said.

Investigators searched DeAngelo’s home on Thursday, looking for class rings, earrings, dishes and other items that were taken from crime scenes as well as weapons.

DeAngelo worked nearly three decades in a Sacramento-area supermarket warehouse as a truck mechanic, retiring last year. As a neighbor, he was known for taking meticulous care of his lawn in suburban Citrus Heights.

He also worked as a police officer in the farming town of Exeter, not far from Visalia, from 1973 to 1976.

DeAngelo was a “black sheep” who didn’t joke around with other officers, said Farrel Ward, 75, who served on the force with DeAngelo.

Ward said it’s possible that DeAngelo helped with the search for Snelling’s killer and the elusive burglar, but he doesn’t recall DeAngelo directly investigating the killing.

“I’ve been thinking, but there’s no indication whatsoever that anything was wrong,” Ward said. “How could you just go out and kill somebody and go back and go to work? I don’t understand that.”

Later, DeAngelo joined the Auburn Police Department outside of Sacramento but was fired in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent.

Written by MICHAEL BALSAMO and JONATHAN J. COOPER, Associated Press. Balsamo reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Brian Melley in Los Angeles, Paul Elias in San Francisco and Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

 

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12 Comments

  • SSTEED April 27, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    How could you just go out and kill somebody and go back and go to work?

    • SSTEED April 27, 2018 at 6:33 pm

      Is that not what police are trained to do?

    • comments April 27, 2018 at 9:00 pm

      A lot of psychopaths are attracted to law enforcement jobs and military. Another reason gov’t and lawmen can’t be the only ones with the guns. There is a certain % of them that simply cannot be trusted, therefore all of them have to be viewed with suspicion.

  • mesaman April 27, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    Did your answer satisfy you? Are you rather supercilious or just plain arrogant?

    • SSTEED April 27, 2018 at 11:04 pm

      I’m glad you asked and the answer is Yes; but I’m not superfluous like the police are. I’m just really fed up with the systemic abuse that is built into our government. The police steal as much as the other criminals and destroy peoples lives because some rich white guy told them that’s what they have to do. The military is all over the world creating enemies that your kids will be killed defending against if we don’t cut it out. The sad part is that they act like the only feedback they get is the free fluff-job at every game and rodeo. Yet people like Philip Zelikow, Paul Bremer, Dick Cheney, and Rudy Giuliani who should be the prime suspects of 9-11, have been free to plunder ever since that happened. The standards of investigation were obliterated with those buildings and every government employee who hasn’t stood up against that has broken their oath of office. Because of that the government is null and void along with all contracts.

      • Larry April 28, 2018 at 9:31 am

        Well Said SSTEED! At least a few more (of us) people are getting at the truth and not buying the Government/ MSM narrative.

      • comments April 28, 2018 at 10:10 am

        Most gov’t employees are 9 to 5 cogs who just wanna finish out the day and get home to watch TV–can’t really blame those folks. It was a handful of very very high level US gov’t people that were in on 9/11. No way to know how many were in on it. I tend to think it was mostly carried out by the Israeli gov’t working within our borders. All we can do is speculate, because you’re right, it was not investigated–at all. The “official history” has already been printed in the history books, and it’ll forever be relegated to just another ‘kennedy assassination conspiracy theory’. It was a long time ago now. I had to move on from that stuff. Nothing can be done about it. Best to let it go.

        • SSTEED April 28, 2018 at 5:02 pm

          I’ll let it go when all non violent offenders are released from incarceration; Ill let it go when when the Bushes and the Clintons are held accountable for the long line of corpses in their wake; I’ll let it go when the policemen are able to be the source of solutions and they make the call according to their own conscience, because they work for and are accountable to their neighbors. When we close all of our oversees bases and bring the boys back home; I will be overjoyed to let it go. Until then… I don’t think so.

  • comments April 28, 2018 at 9:57 am

    I was reading a bit more about these cases in CA, and I find myself especially disturbed by it. The guy is the same kind of evil as Ted Bundy. I guess this guy qualifies as a “human” similar to the rest of us, but I still find myself disturbed by the levels of evil that the species is capable of… it’s kinda depressing.

    • comments April 28, 2018 at 10:15 am

      And I’d say whoever wrote that software that was able to crawl that database and do DNA comparative analysis with serial killers was a bit of a genius and deserves and award.

  • ladybugavenger April 30, 2018 at 7:49 pm

    My first thought when DNA sites came into this world is that DNA sites are used by police to catch people. Hmmmmm I’m not buying he didn’t know

  • mctrialsguy May 1, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    Only those with something to hide worry about Big Brother watching or Eyes in the Sky, or DNA Testing, etc.. If you don’t break the law, the law doesn’t want you. Kudos to the person that used this process and those that invented the DNA analysis! Also, conspiracy theorists are only those that need to get a life, and are paranoid. 9-11 was not orchestrated.

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