latest news Mutilated body found in Alabama in 1997 identified as Californian
Decades after a mutilated body was discovered in a wooded area in northern Alabama, authorities identified the cold case victim as a Californian man through extensive DNA technology and genetic genealogy.
The body, found on April 15, 1997, in Union Grove, Ala., was discovered alongside a creek, with its head, feet and hands removed, along with other body parts mutilated, apparently for the purpose to make forensic identification more difficult, according to a press release issued this week by the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office in Alabama.
The gruesome efforts of the man’s killer(s) seemed to work; for years, attempts by sheriff’s investigators to identify the man remained unsuccessful.
But in 2019, officials teamed up with a DNA tech company that was slowly able to make progress on the case, first improving and clarifying DNA samples from the body, then comparing that profile with others in databases. of genetic data – ultimately leading the team to identify the man as 20-year-old Jeffrey Douglas Kimzey of Santa Barbara.
“That led us to the parents of Santa Barbara,” said Willie Orr, deputy chief of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, noting that investigators were able to confirm the find through DNA testing. “They had no idea where he was.”
Orr said the family did not know Kimzey had passed away. The Times was unable to immediately reach members of Kimzey’s family.
In recent years, law enforcement has increasingly used DNA evidence from DNA databases to aid in criminal investigations, a tactic that some critics say is an under-regulated technique that could constitute an infringement. to privacy, but which others have advertised to find elusive suspects, including the Golden State Killer in 2018.
Scientists at Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia-based DNA technology company, were able to overcome DNA degradation and bacterial contamination that has occurred over the past 26 years to create a genetic profile for Kimzey similar to what is used in a genetic testing database, such as 23andMe, said CeCe Moore, Parabon NanoLab’s chief genetic genealogist. She said the next step is to test a type of genetic markers, or single nucleotide polymorphisms, called SNPs, to search for possible relatives in available databases.
“With genetic genealogy and SNP testing, we can find second, third, fourth cousins and beyond, and we can use that information to reverse engineer someone’s identity,” Moore said.
However, their comparisons are limited to profiles available in two of the smaller DNA databases — Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch — which allow access for law enforcement investigations, Moore said, unlike some of the larger companies. , such as 23andMe or Ancestry.com which limit data sharing.
From the available databases, the Parabon team was able to identify a few distant relatives of the body’s DNA, but because they weren’t strong matches, it took months to zero in on the identity, Moore said. The team also used DNA phenotyping to try to describe the physical characteristics of the victim, which local authorities then made public. But Orr said the artwork produced no leads.
“It can take a very long time,” Moore said. “It completely depends on who uploaded their DNA to these databases.”
After finding other relatives and comparing that with historical records, the team was able to determine the body’s identity with “great confidence,” said Moore, who shared the findings with the County Sheriff’s Office. Marshall. Deputies were then able to locate a member of the Kimzey family in Tennessee, said Orr, who led investigators to Kimzey’s parents’ home in Santa Barbara, where the identity was confirmed.
Orr said it was unclear why Kimzey was in northern Alabama at the time of his death in 1997, but said investigators believe he was likely passing through. The death was ruled a homicide.
Orr declined to answer further questions about the circumstances of the case, but said it was “still making progress”, with more DNA evidence from the scene reviewed by Parabon.
“We want to announce that we have persons of interest involved in this matter and are actively pursuing these leads,” sheriff’s officials said in the news release.