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Woman cracks 35-year-old Michigan cold case killing in just 4 days

Patrick Gilham was sentenced to 23 years in prison after pleading no contest to second degree murder in the 1987 killing of Roxanne Wood.

NILES, Mich. — Forensic genealogy is leading to answers in cases that have sat cold for decades. It has been used in the I-65 Killer case, to arrest a man in Bloomington in cold case homicide and identify a teenager found dead in Boone County in 1992.

It also recently brought answers to a cold case murder in Niles, Michigan from 35 years ago.

On February 20, 1987, 30-year-old Roxanne Wood was found stabbed to death in her Niles home. But due to a lack of evidence, the case went cold and sat for decades. It was deemed unsolvable.

“There was only a very, very small amount of biological fluid that was left behind,” said forensic genealogist Gabriella Vargas.

Credit: WNDU

RELATED: Boone County 'Jane Doe' identified as Ohio teenager after nearly 30 years

Vargas was only eight years old at the time of Wood's murder. She had never even been to Michigan. But Vargas was determined to get answers and began testing what little DNA was left.

“I felt this was absolutely a case that I could solve and I was up for the challenge,” Vargas said.

It took her only four days to develop a profile and a possible match.

“When you take that evidence whether it be blood or semen or what not, we can create a profile of who this individual is. But all that profile tells us is all their genetic markers. It tells us if they are male or female, what ethnicity they are, it doesn’t say this is who their person is. We then use that profile in these databases to then build and figure out matches that are related to this individual and then figure out how this individual fits into that family tree,” Vargas explained.

Her DNA profile came down to three brothers. One of them, 67-year-old Patrick Gilham, seemed most likely.

Credit: WNDU

RELATED: FBI, Indiana State Police identify 'I-65 Killer' as Harry Edward Greenwell

“Patrick was in the area. He was the career criminal. He had very similar crimes in his rap sheet and he was the individual that I felt was in fact our subject,” Vargas said.

In February, Gilham was arrested and charged. On Monday, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison after pleading no contest to second degree murder.

“For me, this was about bringing closure to the family and justice to Roxanne. But this is why I do this, I do this to bring closure to these families,” Vargas said.

Vargas told WNDU she has only been practicing genealogy for four years, is self taught, and has not got a case wrong since she began in 2018.

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