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Investigative genealogy cracking Indiana cold cases

It’s something law enforcement couldn’t do a decade ago.

INDIANAPOLIS — In the last two weeks, two more cold cases in Indiana have been solved through investigative genealogy 

“We can now call her Margert Ann Sniegowski,” announced Boone County Sheriff Michael Nielsen at Wednesday’s press conference.  

Investigators were able to identify a 17-year-old Jane Doe after she was found dead in 1992 by a farmer at the bottom of an embankment of the on-ramp to Interstate 65 north from State Road 47. 

The week before that, state police identified the “I-65 Killer” as Harry Edward Greenwell. Police said he is responsible for as many as three murders and several other assaults from the 1980s and 1990s. 

In both cases, investigators were able to use DNA and data from genealogy sites to help solve the case. Sometimes investigators will use the technique to help identify a suspect or unknown human remains. 

It’s something law enforcement couldn’t do a decade ago.  

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

“It used to be that you needed to have a pretty decent size sample and a pretty pristine sample to do the test and it took a long time,” said Doug Kouns, retired FBI agent and private investigator. “Now, you can have just a tiny little sample and it can be amplified with technology.”  

With so many possibilities, Kouns said DNA is also being collected more frequently. 

1992 Cold Case “Jane Doe” Identified The Boone County Sheriff's Office is happy to announce, after nearly 30 years, a...

Posted by Boone County Indiana Sheriff's Office on Wednesday, April 13, 2022

“Every time a violent offender is arrested, part of that booking process - in addition to pictures, fingerprints - now includes a buccal swab,” he said.  

Since the tool is still new, genealogists like CeCe Moore are still uncovering ways to use it.  

“You can’t undo what’s been done,” said Moore, the chief genealogist at Parabon Labs. “There are no happy endings here, but you can lift that weight.” 

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

As genealogy databases continue to grow, so do the possibilities. Moore said experts are being extra careful with how this tool is used. 

“We don’t want it to be misused and we don’t want to disappoint the public,” she said.  

Moore said the findings from this technology are not a rush to judgment, but a lead for investigators.   

“You are always going to investigate that person, collect their DNA, see if it matches that original crime scene sample and also look for other connections to that victim or the crime,” Moore said.  

She said there’s also a big misconception that investigators use big company databases like 23andMe or Ancestry.com to match DNA. Moore said that’s not true.   

When it involves a law enforcement investigation, her team can only use two databases that are much smaller. They are called Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch, which is a third-party site that collects DNA data. 

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