Barbara Rae-Venter

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Barbara Rae-Venter
Born (1948-07-17) July 17, 1948 (age 70)
EducationUniversity of California at San Diego
University of Texas at Austin
Known forgenetic genealogy
Scientific career
Patent law

Barbara Rae-Venter (born July 17, 1948) is an American genetic genealogist and retired patent attorney best known for her work helping police and investigators identify a suspect in the Golden State Killer case. Born in New Zealand, she earned a doctorate at the University of California at San Diego and later completed law school at the University of Texas at Austin. After retirement from her law career, she started researching her family history as a hobby in an attempt to help an adopted family member find his birth family. Through this work, she was asked to help identify a woman who had been abducted as a child. Her efforts in this case eventually identified a deceased suspect in the Bear Brook Murders in New Hampshire. Subsequently, Rae-Venter was a key member of the team who used genetic genealogy to identify a suspect in the Golden State Killer case. In 2019 she was included in the Time 100 list of most influential people and in 2018 was recognized in Nature's 10, a list of "people who mattered" in science by the journal Nature.

Early career[edit]

Barbara Rae was born July 17, 1948, in Auckland, New Zealand,[1] and raised in Auckland's Remuera neighborhood.[2] She moved to the United States at age 20,[2] and has American citizenship.[1] She pursued undergraduate training in Psychology and Biochemistry at the University of California at San Diego, earning a BA in 1972. She received her Ph.D. in Biology at the same institution in 1976. From 1976 to 1979 she was a postdoctoral fellow at Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, New York. From 1979 to 1983 she was assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. She matriculated at University of Texas at Austin Law School in May 1983 and received her J.D. in August 1985.[1] She later worked as a patent lawyer in California specializing in biotechnology,[3] and was an assistant professor at Stanford University from 1988 to 1990.[1][4] Rae-Venter has several peer-reviewed scientific publications focusing on cancer research.

Genetic genealogy[edit]

Rae-Venter's interest in genealogy began when she met a cousin on a family tree sharing site who was looking to identify his birth father.[3] She found a course through teaching people how to use genetic testing to find relatives. After she completed the course, she took over teaching it.[3][5] In addition to working on her own family tree, Rae-Venter has worked as a volunteer Search Angel for the site, specializing in helping adoptees find their birth families. She has been involved in solving several high-profile murder cases, including Bear Brook Murders in New Hampshire and the Golden State Killer in California. In 2018, after her role in using genetics and genealogy to solve crimes became well known, Rae-Venter was named to Nature's list of "10 People who Mattered this Year".[6] She was recognized in the 2010 Time 100 list of most influential people.[7]

Bear Brook Murders[edit]

Rae-Venter's initial involvement with using publicly available genetic databases and family trees to contribute to criminal investigations started in 2015, when she was asked to assist investigators identify the true identity of a woman who had been kidnapped when she was an infant.[3] This case evolved to require 20,000 hours of work and a significant number of volunteers, but they were able to identify the woman's birth name, and put her in contact with one of her grandfathers.[3] In addition to searching for the targeted profile on publicly available websites, Rae-Venter suggested the woman submit her sample to closed databases in the hopes of finding a family member.[8] The identification of this woman led authorities to link her kidnapper to a series of murders in New Hampshire, known as the Bear Brook Murders.[8] Rae-Venter contributed to the eventual identification of the suspect's true identity, Terry Peder Rasmussen, using DNA obtained from his autopsy after his death in prison. Rasmussen had been imprisoned for another murder under the name Larry Vanner.[9] In addition to identifying the woman's family and birth name, Rae-Venter and her team identified the birth mother of a relative found during the search, which allowed for them to meet.[10]

Golden State Killer[edit]

Paul Holes, an inspector who had been working on the Golden State Killer case for decades initially reached out to Rae-Venter in March 2017 for her assistance in using genealogy to search for new leads in the case. In October 2017, Rae-Venter was contributing to the team attempting to identify the killer. Rae-Venter utilized GEDmatch, and provided structure to the team's genetic search efforts.[9] The team utilized a DNA sample from a Golden State Killer crime scene to create a DNA profile that could be uploaded to GEDMatch, and then worked from profiles that were identified to create family trees which could be used to identify the killer, by working back to find common ancestors, and then building out the younger generations in the families to find a suspect. In the case of the Golden State Killer, the team needed to go back to great-great-great grandparents.[9] This information was combined with predictions about ethnicity and physical appearance to narrow down the suspect list.[9] After the suspect had been identified, new DNA samples were collected and tested against crime scene samples, confirming the identify of the killer. Joseph DeAngelo was arrested on April 24, 2018.[11]

In the immediate aftermath of the arrest, Rae-Venter chose not to be publicly identified, out of fears for her personal safety.[3] Several months after the arrest of the Golden State Killer, Rae-Venter allowed Holes to identify her publicly. The intervening months had seen increased interest in genetic genealogy, and additional people had been identified in the field.[3] After her role in the Golden State Killer case became well-known, Rae-Venter was approached to assist in at least 50 unsolved cases, including homicides and unidentified victims.[12]

Additional cases[edit]

As one of the first public faces of genetic genealogy in law enforcement in the United States, Rae-Venter has been asked to consult on additional cases moving forward, and also to comment on the ethics of using shared community data for law enforcement purposes. She has also been one of the most sought after voices when ethical questions arise about the use of shared genetic data by law enforcement. At the conclusion of the Golden State Killer case, Rae-Venter discussed future cases that she was working on, including the Boy in the Box case in Pennsylvania.[9] In 2018 she helped police and Parabon NanoLabs identify suspects in a 1999 Florida murder and a 2007 California murder.[13]

Personal life[edit]

In the late 1960s, while in Sydney, Australia, she met J. Craig Venter, an American soldier on leave from the Vietnam War. They reunited while she was on a three-month hiking tour of Europe, and they were married in Geneva in 1968. They separated in 1980, and have one child.[14] In the course of her research into her own family tree, Rae-Venter identified a great uncle who worked as a police officer in London during the time Jack the Ripper was active.[6]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Rae-Venter, B.; Reid, L. M. (1980). "Growth of human breast carcinomas in nude mice and subsequent establishment in tissue culture". Cancer Research. 40 (1): 95–100. PMID 6243091.
  • Rae-Venter, B.; Nemoto, T.; Schneider, S. L.; Dao, T. L. (1981). "Prolactin binding by human mammary carcinoma: Relationship to estrogen receptor protein concentration and patient age". Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. 1 (3): 233–243. doi:10.1007/BF01806263.
  • Rae-Venter, B.; Dao, T. L. (1982). "Kinetic properties of rat hepatic prolactin receptors". Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 107 (2): 624–632. doi:10.1016/0006-291X(82)91537-6.
  • Rae-Venter, B.; Dao, T. L. (1983). "Hydrodynamic properties of rat hepatic prolactin receptors". Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics. 222 (1): 12–21. doi:10.1016/0003-9861(83)90497-6.
  • Singh, P.; Rae-Venter, B.; Townsend, C. M.; Khalil, T.; Thompson, J. C. (1985). "Gastrin receptors in normal and malignant gastrointestinal mucosa: age-associated changes". American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology. 249 (6): G761–G769. doi:10.1152/ajpgi.1985.249.6.G761.


  1. ^ a b c d American Men & Women of Science (26th ed.). Gale. 2009. pp. 25–26. ISBN 9781414433004.
  2. ^ a b Hampton, Simon (October 2018). "How a Kiwi helped solve the US' greatest cold case" (PDF). Te Awamutu Branch of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists Newsletter. No. 298. p. 6. Retrieved 2018-12-30.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Murphy, Heather. "She Helped Crack the Golden State Killer Case". New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
  4. ^ Reinhold, Robert (January 7, 1990). "Science Under Scrutiny; Losing the Race". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Teachers, Assistants & Course Leaders". Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  6. ^ a b Maher, Brenden. "Nature's 10". Nature. Retrieved 2019-03-11.
  7. ^ Holes, Paul (April 16, 2019). "Barbara Rae-Venter". TIME. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  8. ^ a b Augenstein, Seth (2017-02-07). "The Tale of the Abandoned Girl's DNA that Led to a Notorious Cold Case". Forensic Magazine. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  9. ^ a b c d e Gafni, Matthias (2018-08-24). "The woman behind the scenes who helped capture the Golden State Killer". The Mercury News. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  10. ^ Corum, Jonathan and Murphy, Heather (2018-10-15). "How Genetic Sleuthing Helped a Kidnapped Girl Recover Her Identity". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-03-11.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Chavez, Nicole (2016-06-02). "DNA that led to Golden State Killer suspect's arrest was collected from his car while he shopped". CNN. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  12. ^ Lee, Amber (2018-08-30). "Critical genealogist in Golden State Killer case speaks out about her role". Fox 2 KTVU. Retrieved 2019-03-11.
  13. ^ Greytak, Ellen M.; Moore, CeCe; Armentrout, Steven L. (2019). "Genetic genealogy for cold case and active investigations". Forensic Science International. 299: 103–113. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2019.03.039.
  14. ^ Venter, J. Craig (2007). A Life Decoded: My Genome, My Life. New York: Viking. pp. 43–48. ISBN 9780670063581. OCLC 165048736.

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