|Alexa rank||GEDmatch.com Traffic Statistics|
GEDmatch is an open data personal genomics database and genealogy website based in Lake Worth, Florida. The website gained significant media coverage in April 2018 after it was used by law enforcement to identify a suspect in the Golden State Killer case in California. Other law enforcement agencies started using GEDmatch for violent crimes, making it "the de facto DNA and genealogy database for all of law enforcement," according to The Atlantic's Sarah Zhang. However, in May 2019 GEDmatch tightened its rules on privacy which were forecast to make it much more difficult for law enforcement agencies to find suspects.
GEDmatch is based in Lake Worth, Florida, and was founded in 2010 by Curtis Rogers, a retired businessman, and John Olson, a transportation engineer, with its main purpose to help "amateur and professional researchers and genealogists," including adoptees searching for birth parents.
GEDmatch users could upload their autosomal DNA test data from commercial DNA companies, with or without a GEDCOM file, to identify potential relatives who had also uploaded their profiles. Names of participants could be hidden by the use of aliases, but each account had to have an email address attached to it. Tools available on the GEDmatch site included sorting results by the closest matches to a user's autosomal DNA, whether one's matches match each other, genetic distance calculator, estimated number of generations to a common ancestor, whether one's parents are related, and ethnicity calculator. These tools do not disclose raw genetic data to other users.
Tier 1 premium membership included triangulation matching segment search and a custom comparison system. By May 2018, the GEDmatch database had 929,000 genetic profiles, with 7,300 users who paid $10 a month for Tier 1 premium membership which was used to pay for the $200,000 a year server costs. In 2018 the website was still being run by Rogers and Olsen with five volunteers; it had no full-time staff. Rogers said in 2018 that the site had already helped 10,000 adoptees find their biological parents.
Usage by law enforcement
In December 2018 police forces in the United States said that, with the help of GEDmatch and genetic genealogy, they had been able to find suspects in a total of 28 cold murder and rape cases that year.
Also in December 2018, Family Tree DNA allowed law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, to upload DNA profiles from crime scenes to help solve cold crimes. So from that time, GEDmatch was not the only site that could be used by law enforcement officials to solve crimes using genetic genealogy.
GEDmatch has revised its privacy statement to advise users that it is cooperating with law enforcement on use of its database. As of April 2019, GEDmatch has been credited for helping solve nearly 60 cold case arrests, and for helping in 11 Jane and John Doe identifications across the United States.
General cases solved or suspects identified using GEDmatch
- California law enforcement investigating the Golden State Killer case uploaded the DNA profile of the suspected serial rapist/killer from an intact rape kit in Ventura County to GEDmatch. It identified 10 to 20 distant relatives of the Golden State Killer, and a team of five investigators working with genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter used this to construct a large family tree, which led them to identify former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo as a suspect. Investigators acquired samples of his DNA from items he discarded outside his home; one was found to definitively match that of the killer. The process took about four months, from when the first matches appeared on GEDmatch, to when DeAngelo was arrested in April 2018.
- In September 2018, Roy Charles Waller was arrested as a suspect in a series of more than ten rapes between 1991–2006 in Northern California (attributed to the "Norcal Rapist") after DNA evidence from crime scenes were matched via GEDmatch to a relative. Police constructed a family tree and, using the known characteristics of the rapist, narrowed the suspects to Waller. They were able to identify and arrest the suspect in about a week after getting the GEDmatch results. He was charged with a total of 40 counts of rape, which had taken place in five different counties: Sonoma, Solano, Contra Costa, Yolo and Butte.
- In March 2019, the FBI's Investigative Genealogy Team solved a 40-year-old murder, identifying Paul Jean Chartrand as the killer of 37-year-old Barbara Becker on March 21, 1979 in San Diego, California. She had been repeatedly stabbed in her home. Chartrand was identified from DNA in his blood left at the scene. When he was identified, police learned that he had died in 1995, of undisclosed causes.
- In April 2019 Terrence Miller of Edmonds, Washington, was arrested for the 1972 killing of 20-year-old Jody Loomis. She had been attacked, raped and fatally shot on her way by bicycle to ride her horse. The Sheriff's Office said that Miller's arrest was the second in a Snohomish County cold homicide case using results from genetic genealogy. Police worked with Deb Stone, an Oregon genealogist, to identify the suspect.
- In April 2019, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson identified Arthur Rudy Martinez (who died in 2014) as the 1977-1978 murderer and rapist in the separate deaths of 30-year-old Jane Morton Antunez and 28-year-old Patricia Dwyer Morton in Atascadero, California. Martinez had been paroled after unrelated convictions for attempted murder and rape, and was living in the area. He moved to Spokane, Washington, where he was convicted and sentenced to life for several robberies and two rapes, also in 1978. After 16 years in prison, he escaped in 1994. He lived under an alias in California until 2014, when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Parkinson said Martinez returned to Washington state and surrendered in order to receive medical treatment in prison. He died behind bars two months later. In 2016, the California homicide cases were reopened by the Department of Justice's Familiar DNA Search Team seeking a familial DNA match to the evidence. Authorities said genetic genealogy and investigation led them to a relative of Martinez and a former girlfriend. She provided investigators a DNA sample from a razor he had used. A lab determined the DNA from the razor matched that from the crime scenes.
- In May 2019, Mary Silvani, formerly known as "Sheep Flats Jane Doe"/"Washoe County Jane Doe," was identified by Washoe County Sheriff's Office through genetic genealogy and her DNA. This is the first known case in which both the victim and the perpetrator were identified by this technique. Her DNA was collected at the crime scene of her rape and homicide in Nevada in July 1982. Silvani grew up in Detroit and had later moved to California. DNA collected from her rape kit was uploaded to GEDmatch, leading to a tentative identification of the killer as the late James Richard Curry, a self-declared serial killer. He committed suicide in the Santa Clara County jail in January 1983, a day after being arrested in another murder, and confessing to two more murders. He is considered a suspect in a fourth murder in California. After DNA from his son, located in a criminal database, ruled the suspect out, further investigation led to Curry, a half brother born out of wedlock in 1946 and raised in Dallas, Texas under a different family name. After being contacted by investigators, Curry's two grown children volunteered to provide DNA samples to try to solve this case.
- In May 2019, a grand jury in Orange County, North Carolina indicted John Russell Whitt on first-degree murder charges related to the death of his son, Robert “Bobby” Adam Whitt. Bobby Whitt's skeleton was discovered under a billboard on Interstate 85-40 in September 1998; an autopsy showed that he had died by strangulation. Although the case remained open, and hundreds of investigators worked on it over the years—including forensic artist Frank Bender—the remains were unidentified until Barbara Rae-Venter analyzed a DNA sample that suggested the boy had one white parent and one Asian parent. Using online genealogical services, she located a cousin in Hawai'i, who was able to provide the boy's name. The family had not reported him missing because they believed his mother, Myoung Hwa Cho, had taken him back to South Korea, where she was from. Further investigation revealed that Cho's body had been located in Spartanburg County, South Carolina on May 13, 1998. She had been suffocated, and had ligature marks around her wrists. John Whitt has confessed to both murders; he is currently serving a federal prison sentence at the Ashland FCI for armed robbery and will not be eligible for release on that charge until 2037.
In cooperation with American law enforcement organizations, Parabon NanoLabs started uploading DNA evidence from crime scenes to GEDmatch in an attempt to identify perpetrators. In November 2018 Parabon were reported to be working on 200 such cases. In May 2019 they said they were solving cold cases at the rate of about one a week.
DNA Doe Project
Two genealogical researchers, Dr. Colleen M. Fitzpatrick and Margaret Press, started the DNA Doe Project in 2017 to identify unknown bodies using GEDmatch. They use volunteers to construct the sometimes very large family trees resulting from genetic data, in order to identify missing persons. Their successes include the following:
- Identification of the "Buckskin girl," a young woman found murdered beside a road in Miami County, Ohio in 1981, as Marcia King. She was identified by autosomal DNA through GEDmatch and genetic genealogy in March 2018.
- They also investigated a man called Joseph Newton Chandler III, found to have stolen the identity of an eight-year-old in 1978 and committed suicide in 2002 in Eastlake, Ohio, obtained a sample of his DNA and uploaded it to GEDmatch. By the genetic results, researchers identified him as Robert Ivan Nichols. This finding was revealed in late June 2018.
- In April 2018, they announced the identification of "Lyle Stevik," a 25-year-old man who had committed suicide in an Amanda Park, Washington motel in 2001. His family requested that his name should not be made public.
- They helped identify "Sheep Flats Jane Doe," a homicide victim from July 1982, who was identified as 33-year-old Mary Silvani in the Summer of 2018. She had been raped and murdered near Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Washoe County Sheriff's Office withheld her name until May 2019, when they had also confirmed the identity of her killer, James Curry. He had died in jail in January 1983, after confessing to two other murders and being arrested in a third. He was also identified through genetic genealogy, with the aid of the DNA Doe Project and GEDmatch.
- In December 2018, they identified a man using the alias "Alfred Jake Fuller" when he was found dead in 2014 in a Kennebec County, Maine hotel apartment. He had died of natural causes.
- In December 2018 they identified "Anaheim Jane Doe," who had been found murdered in 1987 in Anaheim, Orange County, California. The police announced the victim's identify as 20-year-old Tracey Coreen Hobson.
- In January 2019 they identified "Lavender Doe," a young woman whose burned body had been found near a road in Gregg County, Texas in 2006. East Texas officials announced that she was 21-year-old Dana Lynn Dodd. Joseph Burnette had confessed to her murder in 2018 but had not known her identity.
- In February 2019, a man called "Rock County John Doe," was identified using GEDmatch. His body had been found in 1995 (it was estimated he had died in 1994) in Rock County, near Clinton, Wisconsin. The police medical examiner concluded that he had died from hypothermia.
- In March 2019, the DNA Doe Project identified "Butler County Jane Doe" as 61-year-old Darlene Wilson Norcross. Norcross' body had been found in a wooded area near West Chester, Ohio, on March 7, 2015. She had never been reported as missing and the police were unable to determine her cause of death.
- In March 2019, the project identified "Annie Doe" as Annie Marie Lehman who was found on August 19, 1971 in Cave Junction, Oregon near the border with California. Some debris was noted to partially conceal the remains. The project was through collaboration with NCMEC and NamUs.
- In June 2019, "Vicky" Doe (one of serial killer Shawn Grate's first victims) murdered between 2002 and 2006 was identified as Dana Nicole Lowrey.
In April 2018, GEDmatch's privacy statement said it "exists to provide DNA and genealogy tools for comparison and research purposes." The statement said that this, "by its very nature, requires the sharing of information. Because of that, users participating in this site should expect that their information will be shared with other users."
After the arrest of the suspect in the Golden State Killer Case, co-founder Curtis Rogers, said he spent weeks trying to figure out the ethics of the situation and legal options to pursue. He concluded that they did not have the resources to require police to obtain court orders to use the website. Rogers said, "It has always been GEDmatch's policy to inform users that the database could be used for other uses, as set forth in the Site Policy," and that "While the database was created for genealogical research, it is important that GEDmatch participants understand the possible uses of their DNA, including identification of relatives that have committed crimes or were victims of crimes." In late May 2018, GEDmatch updated its policy to say law enforcement could use the database to identify perpetrators of a "violent crime", meaning "homicide or sexual assault", or to identify the remains of a deceased individual. The number of people uploading their DNA increased from 1,500 per day to 5,000 per day after the DeAngelo case went public. By November 2018 there were 1.2 million GEDmatch website users.
In May 2019 GEDmatch was used to help with the arrest a teenager who was charged with violent assault. This was the first GEDmatch had been used by Law Enforcement (and Parabon) for a case that did not involve homicide, rape or kidnapping.
Civil libertarians have said the use of websites such as GEDmatch by law enforcement raises legal and privacy concerns. Professor Rori Rohlfs at San Francisco State University noted that, whereas California police had to get a judge's permission to search the CODIS police criminal database for a murder suspect's brother, they had no limitations when uploading a murder suspect's autosomal DNA to GEDmatch to identify relatives. In 2019 Charles E. Sydnor III, a Maryland delegate, sought a bill to prohibit law enforcement from using DNA databases for crime solving, but the bill was not passed.
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