GEDmatch

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GEDmatch
GEDmatch logo 12pct.png
GEDmatch-screenshot.png
Available inEnglish
OwnerVerogen, Inc. (forensic science & sequencing)
URLwww.gedmatch.com
Alexa rankNegative increase GEDmatch.com Traffic Statistics[1]
RegistrationRequired
Users1.45 million DNA profiles (By Fall 2020)

GEDmatch is a US online service to compare autosomal DNA data files from different testing companies. 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.[2] In May 2019, GEDmatch then tightened its rules on privacy by requiring users to "opt in" to sharing their data with Law Enforcement. In December 2019 GEDmatch was acquired by Verogen, Inc, a sequencing company dedicated to forensic science.[3] A new version of the existing site currently in development will focus on solving crimes using the more than 1.2 million DNA profiles hosted on GEDMatch's platform.[4]

History[edit]

GEDmatch was founded in 2010 by Curtis Rogers, a retired businessman, and John Olson, a transportation engineer,[5] in Lake Worth, Florida,[6] with its main purpose to help "amateur and professional researchers and genealogists," including adoptees searching for birth parents.[7][8]

GEDmatch users could upload their autosomal DNA test data[9] from commercial DNA companies, with or without a GEDCOM file, to identify potential relatives who had also uploaded their profiles.[10] Names of participants could be hidden by the use of aliases, but each account had to have an email address attached to it.[11] 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.[11] These tools do not disclose raw genetic data to other users.[12]

Tier 1 premium membership included triangulation[13] matching segment search and a custom comparison system.[11] 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[14] which was used to pay for the $200,000 a year server costs.[15] In 2018 the website was still being run by Rogers and Olsen with five volunteers;[16] it had no full-time staff.[15] Rogers said in 2018 that the site had already helped 10,000 adoptees find their biological parents.[16]

Access for law enforcement to the user data was given without informed consent; negative user reactions led to the implementation of an opt-in with active recommendation for users to join.[17]

In September 2019, the U.S Department of Justice released interim guidelines governing when federal investigators or federally funded investigations[18] could use genetic genealogy to track down suspects in serious crimes—the first-ever policy covering how these databases should be used in law enforcement attempts to balance public safety and privacy concerns. The policy said “forensic genetic genealogy” should generally be used only for violent crimes such as murder and rape, as well as to identify human remains. (The policy permitted broader use if the ancestry database's policy allowed such searches.) Investigators should first exhaust traditional crime solving methods, including searching their own criminal DNA databases.

Under the new policy, investigators could not quietly upload a fake profile to a genealogy website, as some have done in hopes of finding a suspect's distant relatives, without first identifying themselves. And the site itself must have informed its users that law enforcement agencies may search their data.

The policy also barred federal investigators from using a suspect's DNA profile to look for genes related to disease risks or psychological traits. Another provision attempted to limit situations in which federal investigators secretly take a DNA sample from a suspect's relative—from a discarded cup or tissue, for example—to help home in on a suspect. The policy said the person must give their informed consent unless federal investigators have obtained a search warrant.[19] These guidelines applied to federal investigators and federally funded investigations but did not apply to state or local law enforcement agencies - the vast majority of investigations.[18]

In November 2019 a Florida judge approved a police request for a warrant to search the database of Gedmatch.[20]

As of December 9, 2019, GEDmatch was acquired by Verogen, Inc, a sequencing company solely dedicated to forensic science. For the 1.2 million DNA profiles a new version of the existing site will focus on solving crimes. How much GEDmatch continues to serve genetic genealogical research is heavily discussed since then.[21] BuzzFeed News reported that Verogen hopes to monetise the site by charging for access to the database and tools for DNA analysis.[22] Founder Curtis Rogers in a website statement announces "basic tools will remain free", he will remain involved in all aspects of the business and Verogen will commit to the vision of a consumer genealogy site, take care of infrastructure and security/privacy. At the same time Rogers claims "genealogy has made our communities safer by putting violent criminals behind bars." [23] As of September 2020, there were about 1.45 million users on the site.[24]

Usage by law enforcement[edit]

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.[25][26] 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.[27]

White people are overrepresented on GEDmatch, and are believed to be underrepresented in CODIS, the FBI's collection of DNA samples pulled from crime scenes, arrestees and criminal suspects. Thus, GEDmatch may be especially effective in facilitating the arrests of white suspects who might otherwise have eluded law enforcement.[28] On May 18, 2019, GEDmatch revised its privacy statement to users as to the collection and use of genetic information, including the circumstances in which it may cooperate with law enforcement on use of its database. As of September 2020, GEDmatch has been credited for helping facilitate nearly 120 cold case arrests, and for helping in 11 Jane and John Doe identifications across the United States.[29][30]

General cases solved or suspects identified using GEDmatch[edit]

  • 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[31][32] to GEDmatch.[33] It identified 10 to 20 distant relatives of the Golden State Killer, and a team of five investigators working with genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter[34] used this to construct a large family tree, which led them to identify former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo as a suspect.[35] Investigators acquired samples of his DNA from items he discarded outside his home, one of which definitively matched that of the killer.[36][37] The process took about four months, from when the first matches appeared on GEDmatch, to when DeAngelo was arrested in April 2018.[32]
  • In May 2018 William Earl Talbott II[38] was arrested as a suspect for the murders of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, who were found killed in Seattle, Washington in November 1987. The identity of the suspect had been narrowed down by matching DNA from the crime scene with a search in the GEDmatch database revealing matches with relatives of the suspect. A subsequent search and investigation resulted in the arrest of William Earl Talbott II, whose DNA matched that from the crime scene. He was later charged with and convicted of two counts of murder. He claimed his innocence and the case is being appealed.
  • 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 (the "Norcal Rapist") after DNA evidence from crime scenes were matched on GEDmatch to a relative.[39] Police then constructed a family tree and using the known characteristics of the rapist narrowed the suspects down to Waller. It took little more than a week to identify and arrest the suspect.[40] He was charged with 40 counts of rape.[41]
  • In March 2019, Paul Jean Chartrand was identified by the FBI's Investigative Genealogy Team as the murderer of Barbara Becker on March 21, 1979 in San Diego. She had been repeatedly stabbed in the neck and back. Investigators found blood in several rooms of the La Jolla home. Police at the time said Becker, 37, had tried to escape her attacker. She had fought hard. Some of the blood was his.[42][43] However Chartrand had already died in 1995 of undisclosed causes.[44][45]
  • In April 2019 Terrence Miller of Edmonds, Washington, was arrested for the 1972 killing of 20-year-old Jody Loomis. Loomis left her home and rode her bicycle toward a stable to ride her horse. Her body was found raped, disrobed, and shot in the head in the woods. This is the second arrest in a Snohomish County cold homicide case using results from genetic genealogy, the sheriff's office said in its statement.[46][47][48] Police worked with Deb Stone, an Oregon genealogist, to identify the suspect.[49]
  • In April 2019, Arthur Rudy Martinez was posthumously identified as the 1977-1978 murderer and rapist of 30-year-old Jane Morton Antunez and 28-year-old Patricia Dwyer Morton in Atascadero, California, Antunez was killed in her car and Dwyer was stabbed to death in her home. Martinez, who'd been paroled after unrelated convictions for attempted murder and rape, lived in the area at the time of the deaths but left soon after, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said Wednesday. He moved to Spokane, Wash., and received life sentences there for several robberies and two rapes also in 1978. After 16 years in prison in 1994, he escaped and lived under an alias in California until 2014 when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He returned to Washington state and turned himself in to receive medical treatment in prison, Parkinson said. He died behind bars two months later. The homicide cases were reopened three years ago with the Department of Justice's Familiar DNA Search Team seeking a familial DNA match to the evidence. Authorities said it led them to a relative of Martinez and a former girlfriend who provided investigators the DNA sample from a razor he had used. A lab determined the DNA from the razor matched that from the crime scenes.[50][51]
  • In May 2019, James Richard Curry was identified as the killer of Mary Silvani, formerly known as "Sheep Flats Jane Doe"/"Washoe County Jane Doe." DNA collected from Silvani's rape kit was uploaded to GEDMatch, leading to a tentative identification of the killer. However, the suspect had recently died.[52] 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.[53] Curry died in California on January 7, 1983, from injuries inflicted in a suicide attempt after confessing to three murders in California.[53] His two children volunteered to provide DNA samples after being contacted by investigators.[53] Silvani was also identified using genetic genealogy, making this the first known case in which both the victim and the perpetrator were identified in this way (both through the work of genetic genealogist Cheryl Hester).[15]
  • 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.[54] 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.[55] 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.[55] 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.[55] John Whitt has confessed to both murders; he is currently serving a federal prison sentence at the Ashland FCI[56] for armed robbery and will not be eligible for release on that charge until 2037.[55]
  • Eddie Lee Anderson was arrested in May 2019 for killing 30-year-old Leslie Penrod Harris in May 1976 and dumping her body near Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Orange County, California sheriff's officials said in a news release. The FBI's Investigative Genealogy Unit had assisted the local police in identifying Anderson as a potential suspect.[57] Harris was dining with her husband at a restaurant in Costa Mesa the evening of May 17 and went out alone around 8:30 p.m. She still had not returned by the time the restaurant closed, and her husband reported her missing, authorities said. At about 4:30 the next morning, military police from the air base found Harris’ nude body lying on a roadway just outside its perimeter. She had been strangled.[58][59]
  • In June 2019, Mark Manteuffel was arrested in Decatur, Georgia, by FBI agents and charged with brutal rapes, sodomy, torture and inflicting bodily harm using a knife in Sacramento, California, between 1992 and 1994.[60] Manteuffel was a retired federal prisons worker and had lectured on criminal justice. Police used the services of the Sacramento DA and GEDmatch to indicate him as a possible suspect and used a sample of his DNA from a restaurant to match with the DNA from the crime scenes.[61][62]
  • In 2019 and 2020, in Toronto, Canada, police used GEDmatch to identify the murderer of Christine Jessop.[63]

Parabon Nanolabs[edit]

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.[64][65] In May 2019 they said they were solving cold cases at the rate of about one a week.[66]

DNA Doe Project[edit]

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.[67]
  • 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.[68]
  • 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.[69] 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.[69] 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.[70][69]
  • 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.[71] Joseph Burnette had confessed to her murder in 2018 but had not known her identity.[72]
  • 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.[73]
  • 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.[74] 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 16-year-old 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 23-year-old Dana Nicole Lowrey.[75]
  • In July 2019, "Belle in the Well", the remains of a woman found strangled in a well in Chesapeake Ohio in 1981, was identified as Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher. Flesher was about 65 years old at the time of her murder and was born in West Virginia.[76]

Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Genetic Genealogy Program[edit]

In 2018 the Florida Department of Law Enforcement set up a Genetic Genealogy Program to use GEDmatch to solve cold cases. They reported in 2019 they had solved four cases.[77][78]

Data policy[edit]

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."[8]

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.[79] 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."[80] 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.[81] 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.[16]

In May 2019 GEDmatch was used to help with the arrest of a teenager who was charged with violent assault. This was the first and so far last time GEDmatch had been used by Law Enforcement (and Parabon) for a case that did not involve homicide, rape or kidnapping.[82]

Civil libertarians have said the use of websites such as GEDmatch by law enforcement raises legal and privacy concerns.[83][84][85] 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.[5] In 2019 Charles E. Sydnor III, a Maryland delegate, sought a bill to prohibit law enforcement from using DNA databases for crime solving,[86] but the bill was not passed.[87] A state representative in Utah introduced a similar bill that would ban genetic genealogy searches by police.[88]

Opt-in policy[edit]

In May 2019, GEDmatch began requiring people who had uploaded their DNA to its site to opt in to allow law enforcement agencies to access their information. This change in privacy policy was expected to limit law enforcement agencies ability to identify suspects using genetic genealogy.[89] By May 2020, about 260,000 GEDmatch users had opted in.[90][91]

Despite GEDmatch's opt-in policy, in Fall 2019 it was served with a warrant by law-enforcement in Florida, demanding access to all of its DNA profiles, including those of the vast majority of users who had not opted in to allow law enforcement access (at this time, approximately 185,000 of 1.3 million users had opted in).[92] GEDmatch complied with this warrant.[92][93]

See also[edit]

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