A Saskatchewan man has been charged with rape after police in Edmonton matched his DNA to that found at a crime scene in 1981.
The case involving a 15-year-old girl sat cold for 40 years until investigators compared the crime scene DNA with DNA available in public genealogy bases and found a familial match, Edmonton Police Service said, announcing the charge on Tuesday.
Then, police obtained a sample of the man’s DNA and had the RCMP’s National Forensic Laboratory Services confirm it matched the evidence from 42 years ago.
Police believe he lived in Edmonton in 1981, but said he now lives in Kelvington, east of Saskatoon.
He was arrested on Oct. 27 and charged with rape and acts of gross indecency as they were defined in the 1981 Canadian Criminal Code.
When asked how the survivor reacted to hearing charges had been laid in her case, detective Kevin Harrison with the EPS Historical Crime Units said, “In one word: happy.
“Happy that she was not forgotten and that we were able to make an arrest in this case.”
The accused was released from police custody and given a December court date in Edmonton.
INVESTIGATING USING GENEALOGY
In the early morning of July 9, 1981, the 15-year-old girl was grabbed, dragged and sexually assaulted by a man while walking home across a school field near 121 Avenue and 46 Street in northeast Edmonton.
Her attacker ran away. She did not know him and police were unable to identify him.
In 2018, the file was reviewed by the historical crimes team and submitted to the national RCMP lab so a DNA profile could be created. However, it did not match any other profile from a different crime scene or conviction in the bank.
At that point – when its other options had been exhausted – Harrison says EPS turned to investigative genetic genealogy, as it has been doing more frequently recently.
He wouldn’t say which genealogy service led investigators to the Saskatchewan man, but confirmed only two allow law enforcement to search their databases: GEDMatch and FamilyTreeDNA.
“[Investigators] work from a suspect DNA profile, up the family tree, to a most recent common ancestor, and then they work their way back down to a putative or possible suspect. Then other investigative steps are taken to ensure that that suspect is the right age, lives in the right area, matches the description,” the detective explained.
“Ultimately, the key is this is an investigative technique or tool that we are obligated then to go out and seek lawful DNA from the suspect that is profiled as per the RCMP lab and compared to the suspect profile to confirm a match.”
Harrison would not describe how police obtained the Saskatchewan man’s DNA for RCMP analysis, but maintained the process was lawful.
“Police have various techniques to do that. I’m not prepared to get into those today.”
He added: “Sometimes [suspects] are aware and sometimes they are not.”
Nor would Harrison say how close the familial match was found by investigators.
“This technology can reveal matches as far away as fifth and sixth generations, so… when we look at those matches and we look at a family member that would have potentially uploaded their DNA, that person could be so distantly related to our suspect, they have no idea they’re in their family.”
‘WE HAVEN’T FORGOTTEN’
This is the first time an investigation by Edmonton police into publicly available genealogy data has resulted in criminal charges.
“Our office and the EPS are continually researching new techniques and ways to explore evidence and try to come to some conclusion and identify suspects and make arrests,” Harrison promised.
“I think it’s important to note that the survivors of these types of attacks, or families of homicide victims, or survivors of sexual assaults, that they are not forgotten.”
As for perpetrators, “I truly believe that some of these people believe they have gotten away with it,” Harrison said.
“And they need to know that we haven’t forgotten them either.”
Rape has not been a term in Canada’s Criminal Code since it was replaced in 1983 by the broader term “sexual assault.” The change was meant to modernize the code, in part by focusing on the violent, rather than sexual, nature of an offence; clarifying that males or females could be victims of sexual assault; and clarifying that the spouse of a victim could be charged with sexual assault.
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s David Ewasuk
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