According to police in Gresham, Oregon, a decades-old rape and murder cold case has allegedly been solved, leading to an arrest of a suspect more than 41 years later. This breakthrough was only made possible by an “investigative tool” known as “genetic genealogy.”
“Robert Plympton, now 58, was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly killing a 19-year-old college student in January 1980, according to police in Gresham,” reported ABC News. “Barbara Mae Tucker was a sophomore studying business at Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College when she was sexually assaulted and beaten to death, said Gresham police.”
“The teen was heading to an evening class when she was seen running onto a street from a wooded area by the edge of campus, according to police,” ABC added. “Witnesses who were driving by later said they thought Tucker was waving and trying to get people’s attention, police said. A witness saw a man emerge from the shrubs and lead her toward campus, according to police.”
Police then said that Tucker’s body was found the next day by a student.
The case remained unsolved, and it wasn’t until “technology advanced enough for detectives to use genetic genealogy” that police were able to achieve significant progress.
Genetic genealogy allows a formerly unidentified person’s DNA to be identified by referencing the DNA of their family members, who provide their DNA voluntarily to a genealogy database. Through this system, police are able to analyze family trees rather than individuals alone, thereby improving any chances of finding a match.
ABC News consultant CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist whose team worked on the Barbara Tucker case, told the outlet that “This devastating case has been on my mind and in my heart for years,” adding that Tucker’s case is “an example of dogged determination on both the part of the detectives and through genetic genealogy.”
“We started off with not much to work with, but over time were able to finally identify the suspect,” Moore added. “My heart goes out to Barbara’s family and I hope this will eventually lead to resolution for them.”
Genetic genealogy first rose to prominence after Joseph DeAngelo — the so-called “Golden State Killer” — was arrested in April 2018, when potential suspects were identified using DNA samples and family tree databases. DeAngelo pled guilty “to the murder of 13 people, the rape of around 50 women and committing burglaries across California during the 1970s and 80s,” according to Forbes.
“The traditional techniques of genealogy — tracking-down records like birth and marriage certificates, census data and newspaper obituaries — along with modern methods like Facebook stalking are then combined with the DNA profiles to build a huge family tree of people who might be related to the perp,” Forbes added. “Those family members are painstakingly added to the tree, starting with the twigs of living relatives and then connecting them through branches of distant ancestors.”
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