Decades after a mutilated body was found in a north Alabama wooded area, officials have identified the frostbite victim as a Californian through intensive DNA technology and genetic genealogy.
The body, found April 15, 1997, in Union Grove, Ala., was found along a river with the head, legs and arms removed and other body parts mutilated, apparently in an effort to provide more forensic evidence. difficult, the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office in Alabama said in a news release this week.
The terrible efforts of the man’s killer or killers paid off. Over the years, sheriff’s investigators have been unsuccessful in trying to identify the man.
But in 2019, officials teamed up with a DNA technology company that was able to slowly make progress, first refining and clarifying the body’s DNA samples and then comparing that profile to others in a genetic database; the man is Jeffrey Douglas Kimzey, 20, of Santa Barbara.
“That led us to the parents in Santa Barbara,” Marshall County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Willie Orr said, noting that investigators were able to confirm the discovery through DNA tests. “They didn’t know where he was.”
Orr said the family did not know Kimzey had died. The Times could not immediately reach a member of Kimzey’s family.
In recent years, law enforcement agencies have increasingly used DNA evidence from genetic databases for criminal investigations, a tactic that some critics say is a poorly regulated technique that can invade privacy, but others have heralded as a way to track down elusive suspects. including the 2018 Golden State Killer
Scientists at Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company based in Virginia, were able to overcome the DNA degradation and bacterial contamination that has occurred over the past 26 years to create a Kimzey genetic profile similar to that used in genetic testing databases such as: 23andMe, said CeCe Moore, Chief Genetic Genealogist at Parabon NanoLab. He said the next step is to test for genetic markers, or a type of single nucleotide polymorphism known as SNP, to look for possible relatives in available databases.
“With genetic genealogy and SNP testing, we can find second, third, fourth cousins and more, and we can use that information to change someone’s identity,” Moore said.
However, their comparisons are limited to profiles available at two small genetic databases, Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch, which allow access to law enforcement investigations, Moore said, unlike some larger companies such as 23andMe or Ancestry.com. limit data sharing;
From the available databases, Parabon’s team was able to identify several distant relatives in the body’s DNA, but because they weren’t a strong match, it took months to zero in on the identity, Moore said. The team also used DNA phenotyping to try to map the victim’s physical characteristics, which local officials then released to the public. But Orr said the illustration made no connection.
“It could take a very long time,” Moore said. “It depends entirely on who uploaded their DNA to those databases.”
After finding additional relatives and comparing it to historical documents, the team was able to identify the body with “high confidence,” said Moore, who shared the findings with the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies were then able to locate a Kimzey family member in Tennessee, said Orr, who led investigators to Kimzey’s parents in Santa Barbara, where the identity was confirmed.
Orr said it’s unclear why Kimzey was in north Alabama at the time of his 1997 death, but said investigators believe he may have been passing through the area. The death was ruled a homicide.
Orr declined to answer further questions about the circumstances of the case, but said it is “still progressing” as more DNA evidence from the scene is examined by Parabon.
“We would like to announce that we have persons of interest involved in this case and are actively pursuing those inquiries,” sheriff’s officials said in a press release.