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Monday, April 19, 2021

In Market: If it bleeds, it leads – and maybe it can be solved

I really wanted to jump in my car and play crime reporter again on July 19. Just down the street from our office two armed men had robbed a Veritex Community Bank, shooting three people according to the latest reports. The victims, all bank employees, were expected to survive.

But the helicopter flying overhead, the police cars zipping around and the buzz about the event had my old police reporter bones aching to be back in action. I didn’t run to cover the action. I had other stories to report and besides, it’s easier to watch the action via the web.

My interest in true crime goes back to before I was a police reporter in Grand Prairie, covering crimes in both Tarrant and Dallas counties.

It’s been there as long as I can remember, dating back to the days of my mother and I listening to KFJZ and the official sounding Texas State Network news reports during the summer. If it bleeds it leads was as true then as it is now.

One of the first local stories I remember was the infamous “broomstick” murder case of August 1966. The now infamous Kenneth McDuff and the hapless Roy Dale Green killed three teenagers in a field south of Fort Worth, one choked with a broomstick. The crimes were solved when Green confessed. McDuff got three death sentences, but somehow was eventually released to continue a rampage of death and destruction across the state. Read Gary M. Lavergne’s excellent, if disturbing, Bad Boy From Rosebud for a tour into the soul of a dark, heartless killer.

It always takes a bit of luck and solid police work to solve these cases, but of late there has been a new tool available to solve some unsolved cases. DNA has been available since the 1990s, but it is now being put to use in new ways.

Several recent cases have been solved using a controversial technique that can home in on a suspect by finding family members in a genetic line if the suspect’s DNA is not in any database.

Among its earliest uses was the 2005 Kansas arrest of Dennis Rader, the so-called BTK serial killer. In that case, officials subpoenaed a tissue sample from his daughter via a medical clinic that eventually led to the killer.

The Golden State Killer, a crime I thought would go unsolved, was also identified by this process.

After investigating for more than 40 years, police zeroed in on their suspect by using genealogical websites to identify potential relatives of the killer based on the limited DNA collected at a crime scene.

Investigators used DNA from a semen sample collected at the double murder of Lyman and Charlene Smith in 1980 in Ventura County to find one of Joseph DeAngelo’s relatives and eventually the suspect himself, according to the warrants.

After identifying DeAngelo as a suspect, investigators eventually collected some DNA that led to an arrest.

In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a case that has puzzled investigators since 1992 used the technique to charge a man with strangling a young elementary school teacher.

Raymond Charles Rowe, 49, is being held without bail in the killing of 25-year-old Christy Mirack at her home in a crime that had stymied investigators until genealogical research led them to the man known professionally as DJ Freez. He was not in any DNA database.

With genetic material from the crime scene, authorities were able to identify a close relative of the then-unknown suspect, putting Rowe in their sights. Rowe had lived just a few miles from Mirack at the time she was killed, although it’s unclear whether they knew each other.

Police sent an undercover team last month to a school where Rowe was performing, collecting his used water bottle and chewed gum. State police said they matched DNA from those items to the crime scene.

Prosecutors have not said whether Rowe is being investigated in connection with any other crimes.

Those crimes that were once thought unsolved? Maybe not.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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