Forensic Analysts, Forensic Evidence, and the Hunt for the Golden State Killer
The Golden State Killer, or GSK for short, is a serial killer who evaded authorities for over thirty years, was recently caught thanks to new and unconventional forensic science methods involving DNA evidence and the wide-reaching power of the internet.
According to an article by People that covers recent developments in the case, Joseph DeAngelo, a 72-year-old ex-police officer and retired mechanic, was charged with a series of unsolved murders, sexual assaults and burglaries throughout California in the 1970s and 1980s. Forensic scientists were able to use the DNA analysis website GEDmatch to track down potential relatives of the Golden State Killer. Through the site, they found a fourth cousin of DeAngelo’s that quickly led them to identify him as the GSK.
In order to understand exactly how law enforcement and forensic analysts were able to target a suspect, learn how forensic and DNA evidence differ, and how technology can be used to solve crimes today.
What is Forensic Evidence and what is DNA Evidence?
Though both forensic evidence and DNA evidence can be found at the scene of a crime, there is a difference between the two. A forensic evidence sample can include fingerprints, footprints, trace chemicals, dental history, drug paraphernalia, firearms and more. DNA evidence refers only to the genetic material from body fluids found at the crime scene.
DNA evidence can also be collected from victims and suspects in order to pinpoint what happened at a scene, reconstruct the crime if needed and match the investigation’s findings to convict a suspect in a court of law. Processing crime scenes involves collecting different forms of biological material like spit, semen, blood, hair, bone, skin cells or feces to determine a person’s involvement.
Genetic material can be found anywhere, from clothing to walls. Usually, DNA found where it’s not supposed to be is an indicator for investigators to pursue further tests because it indicates that person was at the scene and may know more about the crime. DNA evidence is especially important in rape or sexual assault cases, where allegations can involve a lot of hearsay.
The use of forensic science and DNA evidence together can determine who was where and when based on genetic material left at the scene (which can be difficult to get rid of) and other findings such as shoeprints, gunshot residue and fingerprints. DNA samples are then taken from suspects, in the form of blood, hair, or tissue, which can link them to the scene.
A degree in forensic science further explains more in-depth reasons for the difference in types of evidence, as well.
How Forensic Science Technology and DNA Profiling Led to the Capture of Joseph DeAngelo
DNA identification helped forensic analysts find the previously unknown Golden State Killer through one of his relatives who uploaded their own genetic history to a public genealogical website, GEDmatch. People who want to upload their DNA to the site’s online database are free to do so, and authorities used the site and the suspect’s DNA found at previous crime scenes to find a family name.
This search led authorities to ex-cop Joseph DeAngelo. They obtained his discarded DNA from his home to compare with evidence from old crime scenes, and found a match with the Golden State Killer’s genetic makeup. Officials arrested DeAngelo in his home close to where some of the crimes were committed. He awaits trial.
The Golden State Killer is suspected of committing 120 burglaries, 45 sexual assaults and 12 murders throughout California from 1976 to 1986. This is considered one of the longest crime sprees in American history. DeAngelo may have used his police skills to evade arrest for over 40 years’ worth of crime, but no one can run from DNA identification.
DNA evidence and forensic technology can be used together with investigation techniques to create safer communities, and not just in California. Without these technological advances in the field of criminal justice, crafty serial killers, like DeAngelo, would be able to continue committing crimes and evading justice while sitting right under our noses. The field of forensic technology and science is always growing, so explore how you can earn your bachelor’s degree in forensic science and begin a lucrative, ever-evolving career involving technology and criminal justice.