Most of think that all these new DNA testing services are just a fun way to find out what mix of ethnicities you really are. Maybe you’ll discover an ancestor who was on the Mayflower, or get connected to a long-lost cousin.
It turns out, however, that the DNA databases you’re submitting your sample to can also be utilized by law enforcement agencies, helping them do things like, oh, let’s say, linking the DNA they got from the spit on your Chipotle napkin to the evidence from that cold-case murder you’ve managed to keep covered up since the 1990s.
Hope you enjoyed that extra guac. It’s the last you’re going to get for a while.
Minnesota businessman Jerry Westrom, 52, was arrested by police after his DNA was linked to crime scene evidence from the scene of 35-year-old Jeanie Childs 1993 stabbing death. They got that DNA from a napkin he tossed into a trash can at his daughter’s hockey game. He was brought in for questioning and, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, denied all allegations, but the hard evidence meant he still had to post $1 million bail for his release. (Lest you feel sorry for Mr. Westrom, the DNA matched sperm found on a towel and a comforter in the murdered woman’s apartment. Gross.)
This isn’t the first time a personal ancestry company has helped police solve a cold case. DNA that matched records from one such company helped solve the 1986 murder of a 12-year-old girl in Washington State, and also helped catch the notorious Golden State Killer. A lot of people are up in arms about the ethics of using DNA matches from these databases to justify arrests, saying that most people send their spit to these companies for entertainment’s sake, and they don’t expect their distant cousins to get arrested as a result.
Police say that’s too bad. They’ve been using DNA evidence to solve cases, both hot and cold, for decades. Bio-data companies, recreational or not, are just one more source of that information – and they’re exploding in popularity. Considering that these services can match you up with third and fourth cousins based on one little q-tip of spit, a lot more criminals can look forward to the very real possibility of being arrested for a crime committed decades ago.
So, if you have any literal skeletons in your closet, or really anywhere that police may have noticed at any point in time…you may want to think twice before throwing out your used napkins.