Decades after the mutilated body was found in a wooded area in northern Alabama, officials have identified the cold case victim as a male from California through intensive DNA technology and genetic genealogy.
A body found on April 15, 1997 in Union Grove, Alabama, was found along a creek with its head, legs, and arms cut off, as well as other parts of the body, mutilated, apparently in an attempt to make forensic identification more reliable. difficult, according to A. news release this week from the Alabama Marshall County Sheriff’s Office.
The terrible efforts of the man’s killer or killers seem to have worked; for years, attempts by sheriff’s investigators to identify the man were unsuccessful.
But in 2019, officials teamed up with a DNA technology company that was gradually able to make progress on the case by first improving and refining DNA samples from the body and then comparing that profile to others in genetic databases, eventually leading the team to identify the man as 20-year-old Jeffrey Douglas Kimsey from Santa Barbara.
“That led us to our parents in Santa Barbara,” said Willie Orr, deputy chief of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, noting that investigators were able to confirm the find with DNA tests. “They had no idea where he was.”
Orr said the family was unaware of Kimsey’s death. The Times was unable to contact any member of the Kimsey family immediately.
In recent years, law enforcement has increasingly used DNA evidence from genetic databases to aid criminal investigations, a tactic that some critics call underregulated and can be an invasion of privacy, but which others have heralded to find elusive suspects, including Golden State Assassin in 2018.
With scientists Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company based in Virginia has been able to overcome the DNA degradation and bacterial contamination that has occurred over the past 26 years and create a Kimsey genetic profile similar to that used in a genetic testing database such as 23 and me,” said CC Moore, chief genetic genealogist at Parabon NanoLab. She said the next step would be to test the type of genetic markers or single nucleotide polymorphisms known as SNPs to look for possible relatives in available databases.
“With genetic genealogy and SNP testing, we can find second, third, fourth cousins and others, and we can use that information to reconstruct someone’s personality,” Moore said.
However, their comparisons are limited to the profiles available in two small genetic databases − Genealogical tree of DNA And GEDmatch — which opens up access for law enforcement, Moore said, unlike some big companies like 23andMe or Ancestry.com, which restrict data sharing.
From the databases available, Parabo’s team was able to identify several distant relatives from the body’s DNA, but because they weren’t strong matches, it took months to establish the identity, Moore said. The team also used DNA phenotyping to try to portray the physical characteristics of the victim, which local authorities made public at the time. But Orr said the illustration provided no clues.
“It can take a very long time,” Moore said. “It depends entirely on who uploaded their DNA to these databases.”
By finding additional relatives and comparing them 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 member of the Kimsey family in Tennessee, said Orr, who led investigators to Kimsey’s parents in Santa Barbara, where the identity was confirmed.
Orr said it’s unclear why Kimsey was in northern Alabama at the time of his death in 1997, but investigators believe he was likely passing by. The death was ruled a homicide.
Orr declined to answer further questions about the circumstances of the case, but said it was “still ongoing” and Parabon was investigating further DNA evidence from the scene.
“We want to announce that we have interested parties involved in this case, and we are actively investigating these leads,” the sheriff said in a statement.