The company that helped police crack the 1983 cold cases reveals how they did it

The company that helped Toronto police solve a decades-old cold case is revealing more details about how they identified a suspect in the grisly 1983 murders of two Toronto women.

Othram Inc., a Texas-based lab that leverages forensic genealogy to solve cold cases, was instrumental in helping investigators identify Joseph George Sutherland.

On Monday, Toronto police announced they had arrested the 61-year-old woman in connection with the 1983 murders of two Toronto women, Erin Gilmour and Susan Tice.

Othram’s director of development, Kristen Mittleman, told CTV News Toronto that Toronto police gave her team a test after the force exhausted standard forensic tests and found no matches.

“Our DNA testing is something that no one else on earth can do right now the way we do it here on Othram. We are the first lab designed specifically to take this type of evidence and use it for this really advanced forensic genome sequencing process,” said Mittleman.

Othram’s job then is to determine whether the DNA collected from the evidence is sufficient for sequencing, he said.

“I think this [DNA sample] it was a fraction of sperm,” Mittleman said, noting that his team discovered a “mixture” of “perpetrator and victim” DNA samples in this particular cold case.

In “exactly the same way,” Mittleman said they worked with Toronto police to uncover the man responsible for the murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop, who was sexually assaulted and murdered more than 35 years ago.

Although Othram did not work on the infamous Golden State Killer case involving the former California police officer who raped and murdered dozens of victims in the 1970s and 1980s, Mittleman said the same technology was used.

She said the key difference between the Sutherland case and the Golden State Killer was that the latter had “multiple victims and a ton of DNA” while the Toronto cold case had a “very small” and “intractable” sample.

Once Othram processed the DNA, it was given to a Toronto Police Service genealogist, who uploaded it into a genealogy database to be cross-referenced with the genetic information of the suspect’s relatives, and eventually zeroed in on Sutherland. .

“They were able to take all those matches and go through the family tree until they got to the identity of the perpetrator,” Mittleman said.

“They use our result as an investigative lead to investigate the case, find out if that person was someone who might have been in the area at the time, fit the description of what happened, and then go back to do standard forensic tests, to confirm. the result.”

When Othram launched, Mittleman said they were solving multiple cold cases over the course of a year. But now, he said they are working on multiple cases a week with the hope that they will eventually increase to multiple cases an hour.

“I think cold cases will die out in the next decade,” he said.

“People won’t have to wait decades to find out what happened to their loved one. I truly believe that perpetrators will start getting caught the first time they commit a crime, instead of having to wait until the second, third, fourth or whenever they get caught. I also think that will start to become a deterrent to crime.”

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