DENVER – Metro Denver Crime Stoppers is used to paying reward money for tips. Now, they are taking crime fighting to the next level. They are partnering with a Denver company to identify suspects in cold cases using genetic genealogy.
Mitch Morrissey, former Denver District Attorney, is now chief of operations at United Data Connect.
“We will take a DNA sample from a cold case, we will get it sequenced — which is a different type of testing — and then, we take that and upload it to two different genealogy websites and we try to get leads for law enforcement to solve cold cases. This has only been around a year and a half. They’ve solved about 50 cold case murders and we want to be part of that. Crime Stoppers has provided a vehicle for doing that. The idea came to them: why don’t we spend the money to actually solve the case using forensic science, using DNA?” he said.
Michael Mills, board president of Metro Denver Crime Stoppers, said the partnership supports the goals of the organization.
“Our mission statement is: however we can help the community and law enforcement, that is what we want to do. It’s a new approach. I don’t think any other Crime Stoppers organizations are taking this approach. Hopefully they will. These are cases that have been around 40 years. Perhaps the perpetrator is gone, but the closure for family and the community to us is the most important thing,” he said.
Morrissey said they are currently analyzing 12 cases, all of which are between 30 and 40 years old.
“The oldest case we are working on is a 1980s case. There haven’t been leads or tips for years and so if there is a reward sitting out there on that case, it’s just sitting. Crime Stoppers wanted to be proactive about that. They really wanted to get involved. We are not going to sit and wait. We are going to try something new and try to get justice for this family,” he said.
They believe they have identified several murderers, but it is now up to detectives at the local law enforcement agencies to use that information and other clues to make sure they have identified the correct person.
“Law enforcement runs on a lot of leads, hearsay, word of mouth, tips — those are reliable to a degree. But this is science that we are using to give them investigative leads to solve cold cases. It’s based on genealogy, based on genetics, biology, based on statistics,” Morrissey said.
As far as privacy, if you use commercial DNA kits to find ancestor information, Morrissey said, “You are in control. You have to opt in if you want law enforcement to be able to access your information.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story identified Michael Mills as the executive director of Metro Denver Crime Stoppers. He is actually the organization’s board president.