A deeper look into how genealogy helped solve Christy Mirack's murder
In the murder of Christy Mirack, how did investigators get to Raymond Rowe if he wasn’t on their radar?
District Attorney Craig Stedman says a new type of technology helped lead them to an arrest.
“This is all very new and we’re all figuring it out as we go along,” Director of Bioinformatics at Parabon
Nanolabs Ellen Greytak said.
Just two months ago, Greytak says the technology that found Christy Mirack’s alleged killer wasn’t available.
But today, it’s put 49-year old Raymond Rowe behind bars, charged with her murder.
“They’re out there living their life and there’s just no way to find them without this genealogy,” she said.
Greytak is referring to Genetic Genealogy, a new way forensic scientists are helping solve cold cases much like Christy Mirack’s.
Traditional forensics that police departments are able to do looks at just over a dozen markers on a strand of DNA, but the work Parabon Nanolabs does takes its much further.
“What we’re doing is we’re looking at hundreds of thousands of pieces of information, that’s the big difference.
We’re able to detect even out to third cousins and sometimes even beyond so that’s a really distant relative and since we have so much information were able to detect those relationships that traditional forensics can’t,” Greytak said.
Once they create that profile based on the DNA, they’re given, Parabon is able to upload it to a website called
GedMatch that has about 1 million users in the United States.
It operates much like ancestry websites that help link a person to long lost family members, but unlike those private services, this is public.
It discloses to its users that law enforcement may use the site to identify a suspect of a violent crime.
“They’ve chosen to put their DNA in a public database and we can compare that sample from an unknown person to all those people in the database to try and find relatives,” Greytak said.
Parabon says they only will look as far back as third cousins because of the amount of descendants there would be to comb through.
In the Mirack case, a hit came back in that range.
“In this case it was quite a bit closer than that,” Greytak explained.
From there, Parabon turned their findings over to a genealogist who then builds a family tree using public records, census information, obituaries and newspaper archives.
“Find their parents, grandparents, great grandparents and then build forward in time and find all their descendants and find who could this person have been,” she said.
Greytak says the genetic makeup of the unidentified suspect can then help narrow the findings, whether the person is male or female or what ethnicity they are and so on.
In this case, the genealogy pointed to Raymond Rowe.
But Greytak explains it’s a not a closed case just yet.
“They then have to go out and investigate to see does this make sense and also collect DNA from those people, so if they think that one of these leads is really strong what they can do is collect abandoned DNA, so go out and find DNA from this person, watch them drink from a cup and throw it away.”
That’s exactly what District Attorney Craig Stedman says undercover State Troopers did.
On May 31st, undercover investigators followed Rowe to an event he was working as a DJ at a local elementary school.
They observed him using a water bottle and leaving it. They also found two cups, one with chewing gum in it.
They sent both off to the state police crime lab and on June 8th, they were alerted that the DNA they collected, matched the DNA collected at the crime scene 25 years ago.
“We gave them the lead, but they’re the ones that got the DNA and actually solved that case.”
And for Ellen, being a part of helping to bring closure to these families is one of the best parts of her job.
“This can’t change anything but hopefully I can at least help them sleep at night,” she said.