Federal and state law enforcement officials in Georgia used genealogy DNA to identify both a murder victim and her killer in a 1988 homicide that went unsolved for decades.
They say it’s the first time the novel but controversial forensic technique that connects the DNA profiles of different family members was used to learn the identities of both the victim and the perpetrator in the same case.
“It’s extremely unique,” Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent in charge Joe Montgomery said at a recent press conference. “That, to me, is incredible because as an agent you live with these cases.”
In March, investigators announced they had identified a body found on a Georgia highway in 1988 as Stacey Lyn Chahorski, a Michigan woman who had been missing for more than three decades.
For years, authorities were unable to figure out who the woman was, until the GBI and the FBI used genealogy DNA to uncover Chahorski’s identity.
On Tuesday, investigators announced they had answered the other question that remained in the case: Chahorski had been killed by a man named Henry Fredrick Wise.
Wise was also identified through genealogy DNA, officials said.
Law enforcement officials had found what they believed to be the killer’s DNA at the crime scene, but they were never able to link it to a person.
Recently, authorities sent the DNA to a specialized lab, which created a genealogical profile for the suspect and produced new leads for investigators to run down.
“The investigation revealed that Wise had a living family member who was interviewed, cooperated, and a DNA match was confirmed,” FBI special agent in charge Keri Farley said.
Killer’s previous arrests preceded mandatory DNA testing
Wise, who was also known as “Hoss Wise,” was a trucker and stunt driver. His trucking route through Chattanooga and Nashville in Tennessee and Birmingham, Ala., would have taken him along the highway where Chahorski’s body was found. Wise burned to death in a car accident at South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway in 1999.
Though he had had a criminal past, Wise’s arrests came before there was mandatory DNA testing after a felony arrest, authorities said.
Law enforcement agencies across the country have begun using genealogy DNA to investigate cold cases, because it allows them to use the similarities in the genetic profiles of family members to identify possible suspects whose specific DNA isn’t in any police database.
The technique was notably used to identify the Golden State Killer and has led to breakthroughs in other unsolved cases throughout the U.S.
But it’s also raised privacy concerns, and some critics worry that the few safeguards that exist for using available genealogical databases could lead to abuses.
Still, Farley, the FBI agent in charge, suggested this wouldn’t be the last cold case that federal investigators cracked using genealogical DNA.
“Let this serve as a warning to every murderer, rapist and violent offender out there,” she said. “The FBI and our partners will not give up. It may take years or even decades, but we are determined and we will continually seek justice for victims and their families.”