These Colorado cold case murders were solved using genetic genealogy

by Amanda Push

Warning: This story includes descriptions of violence and sexual assault against women and children.“Hi. I’m Linda O’Keefe (or Linda ANN O’Keefe, if I’m in trouble with my mom). Forty-five years ago today, I disappeared from Newport Beach. I was murdered and my body was found in the Back Bay. My killer was never found.”

These were the opening lines of California’s Newport Beach Police’s 2018 Twitter campaign to breathe life into the cold case of 11-year-old Linda O’Keefe who was abducted by a stranger on July 6, 1973. In each of the following tweets, detectives outline the last hours of Linda’s life (through her eyes) as a tactic to renew interest in her unsolved murder. Little did they know, thanks to public interest in ancestral DNA, the hunt for her killer would lead them all the way out to Colorado.

With the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, aka the Golden State Killer, investigators across the country are now inspired to solve cold case murders in the same manner: genetic genealogy. This means that investigators take DNA from a crime scene and submit it to a genealogical website to see if it matches with any other individuals. From there, detectives dig into family trees, and by process of elimination, eventually narrow down their search to the most likely perpetrator.

Colorado law enforcement is among the growing number of police agencies accessing genealogy databases, and several cold cases in the state have been solved thanks to this new technology.

Margaret “Peggy” Beck The cold case of Margaret Beck — who went by Peggy — is the latest in a long string of Colorado murders to be solved after decades of no answers. The body of the 16-year-old counselor was found in her tent in 1963 during a Girl Scout summer camp at the Flying G Ranch near Deckers, Colo. Peggy had been sexually assaulted and strangled, and for 57 years, her case went unsolved.

However, on April 22, 2020, 80-year-old James Raymond Taylor was identified as her possible killer, though he has yet to be found. Taylor was identified after DNA taken from the crime scene was updated in June 2019 to a more complex profile. The profile was sent to United Data Connect for genetic genealogy testing, according to Denver’s 9NEWS, where eventually Taylor was matched to the DNA found at the scene of the crime.

Helene PruszynskiHelene Pruszynski’s only living relative, her sister, waited four decades for her sister’s killer to be found. Helene, an intern at a Denver radio station, was 21 years old when her body was discovered in a field. She was kidnapped while walking home from a bus stop, and was raped and stabbed to death, according to The Denver Channel.

In 2017, detectives reopened the case and began digging into public genealogy databases to identify her killer. They were able to find family members with genetic markers related to the crime scene DNA on and in December 2019, they arrested and charged James Curtis Clanton of Lake Butler, Florida.

“So many people are gone and don’t get to hear this,” Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said.

Jeannie MooreJeannie Moore was a free-spirited 18-year-old described by her family as “…loving and kind in all her ways. She was sincere and true in her heart and mind, and has left behind beautiful memories.”

On Aug. 25, 1981, Jeanie was hitchhiking her way to work when she was seen getting into a red car, according to the Denver Post. Five days later, her body was found by picnickers in Genesee Park in Jefferson County. She had been sexually assaulted and died due to blunt force trauma to her head.

Investigators submitted DNA recovered from the crime scene to a genealogical database to see if they could identify the suspect via familial DNA. Detectives were able to find close relatives through the search and eventually reached out to a woman whose genetics were close to those of the killer’s, asking her to provide DNA. After she supplied her DNA, investigators were able to confirm in Sept. 2019 that her father, Donald Steven Perea, was Jeannie’s killer. Perea died in 2012 and never faced charges.

Linda Ann O’KeefeLinda Ann O’Keefe’s life wasn’t cut short in Colorado — but that’s exactly where her killer was found, thanks to genetic genealogy. The 11-year-old was walking home from summer school when a man driving a turquoise van abducted her in broad daylight. Her body was found a day later in a marshy area.

In February 2019, however, investigators were able to identify the man who took her life using a relative’s DNA profile. Detectives tracked down 72-year-old James Alan Neal (born James Albert Layton Jr.) to Colorado Springs, Colo. and extradited him to California, according to 9NEWS.

“I never really thought that they would actually ever find the individual responsible,” Cindy Borgeson, Linda’s sister, told ABC News. “After all this time, finding out there is a face and a name … just brings additional closure.”

Darlene KrashocThe last time Darlene Krashoc was seen alive, she was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at Shuffles, a Colorado Springs bar. The 20-year-old was an Army specialist stationed at Fort Carson and was out with friends for the evening. Krashoc’s friends left early at some point due to having work the following morning — but she stayed out, according to the Colorado Sun.

On March 17, 1987, her body was found by two patrol officers in an alley by a dumpster behind a Korean restaurant. Detectives believe that Darlene suffered through a long, painful death and was tortured. She had been sexually assaulted, strangled, and dumped in the alley.

Thirty-two years later, in June 2019, Michael Whyte was arrested for Darlene’s murder. Decades after the gruesome killing, investigators found that Whyte’s DNA matched the genetic profiles of three individuals who’d submitted their DNA to a genealogical site and who turned out to be distant relatives of his. Through research, the process of elimination, and eventually testing a fast-food cup Whyte left in a trash can, police were able to verify him as Darlene’s murderer.

Darlene’s parents, Paul and Betty Lou Krashoc, traveled from West Virginia to Colorado Springs for Whyte’s first court appearance. They still keep a picture of their daughter in their Bible.

Amanda Push


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