Solving double murder sparks international interest

Getting Conclusive Advance with Investigative Genetic Genealogy – A Successful Case Study of a 16-Year-Old Double Murder in Sweden.

Technology using DNAThe genealogy based on the resolution of a double murder in Linköping opens up whole new possibilities for investigating serious crimes. Researchers at Linköping University are now involved in disseminating new knowledge about the technology, which brings hope to police forces and has aroused major international interest.

“We want to tell others about the issues we faced while working on this pilot case and how we handled them. We can prevent others from reinventing the wheel and ensure that the knowledge available is extended and improved, ”says Andreas Tillmar.

Andreas Tillmar

Andreas Tillmar, docent and associate lecturer in forensic genetics in the Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences at Linköping University. Credit: Edis Portori

He is forensic geneticist at the National Board of Forensic Medicine and Deputy Lecturer in the Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences at Linköping University. His research is focused on developing methods to obtain genetic information from low-quality DNA samples, such that they yield enough information, for example, to allow searches in databases. genealogical. His methods helped solve the Linköping murders in 2004.

Together with colleagues from the Swedish Police and the National Forensic Center, among others, Andreas Tillmar published an article in the prestigious scientific journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. The article is a case study of a double murder in October 2004, in which an eight-year-old boy and a 56-year-old woman were stabbed to death. The case was finally resolved in June 2020.

The police authority conducted a legal investigation in early 2019 which concluded that the double murder should be used as a pilot case to test the DNA-based genealogy method. After that, it took a year and a half of collaboration between researchers and authorities before the killer could be arrested. Successful resolution is the result of the police being able to use commercial genealogical databases and thus have access to a much wider selection of people to research.

The article describes the technical, legal and ethical aspects that had to be resolved during the work, and how working together finally gave a solution.

When the Swedish pilot case began in 2019, DNA-based genealogical research technology had only been used to a very limited extent. The first known case, from 2018, resulted in the arrest and conviction of a serial killer known as the Golden State killer in the United States.

“This case received a lot of attention in the media, but the knowledge behind the arrest was never published, as the technology was operated by a private company. She wanted to keep the knowledge to herself for business reasons. It’s different in our case: we have knowledge in high demand and we want to disseminate it, ”says Andreas Tillmar.

The article not only describes the painstaking work that resulted in the improvement of DNA-based methods, it also gives examples of legal and ethical issues.

Legal questions relate to topics such as current privacy law. It is not clear that detectives can use genetic information from commercial DNA-based genealogical databases. “It’s a gray area. Technology is often one step ahead of the law.

The ethical dilemmas that arise with this type of DNA analysis include the fact that the police obtain DNA information from individuals and thus insight into their privacy. This includes kinship relationships and their risk of developing certain genetic diseases.

“Thus, there is a risk of conflict between these two important principles: the right of the individual to privacy versus the aspiration of society to solve serious crimes,” says Andreas Tillmar.

He stresses that the double murder solution has aroused considerable international interest.

“As far as we know, we are the first outside of the United States to use the technology. We hope that others can benefit from our work and that we can improve these DNA-based methods through, for example, international collaboration, ”says Andreas Tillmar.

Reference: “Getting the conclusive lead with investigation genealogy genealogy – A success case study of a 16 year old double kill in Sweden” by Andreas Tillmar, Siri Aili Fagerholm, Jan Staaf, Peter Sjölund and Ricky Ansell, May 8, 2021, Forensic Science International: Genetics.
DOI: 10.1016 / j.fsigen.2021.102525

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