REXBURG — The DNA test that sparked an investigation into solving the Golden State Killer case started in Rexburg.
A Rexburg woman, who is an avid genealogist, took her dad’s DNA and unwittingly helped investigators find distant cousin Joseph DeAngelo, who is suspected in killing 11 people and raping 50 women in California from 1978 to 1986. The woman spoke on condition of anonymity, and the Standard Journal like the Associated Press, is not releasing her name.
DeAngelo’s genetic markers matched the woman’s father’s “YDNA” indicating a possible connection to the serial killer. According to familytreedna.com, YDNA passes from father to son and is only found in the direct paternal line.
“The male line can go back 20 to 30 generations," the woman said. "Having a 12 marker match, they don’t share the same surname. It’s way up in the tree. It was because of that test and that rare genetic marker, that the FBI initially thought my dad was the killer.”
After extensive DNA tests, it was proven that the woman’s father was not the murderer but was, instead, allegedly DeAngelo. The father and DeAngelo happened to share ancestors from hundreds of years ago, the woman said.
"(DeAngelo) is a very, very distant relative, but my dad shared that unique genetic marker the FBI was looking at," she said. "That’s why they thought my dad was the guy. They got permission from the judge for a DNA test. His 12 markers matched their stuff.”
The FBI initially got the father’s DNA from a shared genealogy webpage, and, using the DNA gathered from crime scenes, linked it to the woman’s father. The FBI later got a court order where they retrieved more DNA from the woman’s father now living in an Oregon assisted living center.
In the meantime, the father’s family had no idea that the FBI took the test, and the father was unable to tell them the organization had. The man isn’t always cognizant of his surroundings and possibly wasn’t aware of what was going on or the magnitude of the situation, the woman said.
The woman learned about the possible connection between her father and the Golden State Killer in November when the FBI called her. Initially, she thought it was her husband who often teases her about all the family history she does, and her ongoing search for her ancestors via DNA. Such has become increasingly popular in recent years for genealogists, and the webpages 23andMe and Ancestry.com sell DNA kits.
The FBI agent gave the woman his badge number, and the woman later confirmed the man was who he said he was. The family gave the agent permission to delve further into the family’s history. In the meantime, the Rexburg woman started researching various California cold cases and eventually deduced the FBI suspected her father as being the Golden Gate Killer.
“I was in charge of the DNA. I was a contact person," she said. "The FBI agent knew my phone number and knew I lived in Rexburg.”
The woman’s father matched many of the details surrounding the Golden State Killer such as that he was in his 70s, was white and was a veteran. It was also suspected that the killer may have been a police officer at one time, and, while that proved the case in DeAngelo’s case, it wasn’t for the woman’s father.
“He was a postman,” she said.
The woman’s father had never lived in California, and the whole idea that her father had ever hurt anybody was ludicrous, she said.
“They didn’t look at all into my dad’s history. They went with the DNA,” she said.
In April, the woman received a second phone call from the FBI confirming that her dad wasn’t a murderer. In the meantime, they asked her for the names of male family members. The FBI relied on the genealogy webpage GEDMatch where they found a match from which, thanks to the cooperation of another genealogist, led them to DeAngelo.
She says that initially her family was upset that the FBI took their dad’s DNA without their knowledge, but they are glad now that his DNA led the FBI to the alleged killer, DeAngelo.
The woman says that her father has been in declining health for quite some time, and that it was a miracle he’s lived as long as he has. She believes the reason for her Dad’s longevity, despite ongoing health issues, was to help find and solve the case of the Golden State Killer.
“I think that’s why my dad is here. All these years later, this DNA helped to solve a murder. We did help in the search, but we didn’t solve the crime,” she said.