This post has been updated.
The Terms and Conditions at MyHeritage state:
Using the DNA Services for law enforcement purposes, forensic examinations, criminal investigations, “cold case” investigations, identification of unknown deceased people, location of relatives of deceased people using cadaver DNA, and/or all similar purposes, is strictly prohibited.
That’s pretty explicit, yes? Not much room for ambiguity, is there? And yet, on Monday, 26 June 2023, this post appeared in an online genealogy group.
Look closely at the match. The Riverside County Regional Cold Case Homicide Team uploaded the victim’s DNA profile to MyHeritage in violation of that company’s Terms.The Homicide Team also violated the Department of Justice policy for forensic genetic genealogy, which explicitly states:
Investigative agencies shall identify themselves as law enforcement to GG [genetic genealogy] services and enter and search FGG [forensic genetic genealogy] profiles only in those GG services that provide explicit notice to their service users and the public that law enforcement may use their service sites to investigate crimes or to identify unidentified human remains.” (page 3)
This case presents an example of “noble cause bias,” in which the investigators seem to feel that their objective is so worthy that they can break the rules in place to protect others.
That the homicide team was willing to ignore legal contracts and DOJ guidelines is only part of the story. One news article says the victim had been “reported missing from the Los Angeles area,” only about 70 miles from where her body was found. She had four daughters who were looking for her and who were apparently already in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Why did it take 27 years and an unethical FGG search to identify her?
Othram, a Texas company specializing in forensic DNA analysis, confirmed that they did the lab work and that the FBI was involved. Whether the upload to MyHeritage was done by an FBI agent, someone from Riverside County, or an Othram employee is unclear.
- Elysee Barakett, 26 June 2023, Woman’s body found 27 years ago along 60 Freeway identified using DNA technology, NBC Los Angeles.
- Christopher Damien, 26 June 2026, Woman identified 27 years after her death. Detectives still hope to catch her killer, Palm Springs Desert Sun.
- Kelli Johnson and Christina Gonzalez, 26 June 2023, Riverside Co. cold case: Mother of 4 identified as homicide victim after 27 years, FOX11 Los Angeles.
- Cindy Von Quednow, 26 June 2023, Woman found dead on Riverside County freeway nearly 30 years ago ID’d through genetic genealogy, KTLA.
- Othram, 27 June 2023, Riverside County DA’s Office, Sheriff’s Department, and FBI Leverage Othram’s Genetic Testing Platform to Identify 1996 Homicide Victim.
Updates to This Post
- 27 June 2023 — Added information from the Othram press release.