IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Brent and Carol Dodge sat in the audience in March as the Idaho Falls Police Department announced they had made an arrest on a case that had taken years to solve.
The arrest was not for the 1996 murder of Angie Dodge — Brent’s sister and Carol’s daughter — but for the murder of Stephanie Eldredge, a woman who was killed in 2007.
The Dodges were happy to see Eldredge’s family found answers in her death, but it also reminded them of their own lack of answers.
“My mom came home from that and asked, ‘When is it our turn?'” Brent told the Post Register . “Little did we know it was right around the corner.”
When their turn did come May 17, Brent Dodge announced he was going to raise funds to in the hope of making genetic genealogy, the DNA investigative technique that led to the arrest of Angie Dodge’s reported killer.
In the two months since Brian Dripps was arrested, Brent has raised $4,287 through his “5 For Hope” campaign.
“The money will go to cold case foundations and underfunded police departments to educate staff and give them the foundation to test DNA results and ultimately solve cold cases,” the GoFundMe page states.
Brent hopes genetic genealogy can serve not only to bring justice to unsolved murders, but also serve as a deterrent, a reminder to would-be killers that law enforcement have more tools than ever to solve crimes, even those that take several years to bring to justice.
What is genetic genealogy?
Genetic genealogy is the use of DNA testing to discover genetic relations between individuals. In the early 2000s, companies began offering to test DNA samples customers would send in to determine their likely heritage.
In the latter part of the decade, autosomal DNA testing (testing DNA from non-sex chromosomes) became the preferred method of DNA testing. A packet provided by Parabon NanoLabs, the company that assisted the Idaho Falls Police Department with the Angie Dodge case, explains the method.
“Unlike other genetic markers, such as mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosome DNA, (autosome DNA) is inherited from all ancestral lines and passed on by both males and females and thus can be used to compare any two individuals.”
The use of genetic genealogy as an investigative tool for law enforcement gained prominence in April 2018 with the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo in California for 13 murders throughout the state, as well as other crimes including rape, kidnapping and robbery.
After the DeAngelo case, law enforcement officers across the country opened their cold case files to see if genetic genealogy could give them leads on old cases.
In the Dodge case, Parabon NanoLabs assisted the police department with funding the DNA testing. (The Idaho Falls Police Department first started working with Parabon on the Dodge case in 2017, commissioning the lab to develop a DNA-based sketch of what Angie’s killer could have looked like at the time.)
Brent is hoping he can help other law enforcement offices access the same techniques.
However, Brent added he wanted to be careful to vet the organizations and individuals he donates to. He’s been talking to Francine Bardole, the senior crime scene investigator for the Cold Case Foundation, an organization that provides funding, training and consultation for unsolved murders.
Brent also contacted former Idaho State University Anthropology Professor Amy Michael, who the Post Register interviewed in May. Michael has been raising funds in order to test the DNA of remnants of a man found in a cave in Clark County 40 years ago.
While genetic genealogy has brought new hope to cases such as the Dodge murder, it has also raised questions about the privacy of those who submit their DNA for testing.
In May, around the same time the Idaho Falls Police Department announced Dripps’ arrest, GEDMatch was reconsidering how much access it would give to law enforcement.
GEDMatch allowed customers to submit their DNA to find long lost relatives or provide samples for research. Those samples became a resource to Parabon NanoLabs and, by extension, law enforcement nationwide.
The use of genetic genealogy has gained wide support among the public, especially to solve violent crimes. A 2018 study by the Baylor College of Medicine found 91 percent of people support the use of genetic genealogy to solve violent crimes. That number drops to 46 percent when used to solve nonviolent crimes.
Most of the crimes solved using GEDMatch have been murders and rapes, with occasional John/Jane Doe cases. Concerns were raised when police in Centerville, Utah, used GEDMatch to identify a 17-year-old high school student who reportedly broke into a church and assaulted a 71-year-old woman.
GEDMatch originally refused to help with the case because its terms of service stated the DNA samples could only be used for specific types of crime, the Associated Press reported. The police chief lobbied for an exception, and GEDMatch agreed based on the severity of the assault. However, that exception violated the terms GEDMatch had with consumers.
The company changed its privacy settings and terms of service in May so that, by default, law enforcement do not have access to a person’s DNA. The owner of the sample must opt in to allow their DNA to be used. Law enforcement can now use GEDMatch to solve violent crimes beyond rape and murder using DNA samples from those who have chosen to opt in.
Brent was upset by the policy changes and felt the decision was rushed.
“That’s discouraging,” Brent said. “It’s almost like a showstopper. Talk about anti-climactic.”
Brent said he’s not dismissive of the concerns genetic genealogy raises and hopes a balance between privacy and the potential to identify more killers can be found.
Despite the setbacks, Brent hopes he can help others find the closure his family waited 23 years for.
“When I think of the other families, I only imagine they’re thinking, ‘When is it going to be our turn?'” Brent said.
Information from: Post Register, http://www.postregister.com