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Genealogy database used to identify suspect in 1987 homicide

Investigators in Washington state used the same technique that identified the suspected Golden State Killer.

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DNA testing led authorities to a suspect in the 1987 rape and slaying of an 18-year-old woman.

C.M. Guerrero/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images

Investigators used genetic genealogy to connect a 55-year-old Seattle area man to the rape and murder of a woman more than 30 years ago.

The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office in Washington state said it was able to link William Earl Talbott II to the November 1987 slaying of Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, by matching DNA found at the crime scene to data in a public genealogy website. Authorities said the technique proved indispensable to identifying Talbott as a suspect.

"He was never on any list law enforcement had, there was never a tip providing his name," Snohomish County Sheriff's Detective Jim Scharf said at a news conference, the Seattle Times reported. "If it hadn't been for genetic genealogy, we wouldn't be standing here today."

Talbott was identified through the same technique that led to the arrest last month of Joseph James DeAngelo in California. DeAngelo is suspected of being the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murder who operated in California in the 1970s and '80s. Investigators' big break in that case came when they tapped genealogical databases commonly used by consumers to search for relatives and ancestors.

DNA genotype data collected from the Cuylenborg crime scene was uploaded recently to GEDmatch, the same "open-source" genealogy website that led to DeAngelo's arrest. Two promising matches were found with Talbott's relatives on the site, from which investigators constructed a family tree that led them to Talbott.

Police then collected DNA from a cup Talbott drunk from and matched it to the DNA profile created from the DNA collected from the crime scene, authorities said.

Police are also trying to link Talbott to the murder of Jay Cook, Cuylenborg's 20-year-old boyfriend, who was found dead with her.

Detectives hope to use the same technique to identify the infamous Zodiac Killer, who roamed the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s, shooting or stabbing to death at least five people and possibly dozens more. The Vallejo Police Department has submitted two envelopes that contained letters from the Zodiac Killer to a private lab in hopes of finding his DNA on the back of the stamps or envelope flaps that may have been licked.

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