CHICAGO (CBS) – Despite exhaustive work by detectives, the murder of Pamela Maurer was left unsolved for more than four decades. Last year, a relatively new form of genetic sleuthing began to put together the pieces of the mystery in a matter of days.
DuPage County investigators provided genetic material preserved from the Maurer crime scene to Maryland-based Parabon NanoLabs. Pamela’s body was found in Lisle in January of 1976. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled. She was last seen alive the night before her body was found, when she told friends she was going to a restaurant to buy a soft drink.
First, Parabon, led by chief genetic genealogist CeCe Moore, used the DNA to create a “snapshot genotype”—which predicts a person’s physical traits, such as eye, skin and hair color, and even the shape of a face.
The composite created from that test looks remarkably similar to Bruce Lindahl, a suspected serial killer who police now say killed Maurer. Lindahl died in 1981.
But the testing didn’t stop with just a picture. The hard work had only just begun.
Moore’s team used the DNA to “reverse engineer” Lindahl’s family tree.
Parabon loaded the DNA sample from the Maurer crime to a website called GEDmatch and began a form of genetic treasure hunting. GEDMatch is a site where users can upload their genetic testing results, done by companies like 23AndMe and Ancestry.
Typically, Moore said, they find similar DNA from distant cousins of a suspect and build back from there.
“We are looking just for people who are second, third, fourth, fifth cousins and beyond,” Moore said. “Typically we are not getting close matches to close family members.”
Basically, Parabon is “reverse engineering the family tree of the suspect based on who they are sharing DNA with,” Moore said.
Moore said she found multiple distant cousins that led to Lindahl, up to 20 matches and “put those puzzle pieces together.“
It is almost never a single match that leads to an identity. It’s a group of matches to see how they all connect to each other.
“My work, and my team’s work is really about providing answers to these families for years and decades,” Moore said.
She said part of the hunt is luck. In this case, the data allowed them to find a suspected match to Lindahl in a few days.
But Parabon’s work didn’t solve the case. Detectives still needed more proof. So, they got a court order to exhume Lindahl’s body and extract DNA from his remains.
The result was a match.
The odds of the DNA belonging to somebody else are 1 in 1.8 quadrillion, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said this week.
This was the second case Parabon has done in Illinois, but the first in the Chicago area.
Last year, Moore’s work led to murder charges against Michael Henslick, who police say killed Holly Cassano. She was found fatally stabbed in her home in Mahomet, Ill., on Nov. 2, 2009.
That case is expected to go to trial next month, Moore said. Parabon has so far worked on 93 cases with police across the country in the past two years. The most famous — charges against the suspected Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo.
Critics find the practice controversial and a potential invasion of private DNA data. Moore says the benefit to the public, ensuring that killers are put behind bars, and the fact that families get some resolution, far outweigh those concerns.
“I feel that the good that has been done … is really immeasurable to public safety,” Moore said.
Lindahl died at age 28 in 1981 after he bled to death while stabbing another victim, Charles Huber. The coroner said his knife wounds were accidentally self inflicted.
Police now say he may have killed at least two other women.
Lindahl was charged with raping Deborah Colliander, who manged to escape from the attack. However, two weeks before Lindahl’s trial, Colliander disappeared after leaving her job at a hospital.
The case against Lindahl was dropped. Colliander’s body was found on April 28, 1982 in a field on Oswego Township.
Investigators also think Lindahl may have something to do with the disappearance of Deborah McCall, a student at Downers Grove North. She was last seen alive in November 1979. Photos of her were found in one of Lindahl’s residences.
And there may be other victims in the 1970s and before his death, police said. The new evidence will be used to open additional investigations.
Investigators set up two tip lines: (630) 407-8107 (DuPage State’s Attorney) and (630) 271-4252 (Lisle police).