CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

DNA search fails to find relatives of unknown serial killer

The Los Angeles Police Department's hunt for an elusive serial killer who has stalked women in South L.A. for more than two decades was dealt a setback Tuesday when a controversial search of DNA databases for the killer's family members came up empty.

"We were hoping," said LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, who is overseeing a task force of detectives working to solve the case. "Police work is very much about exploring every avenue. We went down this one and it didn't turn out to be fruitful."

Pioneered in Britain, familial DNA searches are largely uncharted territory in the United States. The attempt to identify one of the serial killer's relatives was the first major use of California's new familial searching policy, the most far-reaching in the nation. Underscoring the importance of the case, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown overcame serious constitutional and privacy concerns raised by advisors and cleared the way for the search.

In leading up to Tuesday's anticlimax, state officials had painstakingly created a list of possible relatives from the state database of felons' DNA profiles. They then eliminated potential matches through further genetic testing and by reviewing public records to determine ages, addresses and names of family members. In the end, there were no matches.

The possibility of a match had raised hopes among LAPD detectives that they would catch a break in a case that has stymied the department for years. The task force is now left to continue with ongoing efforts to revive leads from old cases, search for missed clues and hope someone with knowledge of the killer comes forward.
The serial killer has claimed 10 known victims, striking most recently last year. Except for one man, he has targeted young, black women, many of them prostitutes.

He sexually assaults the women and kills them by shooting or strangling them, often leaving their bodies in alleyways along Western Avenue. [Mark Godsey]
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