Blog Post 1: What is Genetic Genealogy and How Was it Used in the Bear Brook Case?

The first of Arianna Jeanbaptise’s blogs about genealogy and the Bear Brook Case for her senior project applied piece.

Blog Post 1: What is Genetic Genealogy and How Was it Used in the Bear Brook Case?

Hello and welcome to my first blog. My name is Arianna Jeanbaptiste and for my senior project, I chose to focus on the genetic aspect of the Bear Brook case. I chose this because when I go off to college, I will be studying criminology. It’s a topic I’ve always found to be interesting and am excited to learn more about. In my first blog post, I will be talking about genetic genealogy and how it was used in the bear brook case. Enjoy!

Genetic Genealogy is DNA testing that is used for finding people all over the world. DNA testing can be used to find lost family members, it is used to identify bodies as well as evidence for court cases. As of today, there are many websites such as FamilyTreeDna, AncestryDNA, and many more. With this case, I was able to interview a police officer, Sergeant Matthew Koehler, who is a part of a cold case unit. A cold case unit is a criminal investigation that is unsolved. The Bear Brook case was identified as a cold case unit because of how long it took to be solved. The Bear Brook case specifically used genetic genealogy to find the victims and the killer.  The investigators interviewed many of Terry Rasmussen’s close family members. Terry Rasmussen was the killer in this case. He killed the four girls and dumped them in two different barrels. 

Forensic scientists conducted DNA testing to show that Terry Rasmussen’s family was related to him. Once that was completed, the tests matched to show that Terry’s relatives are actually related.  I was able to interview a state trooper, Sergeant Matthew Koehler, and he was able to give me insight into the case. According to Matthew Koehler, he informed me that Terry Rasmussen was identified first using genetic genealogy. The genealogist in the case, Barbara Rae-Venter, identified who Terry Rasmussen’s family members were. Investigators interviewed many of his close family members.

Over the past years, Genetic Genealogy has grown tremendously. The process of finding people has become faster and more efficient. Sergeant Matthew was a great help in this project because he was able to answer a lot of my questions. He was also a great addition because he was actually a part of the case. He has worked on the cold case unit for 19 years and worked on many cold cases in New Hampshire.  After talking to Matthew Koehler, I was wondering how it might evolve in the future. Koehler explained that there’s always room for improvement. For example, with a stand of hair, there would need to be a bulb, which is the base of the hair root shaped somewhat like a ball. With the Bear Brook case, investigators had to extract DNA from a strand of hair that no longer has the DNA rich-root attached. It was difficult to identify the victims in the case, but the hair was preserved which made the identification process a bit easier. That would be needed in order to conduct DNA testing. Without it, no tests can be done because there will be no evidence to test DNA from.

 As science improves, we need less equipment and materials to conduct tests. In the future, there might be a smaller amount of samples needed to take DNA testing. Another way to improve genetic genealogy is to  build a greater database for DNA testing to get matches to victims quickly. A challenge that many genealogists and cold case units face today is not having the proper databases. This is important because without it, investigators would not be able to identify people.

 In my next blog post, I will be talking about the technology that is used! Stay tuned!