Blog 3: Finding People Using Genetic Genealogy

The first post in a series of blogs regarding the genealogy used in the Bear Brook Case for Arianna Jeanbaptiste’s senior project

Blog 3: Finding People Using Genetic Genealogy

Welcome to my last blog post. To summarize the last two blogs, in my first blog I discussed what the Bear Brook case is about, what genetic genealogy is and how it might evolve in the future. I also talked about my interview with Sergeant Matthew Koehler. Then, in my second blog post, I discussed the technical aspect of genetic genealogy which consists of DNA testing and using federal and genealogical databases. For my third and final blog, I will be talking about the process of genetic genealogy. I will be getting into criminal investigator databases VS genetic genealogist databases. As well as the process of interviewing possible suspects and family members.

Criminal investigators and genetic genealogists have their own separate databases for DNA. Investigators are in charge of investigating the scene, finding DNA, and entering the DNA that they find into their own government databases. As for genealogists, they are in charge of gathering DNA from the investigator and using their own genetic database such as GEDMATCH to see if they can get results. According to DNALEGAL, it depends on the laboratory, but with a DNA sample results can come in between two to ten days. DNA has to go through a strict chain of custody to ensure it was not interfered with.

The first step of trying to identify a victim using genetic genealogy is by DNA testing. That means investigators can gather a peice of hair, teeth or bones to test and see if it matches DNA in their database. According to Sergeant Matthew Koehler, when testing an individual for DNA samples, the process can take anywhere between 24-72 hours. This process itself does not take long because it’s all computerized. However, when getting closer to trying to identify a victim, the process becomes longer and harder.

Sergeant Matthew Koehler testifying in an unrelated case. Source: Union Leader

Identifying victims is very time consuming. According to NCBI,when DNA is taken from a crime scene, in order to find out who the victim or suspect is, it must be tested first. This means law enforcement uses a database called GEDMATCH, which is a genealogy database. They enter the DNA under a false name because the identity of the victim or suspect is still unknown. For example, law enforcement could enter my name “Arianna Jean-Baptiste”. If my name matches someone in the database, then genealogical data will be used to search the genealogy to find relatives, if not a match. Without access to the genealogical websites, law enforcement can only identify individuals through an exact match of DNA samples. But, with the genealogical database, they can trace ancestry history by using birth records and voting records, military records of relatives, which can lead them to unknown suspects or victims. 

The genealogist in this case, Barbara Rae-Venter had to go through hours of trying to identify Terry Rasmussen as well as the victims. According to The BearBrookPodcast, with a team of volunteers and Rae-Venter herself, it took about 10,000 hours to track down Rasmussen’s victim. This process took a long time because Rae-Venter had to follow Rasmussen’s family tree and contact the people who were related to him. Once she finds who is related to Rasmussen, the relatives then get interviewed.

Once the interviews are finished, the information that is received is then investigated for further review. Once investigators meet together to verify that the person being interviewed has made correct statements, then investigators are able to pull in their suspect for a final interview to determine if they should be arrested or not. 

Investigators had the DNA from Rasmussen, and so were able to identify him as a suspect. However, when Terry Rasmussen was interviewed, Koehler informed me, it was difficult because Rasmussen would simply not want to cooperate. This process did take a while because Rasmussen would not answer questions that investigators asked him. He was quite uncooperative. Despite this behavior investigators were able to arrest him because of the DNA they found from the barrels at the Bear Brook crime scene. This interview was conducted just to get final answers from him and to see if he would admit to the murders.

Some takeaways from this blog is that finding victims is a difficult process that genetic genealogists have to go through. There are so many aspects and steps that have to be done to make sure that the right person has been found or arrested. Rasmussen was identified as the killer in 2017 and the victims were identified in 2019. This case first began in 1985 when the barrels containing the bodies were first discovered, meaning it took over 30 years to finally identify the victims and arrest the killer.

To conclude my final blog post, during this process, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sergeant Matthew Koehler as he was a great help in completing my blogs. I was truly able to learn so much more about genetic genealogy. Lastly, I would like to thank my readers for taking the time to read my blogs. Thank you and I hope you enjoyed it!

This blog is part of my Senior Project for Souhegan High School, which I conducted over the last two months. I was able to learn a lot of new information about forensic genetic genealogy and I am glad to be able to share it with all of you! I’d love to hear your thoughts on my project. Contact me!