Cracking Cold Cases: Technology gives detectives new leads in old cases

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RESTON, VA. -- A Reston based company is making an impact nationwide. It’s changing the way cold cases are looked at all together, giving police more to work with when searching for suspects.

“DNA can tell you a lot more than just that little pattern, its actually a blueprint for a human being,” explained Ellen Greytak, Director of Bioinformatics at Parabon Nanolabs, Inc.

Almost 30 years ago, a 9 year old Sterling girl told police she was abducted from her home on East Poplar Street and sexually assaulted.  Detectives with the Loudon County Sherriff’s Department have searched for a suspect for decades.  The Cold Case Unit is now using the latest technology by Parabon to get a composite sketch of the possible suspect.

“We like to think about it as a brand new way to look at DNA or forensics,” said Greytak.

Experts with Parabon Nanolabs, Inc. said all they need is a strand of hair or an old soda can after someone has taken a swig, technology has come a long way since the 80’s.

“Back then they needed a big spot of blood and nowadays it can be something you don’t even see, so little blood you can’t even see it,” Greytak explained.

This type DNA phenotyping is called Snapshot, experts hone in on details right down to hair color and freckles.

According to Snapshot experts, the process is best used in the process of elimination.

“This is not intended to be used to look for the exact person in the composite, but it is ideal for investigators to use the composite sketch and take a look at their suspect list and see who they should exclude,” said Greytak while showing DCW50 how the process works.

Loudoun County Sherriff Michael Chapman said he is thrilled about what this new technology could mean for cold cases in the future.

“The fact that we can come up with a sketch based on DNA is fascinating!  If we can do that and put that sketch out there maybe someone from back then might recognize this person and give us some names to work with.”

So far, the technology has not been used to close any cases but police departments all over the nation are reaching out to Parabon Nanolabs.