This is a fascinating story about two people who were murdered in 1980, discovered in 1981, and finally identified in 2021 thanks to the broader availability of public DNA databases.
Debbie Brooks was hard at work one day back in October when her husband told her two genealogists were trying to reach her.
It was urgent, he told her. Brooks, a senior planner at a semi-conductor plant in central Florida, was thinking it had to be a scam when she responded to the call.
The genealogists had a question:
Did she have a relative who’d disappeared a long time ago?
Of course, Brooks said. Her brother, Harold Dean Clouse, had gone missing more than 40 years ago.
Hundreds of miles away, Misty Gillis had news.
“We believe we found him,” she said. “He was murdered. His body was found in 1981.”
They’d also found the body of a young woman, who they were still trying to identify.
Authorities in Harris County exhumed the bodies in July 2011 to extract DNA from them — part of a broader effort to close cases that were still open but had gone cold decades before. Investigators were hoping to determine if the two were related. But that still didn’t bring any breaks in the case.
The case remained stagnant until late 2021, when employees at Identifinders International, a California-based organization that performs genetic genealogy for law enforcement, contacted the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences and asked to test the remains.
In this case, the remains were in good condition and investigators had plenty of material to work with, said Misty Gillis, one of the Identifinders investigators who worked the case. They uploaded the information to Gedmatch.com, a genealogy site that allows users to share their genetic information with law enforcement agencies across the country. (Other sites, such as 23andme or ancestry.com, do not share their information with police.)
Soon, they were able to connect Clouse’s DNA to that of close cousins living in Kentucky.
It had taken her 10 days to track down the identity of a man who’d been nameless for 40 years. She began searching for contact information for Clouse’s cousins and other relatives, trying to find out if her hunch was right.
The break in the case was the latest in an increasing number of cold-cases brought to resolution with the help of new genealogical testing. In recent years, millions of people have uploaded their DNA into genealogy testing sites such as Gedmatch.com or familytreeDNA.com. The information on the sites have helped people connect with long-lost relatives and learn about their origins.
Go read the rest, it’s quite a story. It’s also not a finished story, because the couple had a baby, who has never been found and may very well be a 42-year-old woman out there somewhere who has no idea who she really is and who her parents really were. Maybe someday the DNA will lead to her as well.