Police Use DNA To Create "Sketch" Of Suspected Murderer

Digital 'sketches' showing the suspect at aged 25 and 55, created using DNA phenotyping. Aurora Police Department/Parabon Snapshot.

Thirty two years ago, three members of the Bennett family were brutally murdered in their family home in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, Colorado. The killer was never found.

The Aurora Police Department has now collaborated with Parabon Snapshot labs in the hopes of adding new life to this cold case. Using genetic evidence and DNA phenotyping, they have created a computer-generated “facial composite” of the suspect.

DNA phenotyping uses samples of genetic information to predict an organism’s phenotype – essentially how they appear. It allowed them to create trait predictions for the suspect’s eye color, hair color, skin color, ancestry, freckling, and face shape. The police noted the mugshot is only an approximation of the suspect’s appearance. Additionally, other factors that could cause variation, such as their diet, whether they smoke or drink, facial hair, hairstyle, tattoos, scars, and so on, are impossible to predict through this method.

The information was used to create two images: one of the suspect at age 25 and one of them at age 55. You can see a breakdown of the results in this PDF of the Snapshot composite profile.  

At some point between 9pm on January 15 and 10am January 16, 1984, Bruce Bennett (27), Debra Bennett (26), and their 7-year-old daughter Melissa were bludgeoned to death. Their 3-year old daughter, Vanessa, survived although suffered heavy injuries. Autopsies showed they all died from blunt force traumas, although knife marks were found on the father and eldest daughter. There was also strong evidence to suggest that Melissa had been sexually assaulted before her death.

Some years later, after considerable advances in the understanding of genetics, the police sent the genetics evidence to national and international databases but found no matches. They're now hoping this new piece of the puzzle could lead them to the killer once and for all. 

"This is the first time we have had some idea of who we're looking for," Aurora Police Department Detective Steve Conner told Reuters. "He is no longer invisible."

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