Twenty-six years after the death of Jeanne Ann Childs, Jerry Westrom went to a hockey game and ate a hot dog. After mopping his face with a napkin and throwing it in the trash can, he secured his own arrest for her murder.
Childs, 35, was found dead in the shower of her south Minneapolis apartment, naked but for socks. The water was running and there were multiple stab wounds on her body, some of which were inflicted after her death, the Star Tribune reports.
Evidence was scarce. But for a towel, a washcloth and a bloodstain on the sink, no other leads were found, and the case went cold.
Twelve years later, in 2005, the case was reviewed by the Cold Case Task Force, the FBI, and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension due to advances in DNA testing since her death, CBS Minnesota reports. In 2018, samples from the crime scene were sent off to a private online genealogy company, which is often used by members of the public to find lost relatives or find out more about their family history.
As luck would have it, either Westrom or one of his relatives had themselves submitted DNA to that company. Using evidence from the new DNA available, the FBI now had two suspects in what was a very cold case.
Police followed Westrom, 52, to a hockey game in January 2019 in an attempt to obtain a DNA sample from him without tipping him off. Here, he idly wiped his mouth and then threw his napkin in the trash. Investigators collected it without him being any the wiser, and the DNA was a match.
He was subsequently arrested and charged with murder last Monday. Since 1993 Westrom has had several convictions for drunk driving and has been on probation for soliciting a teenager for sex. He denies all charges against him, as well as being in Childs' apartment, according to a probable cause statement seen by the New York Times.
This isn't an isolated case of the FBI using DNA information from a private company. Last month, Buzzfeed reported that Family Tree DNA, one of the largest private genetic testing companies in America, allows database access to the FBI in order to aid them in solving violent crimes.
This means that your DNA could lead to the arrest of a distant cousin or close relative, should they be involved in any criminal activity the FBI is investigating using this method. Or a distant aunt could lead to your arrest, all because she wanted to find out more about her family tree (and, you know, because you committed a crime).
Obtaining Westrom's napkin after tailing him has was deemed acceptable by the courts.
“When discarding something in the trash, the Supreme Court has said many times it is fair game,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told the Star Tribune. He has since been indicted for first-degree murder.
So we guess the lesson for any murderers out there is don't submit your DNA to a genealogy website and if you suspect your relatives have, be willing to take every napkin you've ever used home with you to be burnt.
Although, to be honest, that might raise a few suspicious eyebrows.