Area investigators turn to genealogy companies to help solve cold cases

DNA evidence is being used in hopes of solving a cold case with ties to Eaton.

Tuesday, Logan County prosecutors shared how they used DNA from an ancestry website to solve a decades-old cold case.

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Ralph Bortree, 55, was charged with aggravated attempted murder in a case from 1993.

Logan County prosecutors said identifying him uncovered a serial kidnapper and rapist.

Bortree’s DNA profile also matches three cases from Shelby County.

Prosecutors said they were able to identify in all these cases because someone wanted to learn a little bit more about their family tree.

Genealogy websites can be a fun way to learn more about your past.

But the information provided to these companies is helping investigators across the country find killers hiding in family trees.

News Center 7’s John Bedell spoke to Cedarville University law professor Marc Clauson about privacy provisions to which people agree when signing up with genealogy companies.

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“In essence, you’re signing away a portion of your privacy and the privacy of others,” said Clauson. “If investigators want to get access to this data for purposes of criminal investigations, will they be able to get it with subpoenas? The answer is probably yes.”

Last year, investigators in California said they used a DNA profile from a genealogy company to find the “Golden State Killer.”

Police were looking for a mystery serial killer before they tied Joseph James DeAngelo to at least 13 cold case murders and more than 50 unsolved rapes.

Clauson said he see investigators continuing to use these companies as a way to gather evidence.

“Absolutely, we already have DNA tests and this just expands the role of DNA,” he said.

Logan County authorities said they used a database from an ancestry website and Bortree’s cigarette butt to match him to a 1993 rape and attempted murder.

The Shelby County cases have passed the statute of limitations, but investigators are working to see if he’s tied to any other crimes.

The Preble County Coroner’s Office also is looking at DNA evidence right now.

They’ll be exhuming the remains of a “Jane Doe” buried in Eaton in hopes of solving a missing persons case from the Mansfield area in the late 1940s.

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Her remains were found in a creek bed near Eaton in 1968.

If it’s not the woman from the missing persons case, Preble County investigators said they could tap into other resources, including ancestry websites, to get a positive ID.

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