Unsolvable cases are ‘solvable again:’ Toronto police use genetic genealogy to ID man whose body was found in 2019
Police have released an artist rendering of an unidentified man found deceased in the stairwell of a building near King Street West and Strachan Avenue last summer. (Toronto Police Service handout)
Published Friday, July 14, 2023 10:30AM EDT
With the assistance of investigative genetic genealogy, the Toronto Police Service said they have been able to identify a man found deceased in the city’s downtown core nearly four years ago.
The body of an unidentified man was found at 901 King Street West in Toronto on July 18, 2019.
Investigators released a description to the public in an effort to identify him and Ontario Provincial Police later created an artist’s rendition of the man.
The police service’s missing persons unit issued a video appeal to encourage anyone with any information to come forward.
Attempts to identify the man were unsuccessful until the police service turned to investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) for assistance last year.
“In the fall of 2022, the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service provided a biological sample to Othram Inc., where a DNA profile was developed. That DNA profile was then compared to public databases,” according to a news release issued by Toronto police on Friday.
“Multiple people who shared their DNA with a family genealogical project were found to have common DNA with the deceased. Genetic genealogy investigators reviewed family trees, social media and obituaries attempting to identify him.”
On May 23, investigators reached out to a relative of the man who provided a possible name for the deceased, police said.
“Further investigation confirmed the likelihood of the match, and officers contacted his family members. The Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario confirmed the identity through medical imaging records,” the release continued.
The man’s death, police said, is not believed to be criminal in nature.
Speaking to CP24.com earlier this week, Acting Det.-Sgt. Steve Smith, of the cold case unit, said since Toronto police hired three genetic genealogists last year, about a dozen cases have been solved with the use of investigative genetic genealogy.
“It’s a mix of sexual assaults, homicides, and unidentified human remains,” he said of the investigations. “I would say 95 per cent are cold cases.”
The genetic genealogists were hired after the police service received a three-year grant from the province.
“They build family trees to try to lead us to the family of the actual offender,” Smith said.
“At that point, we apply traditional policing methods to gather our proof that the offender is the person that left the DNA at the crime scene.”
Earlier this year, investigative genetic genealogy played a role in identifying four-year-old Neveah Tucker, whose body was found in dumpster in Rosedale in 2022.
It also led investigators to Joseph George Sutherland, who was charged with two counts of first-degree murder last year in connection with two homicides in Toronto dating back to the 1980s. He was arrested after his DNA was linked to the murders of Erin Gilmour and Susan Tice, who were killed inside their homes in 1983.
Smith said IGG has shaved years off of cold case investigations.
Prior to hiring the genetic genealogists, Smith said officers would likely only be able to solve one or two of these type of cases each year.
“It has been very successful,” he said. “IGG has basically made the unsolvable cases solvable again.”