The Genetic Detective: Tri-Stater creates innovative crime technology

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BONE GAP, Ill. (WEHT) – Police departments are always looking for new technology to help find criminals. Now, a Tri-State native is behind the latest innovation of using genetic genealogy to solve some of the country’s biggest cases.

Paula Gawthorp-Armentrout, Co-Founder and Vice President of Parabon Nanolabs, says she never expected to be doing something like she is now. The Bone Gap, Illinois native and SIU-Carbondale graduate says her innovative technology – which helps track down criminals using genetics and DNA – has been a long time coming.

“What we’re doing for law enforcement, a lot of people think we just popped up over night. We didn’t. This is a long time coming, and many, many years of hard work,” said Gawthorp-Armentraut.

Paula and her company have worked hand in hand with CeCe Moore for years to pioneer the genetic genealogy the company is using to help solve crimes. One particular crime hit close to home: a cold case of a woman murdered in Terre Haute, a case that sat unsolved for 47 years.

“This person was not anywhere in the original case file. I could have ran every person in the 1,100 people I’ve pulled up, all of them, and gotten their DNA. It wouldn’t have made a difference,” said Shawn Keen, Terre Haute Police Chief in May 2019.

Parabon’s lab was given DNA from the crime scene. Using their technology, it was analyzed and a suspect’s likely appearance was created.

“We can tell you eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling of the face, shape of the face, and we can also tell you very deep ancestry information,” said Gawthorp-Armentrout.

Parabon was then able to create a mapping of a family tree to narrow down the suspect and point the police in a direction they never would have thought to look before.

This type of work is what has now gotten CeCe and Paula’s work through Parabon national attention. CeCe and the company will be featured on a show that airs this week called The Genetic Detective. Paula says she may also be featured in some of the show.

“You might see me in some of the episodes. I agreed to be in the background in some of the shots that were done here in the Reston office of Steve that’s my husband,” said Paula.

From Bone Gap to national TV, Paula says she is proud of her work and where she is from.

“I learned hard work and to have a good work ethic from everybody I grew up around. I would thank everybody in my community for teaching me the value of hard work and having a good work ethic,” she said.

Paula says a huge key to the genetic genealogy involves people publicly offering their DNA results to a website called GEDMatch. This site alone helped create a national database to narrow down the suspects.

Since it began working with law enforcement in 2018, Parabon has been involved in nearly 500 criminal cases to date, generating 113 positive identifications for police so far. 

Some of the cases Parabon works are more than 50 years old.

The Genetic Detective airs on ABC Tuesday night at 9 P.M.

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(This story was originally published on May 25, 2020)

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