SEASIDE, Calif. (KION-TV)- A single hair, believed to be a pubic hair, and a game-changing way to sequence DNA was used to find Anne Pham's alleged killer after 40 years of unanswered questions.
Parabon, the company in charge of finding a genetic match for the hair, said it was assumed only mitochondrial DNA was found in rootless hair. Which was deemed useless for forensic research because the autosomal DNA found in blood, semen, or touch DNA was believed to not be in it.
"The genetic genealogy portion of this case was quite challenging," Moore noted. "We didn't have any close matches. They were all very distant cousin matches. And we were working with the French Canadian Population Group, which is extremely challenging for genetic genealogy."
The difficulty comes from the fact that Parabon has a lot of French Canadians in their database, but the family line itself comes from a small group of families in French Canada whose ancestors intermarried a lot over the years. This complicates genetic genealogy analysis.
Moore thought their investigation would take months or even years, but thanks to Seaside Police detectives, they were able to find a match with someone who lived in the area at the time of Pham's murder.
"In most cases, I'll give them a person of interest or a set of siblings," Moore said. "In this case, I wasn't able to get that far. I built a huge genetic network, which is a group of matches that all share a common ancestry. And there was one surname that kept repeating over and over and over in that genetic network."
That surname was of convicted pedophile Robert John Lanoue of Reno, Nevada. Who lived four doors down from Anne Pham when she was murdered, according to Seaside Police.
After the police and her met to develop Lanoue as the suspect, Moore and her team built Lanoue's family tree. She said his surname repeating was lucky because it could have been from his mother's side or his father's mom's side, but it was from his father's father's father's side, which follows the pattern of an inherited surname.
"This case is notable because this is the first case that led to an arrest," CeCe Moore, Chief Genetic Genealogist that worked on the Anne Pham case, said. "The other rootless hair identifications, the perpetrator was already dead or in jail. So this is really a groundbreaking case, and it will be likely setting a precedent in court because this is the first time this technique will have been used for prosecution."
Moore elaborated that while the rootless hair alone is not admissible in court, it does help point investigators in the right direction to make an arrest. This case, however, was difficult for Moore's team because they had a single hair to work with and not many leads.
"I can tell you it was the only evidence we had to work with. So this literally tiny little hair shaft was absolutely responsible for identifying this man," Moore said. "And so anyone who commits a violent crime, if it's an intimate, violent crime like this one, you are going to leave DNA behind. And if you leave it behind, we will eventually identify you."
Parabon has been able to solve over 225 cases using investigative genetic genealogy, and that is with only samples from 2 million people out of 40 million in the United States. Moore encourages the public to help families who may still be searching for answers by uploading their DNA to their database.
Another notable case when DNA sequencing to find a killer was in helping solve and identify the Golden State Killer. Moore said this technology could be a game changer for solving crimes and maybe even convicting criminals.
To learn how to upload your DNA, click here.