A breakthrough in the 1980 cold case murder of an aspiring journalist came thanks to a “Murder Squad” podcast listener who uploaded her DNA to GEDMatch, resulting in a match that led to the arrest of a distant relative.
“The Murder Squad just got our first cold case murder arrest,” investigative journalist Billy Jensen, one half of the "Murder Squad" team, exclaimed on Twitter Monday.
The pair has always encouraged listeners who've used ancestry sites to submit their DNA to GEDMatch. They've long maintained that doing so that could lead to arrests in unsolved murder cases.
One of the podcast's dedicated listeners, referred to only as Jessi, did just that. She used 23andMe and then, following the instructions of Holes and Jensen, entered her DNA profile into GEDmatch. Law enforcement can’t obtain information directly from 23andMe but can access DNA in open source databases such as FamilyTreeDNA and GEDMatch.
Three months after Jessi uploaded her profile, she received a call from law enforcement: her DNA profile resembled DNA evidence collected in the 1980 murder of Helene Pruszynski in Colorado, according to the “Murder Squad.”
Pruszynski, 21, was found stabbed to death in a field in Douglas County, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The “Murder Squad” noted that she was raped and stabbed in the back. Pruszynski had just moved to the state from Massachusetts in pursuit of her journalistic dreams, KCNC-TV in Denver reported, and was interning Denver radio station KHOW-AM when she was abducted and killed.
Four decades later, thanks to Jessi’s effort and the hard work of investigators, authorities arrested James Curtis Clanton, 62, in December and charged him with Pruszynski’s murder. Jessi had never heard his name before, but he’s a relative of hers, likely a third cousin.
“She [Jessi] is exactly why we started this podcast,” Jensen told Oxygen.com. “And exactly why I wrote “Chase Darkness with Me” (a book that, in part, instructs would-be sleuths on how to help solve cases) This is true crime 2.0. People want to get involved. And they can do that in a number of ways. The DNA route takes 100 bucks and then the extra 10 minutes to upload in GEDmatch or other open databases.”
He commended both Jessi and law enforcement for Clanton's arrest.
“They [law enforcement] have the responsibility to enter the DNA from violent crime scenes into these databases and continually monitor any close matches,” Jensen said. “The police of Douglas County stayed on top of this one They started with the criminal database in 1998. Then once they learned about the genetic genealogy, they went there as well.”
Jessi said on the “Murder Squad” podcast that she felt driven to help. And Pruszynski's tragic story can help bring solace to other families searching for justice, Jensen believes.
“It’s in no way a substitute, but now her story can help make a difference,” he said.
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