Watch CBS News

How investigators used genetic genealogy to solve the murder of Maryland mom Rachel Morin

How scientific methods led to arrest of Rachel Morin's suspected killer
How scientific methods led to arrest of Rachel Morin's suspected killer 03:14

BALTIMORE -- The Harford County Sheriff's Office and the FBI relied on genetic genealogy to track down the suspect wanted for Rachel Morin's murder, Victor Martinez Hernandez. 

While it is a relatively new method, genetic genealogy has been credited for solving many high profile cases in recent years.

"You can't get away with it anymore," Othram Chief Development Officer Dr. Kristen Mittelman said. "Everybody leaves DNA behind."

Martinez Hernandez, an international fugitive from El Salvador, was so hard to track down because he was allegedly  in the country illegally.

To help find him, investigators enlisted the help of Othram, a company specializing in forensic genetic genealogy.

Dr. Kristen Mittelman is Othram's Chief Development Officer.

"All we do here at our firm is identify perpetrators and victims from crime scenes, really difficult crime scenes," Dr. Mittelman said.

They're difficult because sometimes there's only small amounts of DNA left behind and usually that DNA is contaminated or consists of a mixture belonging to both the victim and the suspect.

Othram uses a process called "Forensic Grade Genome Sequencing" to sort it out.

"We look at hundreds and hundreds of 1000s of markers across your genome, across your DNA sequence, that makes you unique," Dr. Mittelman said. "And, we upload that DNA profile to genealogical databases that are consented for law enforcement use."

In Rachel Morin's case, a team at the FBI's Baltimore Field Office did the genealogy research.

They took the information from Othram and built out a family tree of Martinez Hernandez's relatives until they were able to identify him.

"This is a game changing investigative tool to understand when there are dry holes and there's no other leads to go," FBI Baltimore Field Office Special Agent in Charge Bill DelBagno said during a June 15 news conference.

Dr. Mittelman says this technology could solve a lot more crimes, but often there is not enough funding to afford it. She's hoping legislation will be passed to make it available for all.

"I do believe we're going to live in a world in the next few years where people are caught the first time to commit a crime," Dr. Mittelman said. "There are no more serial killers, serial rapists out there because this technology will be used."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.