Watch CBS News

Denton County Woman Helps Police Track Down Violent Criminals Through Forensic Genealogy

DENTON COUNTY, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - You don't have to be in law enforcement to solve crimes or identify murder suspects.

A Denton County woman is proving that as one of the country's leading experts in using genealogy to track down killers, rapists and other dangerous people.

Working on her laptop up to 40 hours a week, Cheryl Hester painstakingly studies DNA evidence results from crime scenes as a genetic genealogist.

She helps law enforcement find suspects through family trees that she creates.

"If you discover the lead to the suspect it's usually late at night," says Hester. "It's always rewarding."

Cheryl Hester
Forensic genealogist Cheryl Hester (CBS 11)

Hester and her business partner started Advance DNA a few years ago to mostly help people find their unknown parents.

"I would describe myself as very curious which kind of got me into DNA research," she says.

The arrest and conviction of California's infamous Golden State killer in 2018 using forensic genealogy opened doors for Hester and others in the field to also apply it to what they do.

We identify using family trees," says Hester. "Who is this person that's connected to the DNA?"

Hester has special access to 2 law enforcement DNA databases.

Her family trees usually go as far back as great, great grandparents and individual cases have included as many as 16,000 people.

Hester looks for high readings of centimorgans which are a unit for measuring genetic linkage.

"We get a list of what we call cousin matches and these and these are sometimes very distant relatives we are excited when we have a second cousin," she says.

Her work has helped identify the man behind a 1993 rape in Ohio and another man behind the nearly 40-year-old murder of an 8-year-old girl.

Her success two years ago in identifying the man behind the 1982 murder of Mary Silvani in Nevada that got Hester attention from New York Post.

"We own our company and most of these crimes are against women and so she and I are very passionate about that," says Hester.

Hester says she would like to help Texas with its huge backlog of unsolved sexual assault cases.

"I wish that we could work with DPS or the state and like I said we are women owned and for me I think that would be incredible to work and try to get through some of these sexual assault kits that are backlogged."

Hester also uses popular public sites like for research.

She encourages people to upload their DNA results and allow law enforcement to access it.

That way, in the not too distant future, unsolved crimes she says, will be a thing of the past.

"We say, here's your lead and how this is potentially who the person is, and then we're gone."

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.