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DNA From Genealogy Site Caught 'Golden State Killer'

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CBS/AP) — The alleged "Golden State Killer" who terrorized California in the 70s and 80s made his first court appearance on Friday.

Clad in an orange jumpsuit, 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo went before a judge in a Sacramento courtroom in a wheelchair.

Authorities have said the DNA tied DeAngelo, a former police officer, to most of the 12 killings he is accused of committing between 1976 and 1986 as part of the Golden State Killer case.

Detectives used DNA to finally track down DeAngelo, but not before the technology led them to the wrong man.

Authorities revealed on Friday that back in March of 2017, investigators misidentified an elderly Oregon man as a possible suspect. He wasn't their guy.

Joseph James DeAngelo
Credit: CBS

An Oregon police officer working at the request of California investigators persuaded a judge in March 2017 to order a 73-year-old man in a nursing home to provide a DNA sample. It's not clear if officers collected the sample and ran further tests

The Oregon City man is in declining health and was unable to answer questions Friday about the case.

His daughter said authorities never notified her before swabbing her father for DNA in his bed a rehabilitation center, but once they told her afterward she understood and worked with them to eliminate people who conceivably could be the killer.

While executing a violent crime spree across California, the Golden State Killer covered up his face and his fingerprints but, left behind was his genetic code.

"I believe very strongly that it's the greatest tool ever given to law enforcement," said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.

Schubert led a team of investigators to track down the suspect.

It turns out, investigators created a genetic profile from decades-old crime scene data, then searched a public genealogy website called to find distant relatives.

Like the privacy of people who use ancestry kits, without realizing they're signing up to potentially become involuntary informants.

Free and open to the public, GEDmatch allows people to upload their DNA profiles from companies like and 23andme to expand their search for relatives. And while the commercial companies require a court order to obtain DNA, some say they'll think twice before completing one of their kits.

GEDmatch says it has always informed users that the database could be used for law enforcement purposes, as stated in the site policy. But, if users have concerns, they can remove their DNA from the site or refrain from uploading it in the first place.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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