DNA and Genealogy Used in Baby Andrew Case

DNA and genealogy sites were used to determine the identity of a mother in the US whose baby was found abandoned in a ditch thirty-eight years ago.

ITV news reported that the woman, Theresa Rose Bentaas, 57, had been charged with the 1981 murder and manslaughter of the boy, known as Baby Andrew. Bentaas told police in South Dakota that she had hidden her pregnancy from family and friends, and gave birth alone in her apartment, according to a court document.

It is then alleged she drove herself and the baby to the area where his body was later found—a cornfield ditch in the Sioux Falls area. Known as Baby Andrew, the child died of exposure. His funeral, held a week after he was discovered, was attended by some 50 people from the area.

‘Young and stupid’

In the court document, Bentaas, who was nineteen at the time, said she had been young and stupid and that she’d felt sad and scared when she drove away. She later married the baby’s father and had two children with him.

Retired detective Mike Webb said the baby’s body was exhumed ten years ago and a sample of DNA obtained. The DNA from Bentaas was ordered through a search warrant. The authorities submitted Baby Andrew’s DNA sample to a lab which later found two possible matches through a public genealogical database.

South Dakota police constructed a family tree and carried out a “trash pull” to collect beer, water containers and cigarette butts at Bentaas’s home. A court affidavit said the results from a cheek sample swab showed there was extremely strong evidence to show a biological relationship between Bentaas and the child.

Justice for Baby Andrew

Police chief Matt Burns said he was pleased about the results and arrest, praising officers for their hard word and dedication in pursuit of justice for Baby Andrew.

Recently, there have been a number of historic cases where public genealogy databases have been used. Last April, police arrested the suspected Golden State Killer, a man alleged to have raped and murdered women in Northern California from 1974 to 1986. And there was the case of Jeanne Anne Childs, murdered in 1993, whose alleged killer was arrested in February, after he was identified when his family members voluntarily submitted their DNA to public genealogical databases.

According to genetic genealogy expert CeCe Moore, genetic genealogy has helped lead to more than twenty other suspect identifications.

Cold cases cracked

CeCe is one of the chief genetic genealogist with Parabon NanoLabs, the company that worked on most the cold cases cracked in the last two years.

However, the use of such material is not without its critics. The American Civil Liberties Union told ABC News that giving over such detailed information to government investigators was “troubling in that it just exposes so much information about ourselves”.

Vera Eidelman, staff attorney for the group, said people might think they were sharing information for one purpose only, when in fact it got used in very different ways than the person intended.


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