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Advances in DNA help police departments solve crimes, from cold cases to car thefts

Posted at 6:01 PM, Aug 22, 2022

WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — Advances in different types of DNA testing are helping police solve everything from violent cold cases to car thefts.

In Willoughby, police officers worked for 42 years to catch a killer and close the unsolved murder of a young mother stabbed to death in 1980. Nadine Madger was stabbed 44 times with a kitchen knife while her 8-month-old son was in a playpen next to her.

Detective Gabe Sleigh was the last of hundreds of officers to work on the case. “It was on my mind constantly from the time I started working on it until this day I still think about it,” said Sleigh. “My feeling was the answer was out there — it was in these family trees — we just had to make the right connections,” he added.

The killer left his blood on Madger’s shirt, and that DNA was the key to unlocking the mystery — not with traditional DNA testing but genetic genealogy.

“Genetic genealogy really right now is your last resort,” said LeAnne Suchanek, Lake County Crime Lab Director. The lab was instrumental in matching DNA samples before sending them to a lab specializing in genetic genealogy testing, which lead to the man that police say killed the young mother.

“The fact that he was dead and never be able to find out exactly why this happened and that he died a free man, it bothers me,” said Sleigh. “It’s the reason we do what we do, it’s the feeling of being able to bring closure to a family that’s waited for 40 years,” said Suchanek.

While genetic genealogy is used to crack violent cold cases, contact DNA is helping police departments solve crimes like burglaries and car thefts. “Each one we recover, we’re swabbing for DNA in places we know [they] touched — the steering wheel, the shifter,” explained Captain Gerald Vogel, Westlake Police Department.

Police believe it is a valuable tool that, coupled with solid police work, can solve crimes.

“It’s another tool, but it’s not the only tool,” said Vogel.

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