Genealogy Tests Key to Nabbing Suspect in LA-Area Cold-Case Murders

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Commercial genealogy services helped Los Angeles prosecutors for the first time charge a Southern California man Friday with the cold-case murders of two women.

Horace Van Vaultz Jr. 64, was arrested Thursday in Los Angeles, charged in the murders of Selena Keough on July 16, 1981, and Mary Duggan on June 9, 1986.

Keough, a 20-year-old mother, was found under bushes on a street in San Bernardino County. She was bound, raped and strangled, according to the LA District Attorney’s Office.

Duggan was 22 years old when she was found in the trunk of her car in an empty Burbank parking lot. She too was raped and died from asphyxia after a tissue was stuffed down her throat.

LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the process by which investigators were able to narrow in on Vaultz as their suspect was like the way prosecutors were able to name Joseph DeAngelo as the lead suspect in the Golden State Killer case. In both investigations, detectives followed the suspects until they could access items that contained their DNA.

Vaultz has a criminal record, but his DNA was not in any criminal database. Lacey said commercial genetic testing services like 23andMe and Ancestry.com helped law enforcement compare DNA left at the crime scenes where Keough and Duggan were found and narrow down a pool of suspects.

“Thanks to advances in technology and forensics, we are now able to virtually reach back in time and find those responsible for these vicious crimes,” said Lacey.

A spokesperson for 23andMe, however, said the company does not voluntarily work with law enforcement and “has never given customer information to law enforcement officials.” The company publishes law enforcement requests publicly in a transparency report and has so far successfully challenged requests by police for its customers’ data, the spokesperson said.

When pressed, a spokesperson for Lacey’s office declined to comment where it got the DNA data.

Investigators say there could be more victims as Vaultz is reported to have traveled throughout the country for several years. They did not reveal more details other than the patterns present in the two cold-case murders.

Along with news of the investigation, the DA’s office said it will take jurisdiction of the murder in San Bernardino County and will reopen a major crimes division’s cold-case unit.

Vaultz is charged with two counts of murder with special circumstances including multiple murders, crimes committed during a rape and sodomy and lying in wait. If convicted, Vaultz faces the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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