June 30, 2021
A man named Jared Vaughn was recently charged with rape by Florida police after he bought a consumer DNA kit, uploaded his genetic code to Ancestry, a genealogy tracing website—and, unbeknownst to him, matched to a DNA sample taken from when he allegedly assaulted a college student back in 2007, Insider reports.
“It has taken 14 years for resolution in this case, but it’s something that that was important to us and was important to the victim, to get some closure in this case,” Tampa Assistant Chief of Police Ruben Delgado told Fox 13.
The victim said that she was intoxicated walking back home to her dorm room at the University of Tampa when a man now identified as Vaughn, who was 30 at the time, offered to walk her home and assaulted her once they arrived.
DNA samples gathered at the time went unmatched until Vaughn’s code appeared on the Ancestry site, Insider notes, and the match was subsequently confirmed after police conducted a follow-up test.
“Our success depends on info found in public genealogy databases, where participants—and this is important—must opt-in for law enforcement matches,” Florida State Trooper Mark Brutnell told Fox 13.
DNA evidence was collected at the time but did not find any matches, and the case remained unsolved for more than a decade. In 2020, however, detectives revisited the case and began to search genealogy testing databases, including GEDmatch and FamilyTree—two services often used by people who are researching their ancestry, to find potential matches.
According to Insider, a lab identified Vaughn, now 44, as the possible suspect, so police officers traveled to West Virginia, where he now lives, to conduct another DNA test, which brought a one-in-700-billion match.
Florida was the first state to establish its own forensic genealogy unit in 2018. Similar units have since been created in California and Utah to solve cold cases.
Special Agent Mark Brutnell of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement urged people to allow their DNA to be accessed by law enforcement.
DNA testing for law enforcement presents a thorny challenge. In this case, the suspect uploaded his own samples and seemingly accepted that it could be used by police — or at least failed to opt out. But suspects can also be implicated in crimes after their relatives upload their own samples, subjecting them to genetic surveillance without their consent.
Research contact: @Insider