DNA and coincidence lead to arrest in 1999: double murder in Alabama


This is the case that haunted a small town in Alabama for nearly two decades: two 17-year-old girls disappeared on their way to the birthday party and were later found by gunshot in the trunk of a car.

There was evidence that one of the girls had been sexually assaulted and the investigators collected DNA from the crime scene. The police chased hundreds of people over the years, but could not identify a suspect.

Until this month.

On Monday, the Ozark Police Department announced that, thanks to the same investigative technique that had led to an arrest in the Golden State Killer case, a suspect was in custody.

The suspect, 45-year-old Coley McCraney, was arrested on Friday and charged with aggravated murder and rape in the deaths of Tracie Hawlett and JB Beasley, found in Ms. Beasley's car along a highway on July 3, 1999. They had both been shot in the head.

It is at least the fourth case in five days that has been solved using genetic genealogy, the investigation technique being known. The arrest comes as attempts were made to develop and prohibit this method of identifying DNA left at the scene of the crime.

Hawlett's mother, Carol Roberts, told the Associated Press that she had become numb when she had heard that an arrest had taken place.

"He was not allowed to do that," Roberts said. "I just want to know why."

Police Department Chief Marlos Walker said that he had decided to try genetic genealogy soon after the high-profile announcement in April that Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer, had been indicted for crimes related to the notorious Golden State Killer.

"It made me aware of the case," he said in an interview.

The murder of the two teenagers was the obvious case to apply it, he said. A double murder is rare in Ozark, a town of about 15,000 located about 80 km south of Montgomery.

There was a good chance that the McCraney, he knew, could be related to the suspect and that his DNA would help direct the construction of the family tree.

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