New DNA analysis helping local investigators solve violent crimes

COLLEGE STATION, Tex. (KBTX) – A lab in Virginia is helping law enforcement in the Brazos Valley solve major violent crimes, including the Virginia Freeman cold case and a serial stalker in College Station.

Nearly 3 years ago, police in College Station began getting calls about a man who was breaking into the homes of college-aged women. Police say the break-ins were occurring at random along Holleman Drive between The Cottages and The Junction apartment complexes.

"We were so active in trying to identify the suspect is because we had feared that he was going to do more," said Assistant Police Chief Billy Couch.

In some cases, the suspect turned violent when women woke to find him in their rooms.

"I started fighting him, and he put his hands over my mouth and started shoving me into the bed," said one victim to KBTX.

“Other times, he may have pleasured himself and was taking things to a new level,” said Couch.

In each case, the man would get away before officers could arrive. Over time, investigators began to feel they were at a dead end.

“Fortunately, we had his DNA profile,” said Couch.

Investigators learned about a special lab that was using new DNA science to crack violent cases. Parabon Nanolabs, a Virginia-based company, uses DNA phenotyping to predict the physical appearance and ancestry of a DNA samples.

"This is really an entirely different way of thinking about DNA,” said Ellen Greytak, Parabon's Director of Bioinformatics. “We're looking at the DNA like a blueprint. It contains all of the information that built that person."

Taking that information, the team can create what a suspect might look like. They can also unlock a person’s family tree through a process called genetic genealogy analysis.

“In genetic genealogy, we don't have to have an exact match,” said CeCe Moore, Parabon’s Chief Genetic Genealogist. “The technology that we use is so powerful that it can predict second, third and fourth cousins and, from that, we can reverse engineer the suspect's family tree."

The Parabon team says the information can help put a case over the finish line for investigators.

“They need some way to know, among all these thousands of pieces of information in this case, which ones are significant and which are not. It helps them figure that out,” said Greytak.

Back in College Station, the science helped police tie DNA collected at the overnight burglaries to 34-year-old Christopher Williams.

“The detectives, they carry a lot of stress over these cases. They are constantly thinking about what else they can do,” said Couch. “To have this as an option now is exciting."

Christopher Williams was arrested in December 2018 on four counts of burglary of a habitation. He is currently out on $160,000 bond and required to wear an ankle monitor. The case is still under investigation.