Distant cousin's use of DNA test kit leads police to murder suspect

Distant cousin's use of DNA test kit leads police to murder suspect

WARWICK, R.I. — A DNA testing kit did much more than just trace a user's geneaology - in this case, it helped police nab a murder suspect.

Michael Soares wasn't even on investigators' radars until one of his distant, twice-removed cousins decided to use a DNA testing kit and put his genetic information on the map.

Soares, 33, was arrested Tuesday for the murder of John Fay, 66.

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Fay was killed while out for a jog through Warwick City Park on the morning of May 16, 2013. His body was found stuffed in a barrel the next day, where investigators determined he had died of blunt force trauma and stab wounds.

Police said foreign DNA was found in several places, including under Fay's fingernails.

The murder had remained unsolved for years since police didn't have an apparent motive nor a match for the DNA found on scene.

Because Soares had no criminal record, his DNA was never in the system when police first tested for it. However, police were eventually able to link him to Fay's murder with the help of IndentiFinders, a California-based genealogical research company..

Colleen Fitzpatrick, co-founder of IdentiFinders, had been working on the Fay case for months until FamilyTreeDNA, one of the largest consumer DNA-testing companies, opened its database to a free, third-party genealogy website called GEDmatch.

"Basically, it’s very similar to direct-to-consumer testing, where you would send a sample in and try to find your cousins, or your aunts and uncles," Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick says that, once Soares' cousin used one of the test kits, a match for the DNA that had been found on scene showed up.

"It was a distant relative but in building that tree out, it popped," Fitzpatrick said.

Soares was the only male in his lineage who matched the DNA profile. Police then obtained a search warrant for his DNA, which was analyzed and confirmed it was a match.

Last week, the president of FamilyTreeDNA admitted to working with the FBI to help solve violent crimes. In a statement, the company said that "customers have the ability to opt out of the matching feature in their account settings."

"I’m not too alarmed, but I do know there are privacy concerns," Fitzpatrick said. "It's data. It’s the same to me as if, say, I appear in a picture on Facebook that my cousin uploaded of my grandma’s birthday party. I happen to be dragged along in social media without wanting to."

Last year, GEDmatch played a crucial role in cracking the Golden State Killer case.