WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — When John Fay was murdered back in 2013, Warwick police recovered an unknown male’s DNA from the scene of the crime.
While the investigation remained active in the years that followed, police had no suspects since there was no apparent motive and no match for the DNA was found.
That is, until a distant relative of Michael Soares used a consumer DNA testing kit.
Soares, 33, was arrested Tuesday and charged with Fay’s murder.
Fay, 66, was killed while jogging through Warwick City Park on the morning of May 16, 2013. His body was found stuffed in a barrel the following day, and the cause of his death was later determined to be blunt force trauma and stab wounds.
Police said foreign DNA was found in several places, including under Fay’s fingernails.
Since Soares had no criminal record, his DNA wasn’t in the system when the initial tests were conducted. But police said Wednesday they were eventually able to link him to the murder with the help of IdentiFinders International, a California-based genealogical research company.
Colleen Fitzpatrick, co-founder of IdentiFinders, said she’d been working on the Fay case for months and finally got a break when one of the largest consumer DNA-testing companies, FamilyTreeDNA, 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 told Target 12.
According to Fitzpatrick, Soares’ second cousin twice removed used one of the test kits, causing a match to show up.
“It was a distant relative but in building that tree out, it popped,” Fitzpatrick said.
Soares was found to be the only male in his lineage who matched the DNA profile. Police then obtained a search warrant for his DNA, which was analyzed by the R.I. Department of Health, which confirmed the 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,” she added. “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 was also the key to cracking the case of the accused Golden State Killer, a serial killer who terrorized California in the 1970s and ’80s.