Using extensive DNA testing and genetic genealogy, authorities have identified a man whose mangled body was discovered in a forested region in northern Alabama as a guy from California. The body was found along a creek in Union Grove, Alabama on April 15, 1997, with the head, feet, and hands missing and other parts of the body mutilated, according to a news release from the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office this week.
Even after years of trying, sheriff’s investigators were unable to positively identify the individual, despite their best efforts. In 2019, however, authorities collaborated with a DNA technology firm, which made incremental strides in the case by, first, refining and clarifying the DNA samples from the body, and, second, comparing the profile with others in genetic databases, ultimately leading to the identification of the man as Jeffrey Douglas Kimzey, 20, from Santa Barbara.
Willie Orr, chief deputy of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, remarked, “That led us to the parents in Santa Barbara,” adding that DNA tests confirmed the discovery. The whereabouts of “him” was unknown to them. Orr stated the family was unaware of Kimzey’s passing. No one in Kimzey’s family could be reached for comment when The Times attempted to do so.
DNA evidence from genetic databases has become increasingly used by law enforcement to aid in criminal investigations in recent years, a strategy that has been criticized by some as an unregulated method that could be an invasion of privacy but praised by others for helping to catch notorious fugitives like the Golden State Killer in 2018.
According to CeCe Moore, Parabon NanoLabs’ chief genetic genealogist, the company’s scientists were able to reconstruct Kimzey’s genetic profile despite the DNA degradation and bacterial contamination that had occurred over the course of the previous 26 years. This profile is similar to what is used in a genetic testing database like 23andMe. She then suggested searching for potential relatives by testing single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), a form of genetic marker.
Moore claims that “second, third, fourth cousins and beyond” can be located and identified through SNP testing and genetic genealogy. Moore noted that unlike larger companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, which restrict data sharing, the smaller genetic databases Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch do permit access for law enforcement investigations. A few distant relatives to the body’s DNA were identified by Parabon’s scientists using the existing databases, but because they were not good matches, it took months to hone in on the identity, Moore said.
Local authorities at the time disclosed the team’s DNA phenotyping depiction of the victim’s physical traits. However, Orr claimed that the example offered no new information. Depending on the circumstances, “it can take a very long time,” Moore warned. It all depends on the people whose DNA has been entered into the databases, as you put it.
Moore reported the team’s findings to the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, saying that they were able to determine the identification of the remains with “high confidence” after finding more relatives and matching that information with historical documentation. The identification of the suspect was confirmed after deputies tracked down a relative of Kimzey in Tennessee, who, according to Orr, led them to Kimzey’s parents in Santa Barbara.
According to Orr, it was unclear why Kimzey was in northern Alabama on the day he was killed in 1997, but authorities assume he was only passing through. A homicide verdict has been issued. Orr would to elaborate on the case’s specifics, but he did say that fresh DNA evidence had been collected at the site and was currently being analyzed by Parabon. “We want to announce we do have persons of interest involved in this case and are actively pursuing those leads,” the sheriff’s office said in a press release.