While a Fort Worth murder suspect grew old, the DNA science that jailed him grew up

The brother of a woman killed in 1974 said the technology law enforcement now uses to track down criminals has advanced greatly, and those hiding guilt should pray because they are being hunted and eventually they will be caught and punished.

Jim Walker made these comments on Tuesday, the day after Fort Worth police arrested a 77-year-old man who is facing a capital murder charge in the slaying of his sister, Carla Walker. The 17-year-old girl was abducted during a Valentine’s week date, then sexually assaulted and found dead three days later.

Glen Samuel McCurley, identified as the suspect in Walker’s slaying, remained in the Tarrant County Jail on Thursday with bond set at $100,000, according to jail records.

Edward Hueske, who was hired as a criminalist by the Fort Worth Police Department a month before Walker was killed, said this is a good resolution to this case.

“The Carla Walker case was never forgotten,” Hueske said. “DNA and its application to criminalistics opened a door and the solution has finally entered.”

In 1974, Fort Worth lab technicians were able to determine that semen was present on Walker’s bra, Hueske said, but they were not able to prove much else.

If the semen sample was tested to identify a blood type, that would have not been enough information to obtain an indictment, much less a conviction, Hueske said.

“Fort Worth was a pretty dangerous place back then,” Hueske said. “I would not let my wife go into town at night back then. It was a rough, rough place.”

Hueske went on to form his own forensics consulting firm, and has testified about and written texts on different aspects of forensic science.

Carla Walker’s boyfriend, Rodney McCoy, played quarterback for the Western Hills High School Cougars, the school where Walker was a cheerleader. McCoy was severely beaten by the killer on the night of their Valentine’s date when Walker was kidnapped, but police were not able to recover any biological evidence from McCoy, Hueske said.

Hueske said he is proud that the Fort Worth crime lab was able to preserve usable evidence from the case for more than four decades. So many things can happen to evidence over the years — leaking roofs can render it useless or it can be misplaced, Hueske said. The refrigeration systems could fail.

“They had to have watched over it pretty carefully for it to be used 40 years later,” Hueske said. “Those DNA samples have to be kept at minus 80 degrees.”

But what ultimately led to solving the Walker case was the growth in DNA databases, Hueske said.

A very cold case

Still, Fort Worth police detectives had very little evidence left and it was degraded because it was old when they approached one of the companies that helped lead investigators to a suspect, according to David Mittelman, chief executive officer of Othram.

Othram is a private laboratory in the Woodlands, just north of Houston, that specializes in helping police departments with difficult DNA cases, Mittelman said.

Paul Holes, the host of an Oxygen network program called “The DNA of Murder,” connected detectives working on the Walker case with Othram, Mittelman said.

Othram’s DNA analysis led police to the discovery of three brothers with the last name McCurley, Mittelman said.

“We took some of the last remaining evidence they had and were able to use it to build a very convincing profile,” Mittelman said. “We didn’t know it at the time — we don’t have access to their suspect list — but we identified someone who had previously been identified.”

After that, police were able to narrow the suspect pool to one person, Mittelman said.

Police say they hope the technology brings more leads in other cold cases, but they do not have any evidence that McCurley is connected to any other crimes.

Police “do not have any indication that McCurley was involved in other cases,” the department said in an emailed statement. “He actually maintained a low-key profile during all these years. Never was arrested for anything.”

New science

An official with the other company Fort Worth detectives turned to in the quest for a suspect, GEDmatch, said investigators had identified the suspect months ago through their specialty, the science of forensic genealogy.

But the information that was provided by GEDmatch is not considered as evidence in court, said Brett Williams, chief operating officer for Verogen, the corporation that now owns GEDmatch.

Once a suspect was identified, police had to wait for a more definitive DNA profile that matched the DNA profile from the crime scene, Williams said.

According to the probable cause arrest warrant, police were able to obtain a DNA sample from McCurley during a subsequent interview on Sept. 10, and received confirmation of a match with the DNA sample from Walker’s bra less than a week later. Detectives then obtained a confession from McCurley, police said.

It’s not unusual the technicians working on the forensic genealogy end of the case wouldn’t have a lot of information about the investigation, Williams said. The company was not aware of the murder investigation until the arrest was announced, Williams said.

“That’s fairly typical,” Williams said. “We know law enforcement is using the database, but we don’t know the details of the particular crime. We don’t need to have that information.”

GEDmatch, and Holes, each gained more popularity after the April 2018 arrest of the man called the Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo.

DeAngelo was sentenced in August to 11 consecutive terms of life without parole, plus an additional life sentence and another eight years after pleaded guilty to raping more than 50 women and murdering 13 people, according to reporting by CNN.

“With the Golden State Killer, law enforcement uploaded the profile (to the genealogy database) without telling,” Williams said. “Some clever folks figured out that this could be used for law enforcement purposes.”

After the DeAngelo arrest, GEDmatch founders went about the task of informing website users that their information was accessible by law enforcement, a story in the Atlantic said.

“The cat was out of the bag pretty much at that point,” Williams said.

Policy changes

Policy changes at GEDmatch no longer allow law enforcement to upload profile information to the platform without first notifying the company of their presence, Williams said. Also, consumers must opt in to allowing their information to be used for law enforcement purposes, Williams said.

Many of their customers allow their information to be used by law enforcement out of a sense of civic duty, Williams said. However, many others do not.

GEDmatch customers who are researching their family histories have access to between 1.4 to 1.5 million DNA profiles, while law enforcement customers have access to about 300,000 profiles, Williams said.

Another restriction is that GEDmatch only allows law enforcement customers to use the database to track down suspects in violent crimes, Williams said. Searches for relatives of serial burglars, for example, are not allowed.

“From a privacy perspective, we don’t agree with that,” Williams said.

The U.S. Department of Justice issued an interim policy on forensic genealogy in 2019 and a final policy document is expected later this year.

As databases grow, and there is no indication that growth will cease, there will come a time when there will be no one who cannot be associated to another set of relatives through DNA.

It will make finding suspects in violent crimes a lot easier. GEDmatch investigations have already led to more than 200 arrests since the DeAngelo arrest in 2018, Williams said.

And Williams said he believes the privacy concerns that come with that scientific prowess can be addressed and that public support for the technology already exists. GEDMatch already asks its customers for consent to share their information, Williams said.

Critics who bring up the specters of invasions of privacy and warrantless searches do not fully understand the process, Williams said.

“The reality is they are not searching,” Williams said. “The police, when they upload the profile, they don’t do anything but upload the profile. We have an algorithm that does the matching. They never have access to your underlying genotype.

“They get a name, they get an email address, and how much DNA their profile shares with people in the database. I’ve had police officers who tell me that they get more information from Facebook.”

The two companies have a symbiotic relationship, according to Williams.

“Verogen at its core is a forensic business,” Williams said. “We make most of our money selling DNA sequencing technology to forensic crimelabs.

“GEDmatch is focused on biometric-based human identification where DNA is the ultimate biomarker,” he said. “Obviously, we can use that to identify people. We can use that database to find criminals through their relatives. Acting as stewards of that database, we see it as a resource for society.”


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