DNA research responsible for Marshall County cold case breakthrough

Parabon NanoLabs will assist in searching for a suspect
WAFF 48's Savannah Sapp reporting
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 7:10 PM CDT
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MARSHALL CO., Ala. (WAFF) - After 26 years of no leads, new DNA technology helped to reopen one of Marshall County’s most notorious cold cases.

Parabon NanoLabs is the company responsible for identifying a dismembered body found in the late 90s as Jefferey Douglas Kimzey. Ellen Greytak, director of Bioinformatics for Parabon, says the process can be lengthy.

“It really depends on how difficult that case is. We have some that are solved within ours and others that could take months,” says Greytak

In the case of Kimzey, that process took just under a year. Greytak says they modeled Kimzey’s face by comparing DNA samples to their massive database of samples, collected from volunteers and public records.

“We use those database subjects with the known outcomes to build machine learning models. To basically teach a computer to go from DNA to a prediction,” Greytak explains.

Greytak says predictions like eye color and facial features can come from just one nanogram of DNA.

“If you took a sip from a bottle of water, and we swabbed the rim, we would get 20 to 25 nanograms. Just from taking one sip of water. So if there’s a visible drop of blood, that’s going to contain plenty of DNA to do this work,” says Greytak.

And the work, Greytak says, has reopened many cold cases across the country

“There are so many families, neighbors, [and] communities out there that have had their lives changed because of the work that we’ve been able to do. It’s just so gratifying to know that it started as science,” says Greytak.

Marshall County Sheriff Phil Sims says that new evidence relating to the crime scene will be sent to Parabon in hopes to identify a suspect.

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