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Police use DNA phenotyping in unsolved sexual assault

For Immediate Release: 04-Oct-2022 @ 7:41 AM
MRU #: SA19R003-1 

The Edmonton Police Service is, for the first time in its history, using DNA phenotyping in the hopes of identifying a suspect in a 2019 sexual assault.

On Sunday, March 10, 2019, at approximately 5:45 a.m., police received a call that a female was found yelling for help in the area of 103 Street and 114 Avenue. When police arrived, they located a woman in her mid-20s who had sustained serious injuries and was wearing only a shirt.

It was reported to police that the woman had been walking northbound on the west side of 101 Street between 2:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. on March 10, 2019. As she approached a bus shelter on the west side of 101 Street just north of 117 Avenue, she observed a number of people waiting at the bus stop, including an unknown male.

After a bus stopped at the shelter and picked up the people waiting, the unknown male followed the complainant as she continued to walk by. The male assaulted her, then pulled her into the field surrounding St. Basil and Spruce Avenue schools, where he violently sexually assaulted her.

After the assault, the woman reportedly regained consciousness and made her way to 103 Street and 114 Avenue, where a resident found her at approximately 5:45 a.m. and called 911.

An April 18, 2019 news release issued by the Edmonton Police Service outlined the details above and sought information about the suspect, describing him as 5’4”, with a black toque, pants and sweater or hoodie. He was described as having an accent. He was believed to have fled west from the scene.

Following a long investigation where no witnesses, CCTV, public tips or DNA matches were found, detectives took the step of enlisting Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia that specializes in advanced DNA analysis services. The service used in this case was DNA phenotyping, the process of predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence. Law enforcement agencies use the company’s Snapshot ® DNA Phenotyping Service to narrow suspect lists and generate leads in criminal investigations.

Using DNA evidence from this investigation, Parabon produced trait predictions for the associated person of interest (POI). Individual predictions were made for the subject’s ancestry, eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, and face shape. By combining these attributes of appearance, a "Snapshot" composite was produced depicting what the POI may have looked like at 25 years old and with an average body-mass index (BMI) of 22. These default values were used because age and BMI cannot be determined from DNA.

It is important to note that DNA phenotyping composites are scientific approximations of appearance based on DNA, and are not likely to be exact replicas of appearance. Environmental factors such as smoking, drinking, diet, and other non-environmental factors — e.g., facial hair, hairstyle, scars, etc. — cannot be predicted by DNA analysis and may cause further variation between the subject’s predicted and actual appearances.

Due to the heavy winter clothing, including face covering, worn by the suspect at the time of the assault, the complainant was only able to provide a limited description The suspect description, based on information provided by the complainant as well as DNA analysis, indicates he is a Black male of entirely African ancestry with dark brown to black hair and dark brown eyes who reportedly stands approximately 5’4”. As previously mentioned, the suspect may be older, may have a different body composition and may have facial hair or a different hairstyle than depicted in the photo.

 

Oct. 6, 2022 update: the DNA phenotyping image has been removed from this news release. Please see the official statement

 

“This is essentially a last resort after all other investigative avenues have been exhausted,” says Det. Colleen Maynes, with the EPS Sexual Assault Section. “It is by no means an immediate path to accusing a suspect. What it does is potentially give us leads in a cold case, and we can follow up with DNA testing from there.”

Investigators are encouraging anyone who may have information about the suspect or the assault to come forward by calling the Edmonton Police Service at 780-423-4567 or #377 from a mobile phone. Anonymous information can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.p3tips.com/250.

Following consultation with community stakeholders, the EPS is aware of the impact this release may have on a marginalized community. Due to the severity of the occurrence, the need to advocate for a victim of a violent sexual assault and in consideration of the public safety interest, investigators believe the release of this image based on DNA evidence is required in order to further the investigation. As always, any leads generated from the release of a composite image would require further investigative steps.

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For media inquiries please contact the EPS Media Relations Unit at
780-421-3551.

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