Technological advancements often have unintended consequences. For instance, not many expected that the proliferation of smartphones would lead to eye and neck troubles.
Similarly, genetic genealogy tests were publically advertised as a way to connect people to their heritage — but they’ve also become valuable tests in closing crime cases long thought unsolvable.
It had baffled police for half of a century and began when a pharmacist failed to show up for work in Rapid City, South Dakota, on February 29, 1968. Gwen Miller’s coworkers had reason to immediately fear for her.
The 60-year-old woman had diabetes. Her colleagues thought that the condition might have caused her absence.
But when police investigated her home, they discovered a much more sinister scene. Someone had shattered the window to Miller’s back door.
When they entered her bedroom, they discovered the pharmacist dead in her bed, and she had seemingly perished without a struggle. However, an autopsy revealed something very different.
Someone had sexually assaulted Miller and then strangled her — but that was all they could discern, and the case went cold.
Police combed the scene for clues, talked with potential suspects and witnesses and made absolutely no headway. According to the Daily Mail, they knew that Miller frequently flew out of Rapid City Regional Airport.
Only when Detective Wayne Keefe, a part-time cold-case investigator, took over in 2016 did facts begin to come to life. He interviewed over 100 people in connection to the case, according to the Rapid City website, but the perpetrator wasn’t one of them.
Keefe ran a genetic sample from the perpetrator through forensic genealogy firm IdentiFinders and came up with a match.
He got a last name of Field, and with a little old-fashioned sleuthing, he came up with a suspect: Eugene Carroll Field. Circumstances seemed to point directly to him.
Not only had he lived next to Miller for several months, he had also worked as a ticketing agent at the airport.
What’s more, Field’s two ex-wives confirmed a history of abuse at his hands. So Keefe took the extra step of obtaining a DNA sample from Field’s brother.
That sample showed a 99.23 percent chance that Field, who had been 25 years old at the time of the crime, had committed the rape and murder. However, he would never face justice.
See, Field had died in 2009. A malignant tumor in his throat had grown so large that it eventually left him unable to breathe.
“Today, there’s a slight celebratory mood because the case has been solved,” Police Chief Karl Jegeris said upon making the announcement. “But I assure you, the fact of how horrific this crime was wears heavy on each and every one of our hearts.”
Some justice has been brought about, dark deeds have come to light and the killer has been found. Hopefully, advancements like these will deter would-be criminals in the future.
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