Genetic genealogy helps police find Pennsylvania woman’s killer 34 years after her death

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A 43-year-old woman, whose mother was found dead in Reading, Pennsylvania around three decades ago, has finally got some closure as the police have finally been able to trace the murderer—a man who died of natural causes four years ago.

Tamika Reyes was nine when her 26-year-old mother Anna Kane’s body was found in a wooded area with a baling twine around her neck on October 23, 1988. During investigation, police had found that the woman was strangulated elsewhere and her body was later dumped in the woods.

Soon after Kane’s death, a local newspaper ran a front-page story seeking information about her death. In February 1990, almost 15 months after Kane’s death, the paper received an anonymous letter from a “concerned citizen,” who happened to know such details that only the killer would know, said police.

But years went by and police still could not find who Kane’s killer was, leaving Reyes and her two brothers and grandmother in the dark for close to 34 years.

Finally, relief came for Reyes recently in the form of a call from a detective last week who informed that the Pennsylvania State Police used genetic genealogy to identify the killer.

It found that the DNA sample from the saliva of the person, who licked the envelope containing the letter addressed to the newspaper, matched with what was found on Kane’s clothing, said law enforcement officers at a news conference last week.

However, Reyes’s relief soon gave way to disappointment after she learnt that her mother’s killer is one Scott Grim, who died at the age of 58 due to natural causes in 2018. What saddens her more is the fact that her grandmother died before learning the case has been solved.

How did investigators solve the case after 34 years?

Investigators analyzed Kane’s clothing and found traces of an unknown man’s DNA. They later determined that it matched the DNA on the envelope from 1990, confirming investigators’ belief that the person behind the letter was the killer.

But while investigators had Grim’s DNA profile, there was nothing to identify him because he had never been arrested for anything that required his DNA to be put into the system, said authorities.

Here’s where genetic genealogy came to the rescue of the authorities.

Genetic genealogy’s effectiveness in cold cases depends on the quality of DNA collected from the crime scene and whether it has degraded, said state police trooper Daniel Womer at a news conference last week.

The detectives’ careful preservation of DNA evidence in 1988 provided a solid foundation for investigators to examine with new technology, said Pennsylvania state police Sgt. Nathan Trate at a news conference last week.

“All of that stuff was … preserved the way it should be, because they knew probably somewhere down the line whatever they collected could be that little piece of evidence (to solve the case),” Trate said.

What’s next?

Investigators don’t know much about Grim other than he lived in the nearby Hamburg, Pennsylvania.

They are trying to determine whether he knew Kane and have urged anyone who knows the nature of their relationship to reach out. So far, they’ve found no connections.

Kane was reportedly working as a prostitute at the time she was killed and may have been meeting a customer, said Womer adding that police are trying to determine whether it was Grim.

The Pennsylvania State Police have declined to release the 1990 letter to the newspaper or to elaborate on exactly what it said.

“There was just intimate details about where she was disposed of, how her clothes were displayed, stuff like that,” Womer said. “This led investigators to believe that whoever wrote the letter had committed the homicide.”

Now that investigators have identified Grim’s DNA, police will review other open cold cases to see if he was involved, Womer said.

Old wounds yet to heal

Talking about how Kane was, Reyes, who now lives in Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania, said, “She was a firecracker — very outgoing, not afraid of anything, very honest, blunt and caring.”

Reyes said she’s still bothered by the image the media painted of her mother, who was unemployed at the time of her death.

“She was portrayed as this slain prostitute, like she deserved what happened to her,” said Reyes “It was hurtful. She was more than that, she was a victim… No one deserves what happened to her.”

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