About a decade ago, Fayetteville, N.C., was terrorized by a series of rapes committed on and around a major thoroughfare on the city’s northern side.
Police said a man they called the Ramsey Street Rapist assaulted victims from March 2006 until January 2008.
For more than 10 years, his identity eluded investigators. But this year, they tried a new tack: mining DNA data collected through genealogy websites — the same method that California officials used to find the man believed to be the Golden State Killer in April.
On Wednesday, the Fayetteville Police Department arrested Darold Wayne Bowden, 43, of Linden. He faces dozens of criminal charges in connection with six rape investigations, including multiple counts of first-degree forcible rape, first-degree burglary and felony larceny.
“There was a great deal of fear gripping our community” while the rapes were occurring, City Manager Doug Hewett of Fayetteville said at a news conference at which he thanked police.
The arrest of the suspected Golden State Killer, who had burglarized, raped and murdered people across California over decades, shined a spotlight on the idea of using genealogy to solve crimes. It is increasingly possible because of the popularity of such genetic testing services as 23andMe or AncestryDNA, which use small DNA samples, like saliva, to help people find long-lost relatives or research their heritage.
That arrest also raised concerns about the ethics of using genetic information that people might upload without being aware that it could later help law enforcement officials.
Police Lt. John Somerindyke said officers were helped by Parabon, a Virginia-based company that in May said it would begin offering forensic genealogy services to law enforcement agencies using an independent database called GEDmatch.
CeCe Moore, Parabon’s lead genetic genealogist, said in an e-mail that the company had “successfully assisted law enforcement in eight cases so far, resulting in eight arrests.”
She added that in the Fayetteville case, an unknown subject’s DNA was uploaded to GEDmatch and then “compared to the DNA of about 1 million other participants who voluntarily uploaded their DNA to this site. Based on those comparisons, Parabon receives a list of matches, people who share segments of identical DNA” with the subject. Parabon then worked to construct a family tree that helped officials narrow their search.
Police did not say how they acquired a sample of Bowden’s DNA. It was unclear whether Bowden has legal representation.
Somerindyke said Bowden appeared to be “just a local guy” who was born, raised and was still residing in the area where the crimes were committed. “This individual has been in our community, walking around our streets for the last 10 years, probably smirking because he got away with this,” said Billy West, the district attorney for Cumberland County, where Fayetteville is the county seat.
“Well, he didn’t.”