It’s like a case right out of CSI or Law & Order, if you are a person who enjoys such long-running television procedurals. Police had been trailing Minnesota businessman Jerry Westrom in January, after some DNA submitted for a genealogy site tied him or a relative to a Minneapolis murder scene in 1993. Westrom went to a local hockey game—reports the Star-Tribune in a detailed, fascinating account of forensic evidence—ate a hot dog, wiped his mouth with a napkin, and tossed it in the trash. “Once the coast was clear,” the cops then grabbed the napkin and sent it in for testing. “Get to this to the lab stat!” is how we’re imagining the dialogue went down, accompanied by rubber gloves, tweezers, and a plastic bag.
According to the Star-Tribune, “Prosecutors say the DNA, tested against crime scene evidence collected decades ago, leaves no doubt” that Westrom killed 35-year-old Jeannie Childs in a Minneapolis apartment 26 years ago. As someone who is used to seeing such cases tying up only on the above procedurals and old movies, I’m finding this all a bit fascinating. (Too late in my career to make a chance to forensic science? Probably, right?) Apparently, I’m not the only one. The Star-Tribune explains that “Advances in DNA testing prompted Minneapolis police to revive the case in 2015.”
CeCe Moore, chief genealogist at Parabon NanoLabs, tells the Star-Tribune: “Genetic genealogy has incredible power for human identification… It’s revolutionary.” She notes that since last spring, about 50 cold cases have been solved nationwide using public genealogy websites. All those people trying to trace their ancestries are just adding to the massive available DNA pool.
Once the fated napkin reached the lab, it was found that it was “consistent” with DNA collected at the 1996 crime scene. Westrom has subsequently been arrested for Childs’ murder and is being held on $1 million bail. He denies all charges and allegations, but “has no explanation for why his DNA would have been in the apartment where she was stabbed.”