Just in case you were considering committing a crime, know that police will be able to solve it using a simple genealogy test. That’s exactly how they uncovered the man behind the 32-year-old murder of Michella Welch.
Welch was discovered dead near a Washington State Park when she was just 12. There were signs of sexual assault but police were unable to link the murder to anyone. After submitting a napkin Hartman used while dining 32 years later, however, they were able to pinpoint Gary Hartman, now 66, as the killer.
Despite the gap in time, Hartman was arrested and charged on Friday, June 22 with the first-degree rape and murder of Welch. The young girl was babysitting her two younger sisters at Puget Park in Tacoma, Washington, on March 26, 1986, when Hartman raped and murdered her. Welch’s bicycle was located at the park and her body recovered later that evening by a search dog.
In 2016, Welch’s murder was still being investigated and the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office called upon a “genetic genealogist” at Parabon NanoLabs to build a family tree based on the DNA originally collected at the scene of the crime. Suspicions fell upon Hartman and his younger brother.
On June 5, 2018, an investigator followed Hartman to a local diner and, sitting within 10 feet of the suspect, watched as Hartman used a paper napkin that he then threw into a paper bag and left for the server to dispose of. After Hartman left, the detective recovered the napkin and sent it to the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory to extract DNA and confirm that it matched the DNA originally collected at the scene of the murder. Hartman was arrested during a routine traffic stop and is being held on $5 million bail. His arraignment for the 32-year-old murder case is scheduled for today, June 25.
In April, Joseph James DeAngelo was pegged as the Golden State Killer using the same method of genetic genealogy.
Originally, Welch’s murder was believed to have been connected with the murder of a 13-year-old girl, Jennifer Bastian. Bastian’s body was discovered in a wooded area near a trail she was suspected to have been riding her bike on in Tacoma. The murders occurred six months apart and shared striking similarities, leading investigators to believe they were connected. DNA evidence collected at the scene of the crime in 2013, however, revealed there were two killers and linked to 60-year-old Robert Washburn.
Incidentally, Washburn had called police claiming he saw a man resembling the composite sketch of Welch’s killer jogging. After his arrest in May, he pleaded not guilty to murder.
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