Cold cases, especially those involving death or murder, can be very difficult for families. Families wait for years or decades for an explanation of what happened to their loved ones and who hurt them, and the lack of resolution is emotionally and mentally exhausting. In November 2022, however, two families were finally given answers after almost four decades of frustration and despair thanks to genetic or DNA identification and technological advances.
The Fifth Estate's film "Cold Case Ghost " details how the Toronto Police Department finally tracked down the suspected culprit behind the 1983 assault and murders of two women, Erin Gilmour and Susan Tice. Susan Tice was a separated mom with four children who recently moved to Toronto from Calgary, and she was a social worker who worked with children in need. On the other hand, Erin Gilmour was a 22-year-old aspiring fashion designer and the daughter of David Gilmour, a well-known mining tycoon. Both women's lives were tragically cut short by sexual assault and stabbing by the same unknown assailant whose DNA was found on both crime scenes.
In 1983, scientists had a good understanding of the structure of DNA. However, it was only a decade later, in the early 1990s, that police used DNA profiling in a criminal investigation in the United Kingdom. And even then, it was still a relatively new technique and was not widely used for crime detection.
However, as the technology improved and the cost of DNA testing decreased, it became more widely adopted by law enforcement agencies worldwide to identify suspects and solve crimes. It took time, however, to become more mainstream, with crime labs building up a database of known offenders. But the proliferation of self-DNA kits has pushed it into the forefront. Today, more members of the general population, not just those arrested, have their DNA information on global databases.
Ultimately, "Genetic Genealogy" is how the authorities solved the Toronto crimes. It is a field that combines the techniques of genetics and genealogy to trace a person's ancestry and family history using DNA analysis. A viable DNA sample was collected from both crime scenes, but there was no direct match to a known individual in any criminal or previous offenders database. Toronto investigators used genetic genealogy techniques to identify the suspect or find leads that may help to identify him, including individuals who were related to the suspect or have shared ancestry.
Though some critics have raised concerns about the accuracy of familial DNA testing and issues related to privacy and civil liberties, for the Gilmour and Tice families, justice has prevailed, and they now have closure over a very painful episode in their lives.
Directed by: Ronna Syed