DNA from mur­der scene cre­ate sketches of sus­pect

Se­nior’s killing still un­re­solved af­ter 30 years

National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA - Gabriele roy

TORONTO • DNA col­lected from the scene of a 1988 mur­der has been used to cre­ate im­ages of a sus­pect in the un­solved homi­cide, po­lice in On­tario said Tues­day as they re­leased the sketches they hoped would lead to a break in the case.

On­tario Provin­cial Po­lice have been in­ves­ti­gat­ing the death of 80-year-old Thera Diele­man for the last three decades, is­su­ing re­ward posters and news re­leases at var­i­ous in­ter­vals over the years.

A lack of progress in the case en­cour­aged the force to ex­am­ine tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances re­lated to DNA, and re­sulted in po­lice work­ing with a com­pany in Vir­ginia to de­velop dig­i­tal im­ages of what the killer may have looked like in 1988 and what he could look like to­day.

“We be­lieve us­ing ex­ist­ing DNA ev­i­dence in this in­no­va­tive way will ig­nite mem­o­ries to help us bring a res­o­lu­tion to Thera Diele­man’s fam­ily and her com­mu­nity,” OPP Det. Supt. Ken Lep­pert told re­porters.

“We rec­og­nize that there is no way to bring her back, how­ever, we con­tinue to do our very best to find out what hap­pened.”

Diele­man was last seen alive on Sept. 15, 1988, af­ter be­ing dropped off at her home fol­low­ing a day of shopping in Goderich, Ont.

Diele­man, who had lived alone since her hus­band died two years ear­lier, didn’t an­swer phone calls or the door the next day, prompt­ing neigh­bour Ken Rus­nell to en­ter the home and find her dead.

She was found beaten and stran­gled in her home in Bland­ford-Blen­heim Town­ship, Ont., on Sept. 16, 1988. Po­lice be­lieve the widow put up a fight, po­ten­tially caus­ing in­juries to her at­tacker.

The man sus­pected in the case was be­lieved to have been driv­ing a flatbed farm truck on the day of the mur­der, po­lice said, but lit­tle other in­for­ma­tion on him was avail­able.

In Fe­bru­ary 2007, as a re­sult of ad­vance­ments in the field of foren­sic anal­y­sis, a DNA pro­file was de­vel­oped from ev­i­dence at the scene of the mur­der, Lep­pert said. In­ves­ti­ga­tors have com­pared the DNA to per­sons of in­ter­est but have found no match so far, he said.

The force even­tu­ally de­cided to try the DNA “phe­nol tech­nique,” which al­lows the pre­dic­tion of phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance and ancestry from uniden­ti­fied DNA ev­i­dence.

The OPP said it turned to Parabon Nano Labs, a DNA tech­nol­ogy com­pany in the U.S., for help de­vel­op­ing the im­ages of the sus­pect.

“In­di­vid­ual pre­dic­tions were made for the sub­ject’s ancestry, eye colour, hair colour, skin colour, flat­ten­ing and face shape. By com­bin­ing these at­tributes of ap­pear­ance, a com­pos­ite sketch was pro­duced de­pict­ing what the per­son used to look at 25 years of age,” said Lep­pert.

As it has been al­most 30 years since the mur­der oc­curred, the sketches pro­duced are sci­en­tific ap­prox­i­ma­tions and are not likely to be ex­act, he added.

“Environmen­tal fac­tors such as smok­ing, drink­ing and diet, and other nonen­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors such as fa­cial hair, hair­style and scars can­not be pre­dicted by DNA anal­y­sis,” he said.

Po­lice said they hoped that the im­ages will lead to new in­for­ma­tion from the pub­lic.

“The in­di­vid­ual that killed Mrs. Diele­man has had 30 years of free­dom,” Lep­pert said. “Solv­ing this mys­tery will also re­move a dan­ger­ous of­fender from so­ci­ety be­fore they harm some­one else.”

A $50,000 re­ward for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to the ar­rest of Diele­man’s killer re­mains on of­fer.

The cold case of Thera Diele­man, a mur­der vic­tim who died in her home 30 years ago at the age of 80, has now been re­opened by the On­tario Provin­cial Po­lice.

OPP’s Supt. Kather­ine Ye­an­dle-Slater and Det.-Supt. Ken Lep­pert haven’t given up on a 1988 mur­der.

A sus­pect in the 1988 mur­der of Thera Diele­man is shown in sketches in­di­cat­ing what he looked like then and now.

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