LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An update on a story from KARK first brought to you Monday. Richard William Davis of Cabot has been identified as a suspect in a 46-year-old Montana murder case, and it was modern DNA technology and genetic testing that helped make this discovery possible. KARK spoke with the Texas lab that sequenced the nearly 50-year-old strand of DNA.
What does it take to solve a cold case nearly 50 years old? When key DNA evidence is scare and degraded, typical forensic tests won’t reveal much.
That’s where Othram comes in. “Most of the cases that come to us, they’ve been through other processes,” David Mittelman explained. “They’ve attempted other methods and nothing has worked.” Mittelman is the CEO of Othram, a DNA sequencing laboratory that assists with cold cases all but abandoned.
Their testing helped to identity Richard William Davis, the suspect in a 46-year-old murder case with close ties to Arkansas. You can read about Davis and the McGuinness case HERE. “There was only a tiny amount of DNA left in this case,” said Mittelman. They specialize in samples like those taken from the Siobhan McGuinness investigation, evidence with very little DNA to work with and samples collected years ago. “No matter how well you preserve evidence,” Mittelman said, “over time, the DNA degrades.”
Othram uses advanced technology to identify genetic markers in low quality samples, something normal tests can’t track. “Traditional forensic tests will look at about 20 markers,” explained Mittelman. “We look at tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of markers.” They then create a sequence profile that law enforcement can use to match with distant relatives – and hopefully find a suspect. “We produced a profile from that DNA that the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] then took to do the genealogy…..It was exciting to be able to help.”
Mittelman says the hope is that by solving these previously cold cases, other answers can be found and justice can finally be served. “Solving one case,” he said, “you never know, you may get fortunate and end up solving a number of cases.”
Othram’s technology has been used to solve cold cases across the United States and Canada, and even helped to identify an unknown individual buried over 130 years ago. You can learn more about their lab HERE.