A cold case involving the death of an Alaska Teen who was raped and beaten has reportedly been solved using DNA and genetic genealogy, authorities say.
Sixteen-year-old Shelley Connolly, whose body was discovered south of Anchorage in an embankment along side Seward Highway on Jan. 8, 1978, had allegedly gone out the night before and never returned home.
On Sept. 3—41 years after after the murder took place—authorities arrested and charged 62-year-old Donald McQuade, of Oregon, with first- and second-degree murder, reported Fox News.
“I was really flabbergasted,” said Shelley’s mother, Judy Connolly, upon learning of the arrest. “I’d never thought I’d see this day in my lifetime.”
While at the bar, witnesses say Shelley was seen talking to three young men who were never identified.
An autopsy revealed that she had been beaten and sexually assaulted, before being tossed down an embankment, her liver lacerated due to blunt-force trauma.
It also appears that, before passing away, Shelley broke all of her fingernails trying to climb back up the embankment.
“They had thrown her over an embankment, and she tried to crawl up because her fingernails were all broken and full of debris,” Judy told reporters in 2016.
Using swabs from the young teen’s body authorities were able to develop a DNA profile, but couldn’t find a match until earlier this year when they decided to utilize genetic genealogy, which ultimately identified the suspect through DNA from one of his three brothers.
According to ABC7, in recent years genetic genealogy has helped solve several cold cases, and Judy says she’s grateful it could help to solve her daughter’s murder.
“Whatever the new technology is, I’m just so glad that it came around and it solved this crime and hopefully it’ll solve other crimes for different unsolved murders,” she said.
According to cold case investigator Randy McPherron, McQuade—whose DNA was eventually confirmed after police ran tests on two cigarette butts he had discarded in public—“was never on the radar.”
McQuade’s older brother Richard believes he is innocent. “I have my own belief which I can’t substantiate, but I know my brother,” he said. “And if anything, he might’ve been in the car, not at the time the crime was committed.”
“We have never noticed that type of behavior in Donald McQuade,” he added.
Richard went on to say, ”I can only hope it turns out well and they give my brother and our family a big apology.”
Gresham Police Dept. Detective Kevin Carlson says that while there is still a long way to go in the case, getting this far is a major development.
“[McQuade] still has a lot to go as far as the prosecution end,” he said, “but everybody felt very grateful to see the end of a seemingly endless case.”
Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price says that McQuade’s arrest proves authorities never let up. “Even when it felt like her case was sitting silent, the loss of Shelley was felt throughout the halls of this department, and never did the work cease in finding who hurt Shelley,” she said.
“What happened to Shelley mattered to this state, it mattered to this department, and it mattered to the men and women who consistently worked on this case and who never gave up hope.”