Houston company uses cutting-edge DNA technology to solve teenage girl’s murder

Unsolved case from a half-century ago, moves from cold case to conviction

Stock graphic of DNA. (Pixabay.com, Pixabay.com)

HOUSTON – Friday night on KPRC 2, an episode of “Dateline NBC” featured a case out of Texas - the murder of Carla Walker.

It was an unsolved crime from 40 years ago.

Fort Worth investigators spent decades desperately searching for answers after the 17-year-old high school student was kidnapped and murdered.

When a Houston company stepped in and helped identify the suspect with its cutting-edge DNA technology, the cold case was cracked.

Othram uses a very sophisticated system for testing DNA samples, some that would normally be untestable -- either because they are too small or contaminated. In the case of Walker, the sample was both. It came from the victim’s bra strap.

Othram was able to come up with a complete male profile. They also did the genealogical mapping of the sample. Because of this, detectives were able to find the man who ended up being the murderer -- still living in Fort Worth.

“So, we actually take the DNA evidence and we sequence it and we look at tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of markers on the DNA. And then we are able to triangulate someone’s identity, we create a profile that we upload to either geological databases or other tools that we can use to look at it and tell you who someone is,” said Kristen Mittelman, chief development officer at Othram.

“Our labs started running samples in 2019,” she added. “Since then, we’ve helped local, state and federal law enforcement of hundreds and hundreds of cases, we got the idea to do this, a lot of us are DNA experts from the medical field. David is our CEO and was part of the first human genome project 1000 Human Genome Project. He actually helped build some of the standards that the FDA uses. And we realized, in 2018, forensics is just not as advanced in the type of methods that they’re using to look at answers from DNA evidence. And we thought, let’s build a forensic lab of the future, let’s build a lab that is able to get answers that other people can’t get. And so off we were started. And that’s the mission. And the purpose is to sort of create a safer and more just world. I think that by being able to solve a lot of these cold cases and give people answers, when they don’t have to wait decades and decades for them is going to bring closure to a lot of families. But I also think that technology can be used to prevent a perpetrator from committing a second or third crime. And I think that it can also be used as a deterrent, if you know you’re going to get caught, it’s less likely that you might commit some of these crimes.”

So how can you help?

The company is asking for samples of DNA.

If you’d like to participate, the company has more information on its website.

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