The arrest of a suspect in the 2013 slaying of John “Jack” Fay, a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran who enjoyed going for multiple daily jogs through City Park, is as much a testament to the hard work of the Warwick Police Department as it is a testament to the unparalleled power of our species when we collaborate and utilize the scientific process.
We may never know what was going through the head of the person who murdered Fay in the early hours of an otherwise normal May day in 2013. Fay went for a morning jog, like he always did, but on that particular day he didn’t return home. He was found a day and a half later, concealed by brush in a trash barrel, and the investigation commenced.
According to Captain Joseph Hopkins, all normal methodologies of finding a potential suspect had failed. They had no solid eyewitnesses, no security camera footage and no motive for what appeared to be a completely random act of violence. They had unidentified DNA evidence found at the scene, undoubtedly belonging to a prime suspect, but without a match in the police database, it didn’t help much.
Enter the amazing world of forensic genealogy. For those with even a passing interest in science – or even those who simply enjoy watching true crime shows like Forensic Files or their dramatized network television counterparts such as the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation series – inside all of us is a common thread linking all human beings and all living things together: deoxyribonucleic acid – DNA.
Our DNA sequence is as unique as a fingerprint, and in the last few decades we have gone from understanding very little about it to now being at a point where we can utilize it to trace our family lineage back thousands of years and, in this case, use it to solve a murder case that had gone almost completely cold.
In partnering up with a company out of California, IdentiFinders International, which was started by some of the most knowledgeable and experienced genealogists in the country, the Warwick Police Department unshackled their investigation from the era of “good old-fashioned police work” and brought it into the future – with amazing results.
Using their unidentified DNA – found underneath the fingernails of Fay, who clearly fought back against his attacker – the company was able to compile a comprehensive family tree of the assailant. They were able to narrow down this information to isolate Michael Soares as the only possible male in the lineage that could have committed the act. Once they were able to acquire a court order to secure Soares’s DNA, they could make the match that they had been waiting nearly six years to make.
Similar to the “Golden State Killer” Joseph James DeAngelo – who was finally caught after evading police for decades due to one of his relatives utilizing an Ancestry.com DNA service, which came up in a similar search when police ran a DNA profile on genetic material that he had left behind during one of his crimes – this case illustrates the changing nature of genealogy as it pertains to criminal investigations.
In today’s world, eluding capture is more difficult than ever, as DNA can often be traced back to anybody in your family line from any point in history, with astonishing details pertaining to your physical description as well. This case showed how a dedicated police force, along with the most advanced scientific processes, can bring an alleged killer to justice and bring peace to a mourning family.
At the same time, it is important to always remember one of the core tenants of our justice system hinges on the notion that everybody is innocent until proven guilty. Although Michael Soares has been arrested via DNA evidence linking him to the crime, he still gets his day in court and his fate will be decided not by the understandable desire of city law enforcement and residents to find a culprit, but by an objective interpretation of the evidence presented.