Central Florida's True Crime Files: DNA helps investigators narrow in on nearly 40-year mystery

A tooth. That’s what could help investigators crack a nearly 40-year mystery.

"We’re looking at 38 years, DNA in its extreme infancy," said Cpl. Dave Nutting, who heads the Orange County Sheriff’s cold case team.

The body of an unknown black woman was found bound and wrapped in a jacket on a dirt road near Colonial Drive, in eastern Orange County. From that body, a tooth was extracted and sent to DNA Labs International in South Florida.

"What we do is we kind of drill into that tooth, we don’t want to get any enamel," explains Cristina Servidio, technical leader at DNA Labs International, "so we drill it and get this really fine powder that goes into a tube."

FOX 35 traveled to that lab to get an exclusive look at the technology being used.

MORE OF CENTRAL FLORIDA'S TRUE CRIME FILES

The DNA profile was then sent to forensic investigator Ryan Backmann. He specializes in cold cases just like this one.

"We upload that to a public database that allows us to compare the genetic markers in the profile to anybody that has publicly uploaded their own DNA to that same public database," said Ryan Backmann of Innovative Forensic Investigations.

The databases are filled with profiles uploaded by people voluntarily. 

Those profiles are provided by ancestry kits that inform people about their background. The companies provided detailed reports you can upload to GEDmatch.com or FamilyTreeDNA.com which help people who are related connect.

"You might find a distant third cousin, second cousin, first cousin, you’ve never met before," said Backmann. 

In this case, it could be a relative someone never knew they had.

"When we uploaded this profile, we were way off in the third and fourth cousin range," explained Backmann, "we’ve been able to select a few promising genetic lines and a family tree."

Detectives traveled to different parts of Florida and even New York trying to get volunteer DNA samples from those distant relatives.

"The idea is ultimately it will be one of these tests will generate an even closer genetic match to our unknown victim," said Backmann.