At the end of last month, Jackie Vadurro received a call from law enforcement that sent shockwaves through her body. It wasn’t just any call, but one informing her that they had matched her 23andMe test to a murder case that had gone cold 36 years ago. When she spoke to the New York Post about it later, she was shocked and bewildered. “I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong,” she said, “But when the police call you about a murder, you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, what am I involved in?’”
Her story goes deeper than just being part of a cold case; detectives have figured out that the woman killed was related to Vadurro. She is believed to have been her mother’s great-grandfather’s illegitimate child and thus on Vadurro’s maternal side. This realization has left Vadurro feeling somewhat connected to this person who died so long ago.
The situation raises some serious questions about security and privacy of people’s personal information when it comes to their biological data, especially DNA. A 2018 report stated that researchers were able to start with 1.3 million people and narrow down who a person was to less than twenty individuals based on DNA and other information easily obtained. In 2020, authorities caught an alleged murderer after his distant relative put her own DNA on GedMatch.
The investigator contacted the woman, Jessi Still, through email letting her know she was close relative match to the individual suspected of murdering Helene Pruszynski in 1980. She thought it might be some kind of joke or prank because no one ever wants to think they are related to a killer, which is something Still didn’t want either, but it turned out to be true when investigators used her DNA along with other tactics to find and arrest James Clanton whom she is related too due her father’s great-great-great grandparents’ connection.
This remarkable story shines light on how connected we can all be without knowing it and has made Still realize, “everything is connected and it’s a small world.” It also highlights how powerful today’s technology can be in terms of helping law enforcement solve murders even decades after they occurred while raising important conversation around our privacy rights with regard to our personal data, especially concerning our biological information such as DNA profiles stored online or with companies like 23andMe.