DNA match from genealogy site leads to arrest in 2001 murder of UCF student

Case marks 15th instance of arrest through genealogy evidence

By Adrienne Cutway - Web Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. - A match from a genealogy website helped Orlando police detectives make in an arrest in a 2001 slaying of a University of Central Florida student.

Authorities announced Monday afternoon that Benjamin Holmes had been arrested in connection with the death of Christine Franke, 25. Police said Christine Franke was shot in the head on Oct. 21, 2001, during a robbery at her Audubon Park apartment.

Orlando Police Department Detective Michael Fields said that after the crime, officers interviewed hundreds of people and took close to 100 DNA samples, none of which matched any samples in the Combined DNA Index System that law enforcement uses.

"Despite hundreds of hours of investigation, Christine's killer still walked free, keeping his secret," Fields said.

Years later, in 2016, analysts used a DNA sample from the crime scene to develop a DNA profile and composite image of the suspect, but detectives still didn't get any leads after releasing that image to the public, Fields said.

[READ: You might not be anonymous, thanks to genealogy databases]

Then about six months ago, Fields said he and other officials worked with a well-known genealogist and discovered that three relatives of the suspect had submitted their DNA to the genealogy site GEDmatch.

"We went out, we interviewed family members, we received DNA samples to compare to the killer's through DNA testing," Fields said. "Through this testing, we were able to show the kinship relationship between the killer and different family members. We eliminated most of the family using genetic genealogy and eventually, we were able to narrow down the suspect list to two brothers, one of which was Benjamin Lee Holmes."

The original crime scene analyst on the case 17 years ago analyzed the new sample obtained from Holmes and determined that it was a DNA match for the killer, authorities said.

Even with the evidence in front of him, Fields said Holmes denied the allegations. Police said they haven't found any connection between Christine Franke and Holmes.

Holmes was arrested Friday on charges of first-degree murder with a firearm and robbery with a firearm.

Tina Franke said she's relieved that the man suspected of killing her daughter is behind bars and she hopes he spends the rest of his life in jail.

[RELATED: Man arrested in 1992 murder of teacher after DNA website links him to killing]

“I honestly thought that he was dead after 17 years and that we would never find out, so this is such a blessing for my family,” Tina Franke said.

She thanked authorities for their relentlessness in solving the case.

“We’re so overwhelmingly grateful for everything they’ve done for us," Tina Franke said.

This arrest marks the 15th time nationwide that DNA from a genealogy site has been used to make an arrest in a cold case, according to Fields. The most notable instance happened in April when authorities arrested Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, who is suspected of killing 12 people and raping more than 50 women in the 1970s and 1980s. He was dubbed the Golden State Killer.

[READ: What the Golden State Killer case means for your genetic privacy]

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen said the agency helped in the genealogy analysis in the case, something he hopes to do more of in the future.

"This case is proof that by combining genealogical, analytical, forensic and investigative expertise, law enforcement has a new tool in their tool belt to solve many cases," Swearingen said. "Here in Orlando, our team is already working with other law enforcement agencies on genetic genealogy cases that could help develop leads and further additional investigations."

Fields agreed that although cracking this case wasn't easy, he does believe that this new method could prove useful in cases where authorities have a DNA sample, but can't match it to anything in their database.

"It's been 17 hard years and a lot of people worked on this case, they put a lot of time and effort into it and we're happy to finally answer the question of who killed Christine Franke," Fields said.

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