‘One person left:’ Detective says DNA solved 2001 UCF student’s murder

Benjamin Holmes identified as Christine Franke’s killer through genealogy, prosecutors say

ORLANDO, Fla. – A cold case detective assigned to investigate the 2001 murder of a UCF student turned to new DNA technology and genealogy research to identify the suspected killer, the veteran homicide investigator testified in court Friday.

Benjamin Holmes is on trial for fatally shooting Christine Franke in her Orlando apartment nearly two decades ago.

Although investigators found no evidence that Franke was sexually assaulted, prosecutors told jurors the perpetrator left semen stains on the victim’s body.

For nearly two decades, detectives with the Orlando Police Department compared that DNA to Franke’s friends, co-workers, neighbors and other potential people of interest, but they could not find a match.

[TRENDING: Universal Orlando Resort launches ‘epic’ ticket deal | Missing Florida Lyft driver’s car found in North Carolina after chase, officials say | Become a News 6 Insider]

“We were out of leads,” Det. Michael Fields told jurors. Fields was assigned to the cold case in 2013.

While at a conference, Fields said he learned about a DNA analysis company called Parabon Nanolabs.

Fields said he authorized the company to upload information about the crime scene DNA to GEDmatch, a genealogy database typically used to help people locate relatives or research their ancestors.

Genealogists later found people living in Georgia who had DNA similar to DNA found on Franke’s body, Fields said.

After constructing a family tree, Fields said he traveled to Georgia in 2018 to take DNA samples from family members, including Holmes’s mother.

Investigators concluded the killer was one of her two sons, prosecutors said.

Detectives collected a DNA sample from Holmes’s brother, but they say he was ruled out as a suspect.

“[There was] one person left. Benjamin Holmes,” Fields told jurors.

Investigators secretly collected a cigar that Holmes had been smoking at a friend’s house, prosecutors said.

After DNA found on the tip of the cigar matched the DNA on Franke’s body, Fields obtained a search warrant from a judge to collect a swab of DNA directly from Holmes’s mouth.

That DNA sample directly linked Holmes to the murder, prosecutors contend.

Holmes’s attorney has not disputed that his client’s DNA was found at the crime scene.

During opening statements, the defense claimed someone else “planted” Holmes’s DNA on Franke’s body to protect the “real killer.” Neither Holmes nor his attorney have explained yet how that could have happened.

Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily:

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.