A Gardena man has been charged with the decades-old murder of a woman in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., after investigators used forensic genealogy to identify him as a suspect.
Sharron Eugene Gadlin, 48, was arrested Friday and subsequently charged with the murder of Cheri Huss in 1994, the Riverside County district attorney’s office said in a news release Tuesday.
“I hope Cheri and her family will finally get the justice they deserve and have waited so long for,” Dist. Atty. Mike Hestrin said in the release. “Our prosecutors will continue to vigorously prosecute these murderers until we get justice for their victims.”
Huss, 39, was found dead in her apartment in April 1994. She was stabbed multiple times and bitten by her killer, the district attorney’s office said.
She had also fought back, causing the attacker to leave blood at the scene. DNA from the blood matched with the saliva left on the bite wound, officials said.
But efforts to identify a suspect using the DNA evidence and an FBI database yielded no matches, and the case went cold.
In February, the Riverside County Regional Cold Case Homicide Team used forensic genealogy to identify Gadlin as a person of interest. He was found to have lived in Thousand Palms, about 12 miles from Huss’ apartment, in 1994.
Investigators obtained a warrant for Gadlin’s saliva, which matched with DNA found at the crime scene, officials said. He was arrested and booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside in lieu of $1-million bail.
Forensic genealogy involves cross-checking DNA samples with genealogical databases similar to those used for sites like Ancestry.com to find potential relatives and narrow down the family tree to pinpoint a suspect. The investigative method helped lead to the 2018 arrest of the so-called Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo Jr.
Such databases can be a gold mine for detectives, but their searches by police have alarmed privacy advocates and others. Some companies, including Ancestry.com, say they have successfully fought attempts by law enforcement to access their data by court order.
In January, the Riverside County cold case team used forensic genealogy to identify the victim of another 1994 homicide, whose body was discovered partially buried in the Thousand Palms desert. Authorities identified the woman as Patricia Cavallaro, 57.
“Our cold case team of investigators will continue to use cutting edge technology to solve old murder cases across Riverside County,” Hestrin said.