Police to use popular genealogy websites for high-profile murders

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Oct 04, 2023 |

Police have begun a trial using popular genealogy websites on two of New Zealand’s most notorious murder cases.

27 year old Mellory Manning’s body was found on the morning of December 19, 2008 floating in the Avon River.

Following her death, Operation Dallington was launched and has been described by police as “complex and challenging”. 

“It was clear that Mel was subjected to a prolonged and violent assault that caused her death.

“It is also the belief of the investigation team that due to the nature of her injuries, a number of persons were involved in her death.”

It is hoped that police might finally be able to identify “Male B” whose DNA profile was obtained from a semen sample located during a post-mortem examination.

6 year old Alicia O’Reilly was found raped and murdered in her bed on the morning of 16 August 1980. Her sister Juliet (8), had been sleeping just metres away in the same room of their Canal Road, Avondale home.

The crime shocked the country and hundreds of people were questioned, including those who worked or lived in the working-class suburb. 

Forensic evidence was gathered from the scene but in 1980, there was no such thing as DNA testing and the samples were destroyed.

6 year old Alicia O’Reilly

Detective Superintendent Ross McKay said “we acknowledge this is a difficult time for these families and hope we can provide them with the information they need to seek closure on these cases.”

Forensic Investigative Genetic Genealogy (FIGG) combines DNA testing with genealogical research to analyse genetic relationships between individuals who share very small amounts of inherited DNA with the crime scene DNA sample using genealogy databases and publicly available records and is being used internationally to help solve cold cases and identify human remains.

“Using techniques like FIGG, has the potential to provide investigative leads and potentially resolve some of the most serious unsolved crimes.

“This is a complex investigative tool and only cases where suitable DNA evidence has been captured during the criminal investigation would be considered, after all other investigative avenues have been considered and exhausted.

To meet New Zealand conditions our forensic service provider, ESR, reassures that all physical sample testing is completed in New Zealand and extractions of the digital genetic code will be provided to a third-party international service provider with no actual DNA material needing to be sent outside of New Zealand” McKay said.

Results from genealogy websites, where submitters provide law enforcement access to their records, are used as the basis of genealogy searching of publicly available records such as genealogy database, church records and libraries. 

Criteria has been developed and assessed to determine the trials success.

McKay said “staged approach to measuring success has been developed and an evaluation of the trial will be conducted at the conclusion of the use of FIGG for these two cold cases.  

Using techniques like this, provides Police with the opportunity to resolve these cases and make our communities safer.”

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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