New DNA evidence in Dana Bradley case 'hugely significant': cold case specialist

Criminologist Michael Arntfield says new DNA evidence in the unsolved murder of Dana Bradley may identify a suspect.
Dana Bradley was 14 years of age when she was murdered in 1981.

A criminologist at Western University in Ontario says the RCMP's discovery of new DNA evidence in the unsolved 1981 murder of Dana Bradley is a major break in the case.

"It's hugely significant," said Michael Arntfield, a former police officer turned professor.

"It's gone from guesswork and an idle case. Now you have a genetic snapshot of whoever was responsible for this. It's just a matter of matching that profile to the right person."

Arntfield, who created and hosts the reality television series To Catch a Killer, said police can create an offender profile using the new DNA evidence and run it through an automated system every 24 hours.

That system scans all convicted offenders in a databank to find a match. 

RCMP said the DNA points to an "unknown suspect" which means that person might not be in the databank. 

"My guess is that there is a list of people police can begin threading their way through now that they are armed with this profile which is very conclusive," said Arntfield.

If everyone on that list is ruled out as a suspect, then what will police do?

Michael Arntfield is a criminologist and professor at Western University in Ontario, where he created the Cold Case Society. (Michael Arntfield.com)

Another option

Arntfield said there may be another option, a technology he feels is "underutilized in Canada." A small number of companies in the United States use genetic code from DNA evidence to predict a suspect's appearance — hair and eye colour, face shape, skin tone.

It's like a composite sketch, but utilizes science instead of relying on an artist's rendering of a face a witness describes from memory.  

"You can reverse-engineer what the person looked like from that DNA sample," said Arntfield.

The service, which he said costs $2,000, could narrow the search for a suspect and generate more tips from the public.

What prompted this retesting of evidence now? Arntfield says DNA testing has evolved dramatically over the decades, but he thinks a good dose of gumption was also a factor.

"Reading between the lines, what this sounds like is ... someone committed to this case, at their own discretion ... re-submitted original exhibits for testing at one of the RCMP's crime labs."

Arntfield said even though the result puts police "light years ahead," he has tempered enthusiasm. Dozens of murder cases across Canada remain unsolved even when DNA evidence was available. 

The RCMP says new DNA evidence is linked to an "unknown suspect." (CBC)