British Columbia

Vancouver police hope DNA will help solve 7-decades old Babes in the Woods cold case

A double homicide that has stumped Vancouver police investigators for nearly 70 years is again under the microscope, but this time using the focused lens of modern DNA forensics.

Remains of 2 boys discovered in 1953 a lingering mystery police hope to solve using private DNA databases

A police file photo shows the scene where the boys' remains were discovered by a Stanley Park groundskeeper in 1953. (Vancouver Police Department)

A double homicide that has stumped Vancouver police investigators for nearly 70 years is again under the microscope, but this time using the focused lens of modern DNA forensics.

In a statement Tuesday, police said the investigation known as the Babes in the Woods homicides will soon benefit from the application of genetic genealogy, a relatively new crime-solving technology.

A Vancouver police investigation following the discovery of a set of skeletal remains of two boys in Stanley Park in 1953 stalled after no credible leads were found.

But now, police say, they will use DNA samples stored with private companies like FamilyTreeDNA to link samples taken from the victims remains to any possible surviving family members.

Vancouver police say a hatchet, likely used to bludgeon the boys, was discovered alongside the remains in a wooded area in Stanley Park. (Vancouver Police Department)

"With so many people curious about their ancestry and willing to submit DNA for genetic testing, we think [we] can build a family tree for these boys and possibly identify others who are related to these young victims," VPD Sgt. Steve Addison wrote in the statement.

New technology has already had success

If successful, the case would not be the first to be solved using this relatively new technology.

In 2018, Washington state police announced a major break in a 30-year-old cold case involving the double homicide of a young Saanich, B.C., couple. 

The use of genetic genealogy as an investigative tool led to arrest of William Earl Talbott II in the 1987 killings of Tanya van Cuylenborg, 18, and Jay Cook, 20.

A Vancouver police file photo of one of the items at the scene, which was entered into evidence at the time of the gruesome discovery in 1953. (Vancouver Police)

Police say the Babes in the Woods homicides likely took place in 1948, five years before the boys, aged seven and eight, were found bludgeoned to death.

The remains found by a groundskeeper at the time were already highly decomposed, but both children's skulls showed obvious signs of blunt-force trauma, alongside of which was found one adult-sized shoe, a woman's coat over top the remains and a hatchet.

"We still don't know who these boys were, why they were in Vancouver or who killed them, but we hope genealogical testing will finally give us the answers we've been looking for," said Addison.

More information about this cold case and others can be found at vpdcoldcases.ca.

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