Cops unveil new technology to crack 20-year old unsolved murder

Greater Sudbury Police have invested more than $3,000 in new DNA technology in finding a suspect in the homocide of Renee Sweeney.

'Snapshot,' an American-made software, used to update sketch of Renee Sweeney's suspected killer

A computer generated sketch of a white man with short brown hair and glasses is next to a black-and-white drawing of a white man with short hair wearing glasses.
About a year before Wright was arrested, Sudbury Police released a new sketch of Renée Sweeney's killer (left) The original artist's sketch released after her 1998 murder is on the right. (Greater Sudbury Police Service)

Greater Sudbury Police have used new DNA technology to create what they believe to be a more accurate image of a suspect in Renee Sweeney's murder, almost 20 years ago.

The investigative team used a software called "Snapshot," developed by Parabon, a DNA technology company based in Virginia. 

The technology uses something called phenotyping, which is the process of predicting physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA samples. According to Parabon, Snapshot costs $3,600 US per case.

Police say they believe this updated sketch will lead to new information and help them solve the nearly 20-year-old case. By using Snapshot, police can eliminate people who don't fit this more accurate description and put those who do higher up on their list of suspects. 

A black and white drawing of a young white man, with close-cropped hair, wearing glasses
A sketch artist came up with this drawing of the suspect in the Renee Sweeney murder. (Greater Sudbury Police Service)

Snapshot an investigative tool, not an identifier

Snapshot has seldom been used in Canada, and is a more investigative tool rather than something to bring to court.

"We'd never take this picture, and as a result of this picture run out and arrest somebody," Chief Paul Pedersen says. "We take this picture in a direction, and that direction gets us the DNA that confirms it. That's where we're really hoping the public can help us with this."

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The technology confirms the suspect is a white man, a note given by witnesses back in 1998. The fact that he has blue-green eyes, brown-blonde hair, and his ancestry is northern European is thanks to this new software.

Focus on tips from 1998

The man in the image is shown around 25 years old, the age police believe him to be in 1998. The investigative team isn't aging the photo because they're trying to spark memories from that time.

"The aging process presumes that the person is still alive," Chief Pedersen says. "We're trying to get the memories of January 1998, then investigate forward from that."

All information and tips on this case are welcome. Police say they're looking for a name, and where that person could be now.

Renee Sweeney was killed while working as a clerk at the Adults Only Video store on Paris St. in 1998. Her murder remains unsolved, despite police having DNA samples, and other evidence taken from the crime scene. (Supplied)

'Cold doesn't mean uninvestigated'

It's been almost 20 years since 23-year-old Renee Sweeney was brutally murdered in January. Sweeney was a Laurentian University student who was working at Adults Only Video on Paris Street when the suspect came in and stabbed her repeatedly.

Though the 20-year mark is coming up, Chief Pedersen says the police force is still working hard on this cold case.

"The word cold doesn't mean uninvestigated," he says. "There has never been a time since 1998 that the investigation hasn't moved forward and investigators haven't looked at new tips. This highlights investigators keeping their eyes open to techniques going on around the world, and bring it back and use it here in Sudbury."
A grey 1990s sedan is parked in a snowy parking lot of a strip mall in front of a store with a sign that reads 'Adults Only Video.'
This crime scene photo shows Renée Sweeney's car parked in front of the Sudbury store where she was stabbed to death in January 1998. (Greater Sudbury Police Service)

If you have any information, you can call:

  • Greater Sudbury Police Service at 705-675-9171 x 2320
  • Rainbow Crime Stoppers at 705-222-8477(TIPS)