Authorities in Indiana said Monday that the 1972 murder of a college student has been solved, marking the latest example of a cold case cleared through DNA testing and genealogy.
Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen identified Jeffrey Lynn Hand as the possible killer of Pamela Milam, 19.
Hand was killed in a shootout with police in 1978 during an attempted kidnapping, Keen said in a news release.
“It’s been a long 46 years, seven months and 20 days,” Milam’s sister, Charlene Sanford, said during a news conference Monday. “Many of us, as we got older, thought we would die before we ever learned who killed our sister.”
"We were happy to know he hasn't been out there living a great life for 47 years," she added.
Milam was last seen on the night of Sept. 15, 1972, leaving a sorority event at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, southwest of Indianapolis, Keen said. Her body was found bound and gagged in the trunk of her car the next night.
“We had no witnesses, no description of a suspect,” Keen told reporters.
Authorities believed a man who was arrested seven weeks later for a series of sexual assaults on campus had also killed Milam. But they were never able to link the man, Robert Wayne Austin, to Milam’s murder, Keen said.
After taking over the case in 2008, Keen said he cleared Austin using DNA evidence obtained from the crime scene.
Last year, Keen began working with Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia-based company that works with law enforcement using DNA, ancestry databases and traditional genealogical work, to try and solve Milam’s murder.
Working with Parabon, Keen submitted a data profile to a public genetic genealogy database. Based on the results, Keen conducted interviews and along with a genealogist eventually narrowed down possible suspects to a single member of one family — Jeffrey Hand.
Hand was previously arrested in 1973 for killing a hitchhiker he picked up, but was freed from prison in 1976, found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.
After tracking down Hand’s widow and two sons, Keen obtained their DNA and submitted it to Indiana’s state crime lab.
The results came back with a 99.9 percent probability that the DNA he’d obtained matched the crime scene DNA, Keen said. When he presented this information to prosecutors, they determined that probable cause existed to pursue an arrest warrant in the case.
Keen said when he became the chief of detectives in 2008, he assigned cold cases to other detectives, but felt it was unfair not to give himself a case. He chose Milam's.
"When I first opened the case I couldn't stop reading it," Keen said, adding that his wife grew frustrated that he spread all the evidence of the case around their house.
"I had no idea it would be 11 years before we had a resolution to this," he said.
Keen believes the type of "genetic genealogy" he used can be what helps solve other seemingly dead-ended cold cases.
"I think there are other families that are waiting for answer," Keen said, adding it's a "shame" if department don't trying using the new technology to solve old cases like Milam's.
CORRECTION (May 7, 2019, 8:18 a.m.) An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of the murder suspect. His name was Jeffrey Hand, not Jeffery.