In 1996, a 12-year-old Washington state girl was raped and murdered. However, it wasn’t until June 2018, that an arrest was made in the case. How did this happen? DNA technology.

The man arrested is Gary Hartman, and he is accused of killing and raping 12-year old Michella Welch. Donald Ramsdell, the Tacoma Police Chief, has said that computer modeling, police techniques, and advances in DNA identification has led his team to arresting Hartman on June 20th.

This case goes all the way back to March 26th, 1986. Welch and her sisters were in Tacoma’s Puget Park. She left her sisters there and went home to make lunch. About three hours later, Michella’s sisters noticed that her bike and lunch were at the park, but she was nowhere to be found. Just before 11pm that night, the body of Michella was found. DNA was recovered, but police were unable to solve the case…until now.

Before the arrest of Gary Hartman was made, police tried a number of methods to solve this case. For instance, in 2006, they were able to create a DNA profile of the person whose DNA was found at the crime scene. However, they were unable to match that DNA with what was in their database. It wasn’t until 12 years after that, in 2018, that detectives from the Tacoma Police department was able to work with genetic genealogists and track the DNA to family members of the, at the time, unknown suspect. The researchers then used that information, along with public records, to create a family tree. There were two members of the family, brothers, who lived in Tacoma in 1986. Both immediately became possible suspects.

On June 4, detectives began monitoring Gary Hartman. Nothing of note happened that day, but the next day, June 5, Hartman went to breakfast with a co-worker. Detectives took the napkin that Hartman used at the restaurant and sent it in for DNA testing. The DNA that was on the napkin was the same DNA found at the rape and murder scene of Michella Welch. He was arrested for the crime on June 20 after a traffic stop.

Michella’s mother is thrilled by the arrest, and Michella’s younger sister, Nicole, who was only 9-years old in 1986, described her sister like a “second mother,” and said that Hartman cut her sister’s “precious life” short.

This is all wonderful. And right out of a sci-fi movie. OK, so you have nothing to hide right? I have nothing to hide either. But I’m never throwing a napkin away again!

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