New DNA Technology Produces Computer-Generated Image of Suspect, May Help Solve 1980 Cold Case Killing
Robin Brooks' sister tells PEOPLE, "She was a sweet all-American gal"
Police in Sacramento are hopeful an ambitious new technology will help them solve a 37-year-old cold case homicide.
On April 24, 1980, Robin Brooks, 20, was found bound, raped and stabbed inside the bedroom of her California apartment. Despite authorities’ having a full DNA profile of the suspect from the crime scene, the suspect has not been identified.
Now, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department is hoping DNA “phenotyping” will help solve the case. Phenotyping technology uses the DNA evidence from a crime scene to create a computer-generated image of the person in question.
The department decided to try the new technology because no matching profile of the suspect has turned up in any federal or state felon DNA databank. An annual familial search for a relative has not come produced a match either.
“I have been working on this case since 2006,” retired Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Michaela Links tells PEOPLE, adding that the suspect’s DNA has been in a federal database since 2004. “We have done familial testing four times and probably eliminated 50 people. Just about everyone she knew has been eliminated. We have had no hits in all of these years. It has always been a ‘whodunit.’ ”
Links says it is the first time the technology, which cost the department $4,000, has been used in Sacramento.
According to the profile, the killer is a black male. The technology also recreated what the suspect may have looked like in 1980 and what he might look like now. It also provided the person’s hair, eye and skin color and biogeographic ancestry.
“The tool is primarily for exclusion,” Dr. Ellen Greytak, Director of Bioinformatics for Parabon NanoLabs, Inc. tells PEOPLE. “There is only so much we can determine from the DNA, and that is why we say the image is not a photograph — but it is a likeness and it gives us some information about who you should and shouldn’t be looking for. By going public, the hope is it jogs someone’s memory and helps solve the case.”
However, Greytak says the technology cannot predict a person’s age or weight.
Victim ‘Out Here for an Adventure’
Brooks, a New York state native, had only been living in her apartment for five weeks when she was killed.
“She followed her sister out to California and had only been in Sacramento for six months,” says Links. “She was young and was out here for an adventure.”
On the night of her death, Links says Brooks, who was working at a donut shop, got off of work at midnight and stopped briefly by a high school party before going home.
The following morning at 11, friends knocked on her door but there was no answer. When she didn’t show up to work at 4 p.m. her friends returned to her ground floor apartment and asked the landlord to let them in.
“We don’t know if she was accosted on the walk home, or if someone from the party accosted her, or she went into the apartment and someone was there,” says Links.
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The coroner put her time of death around 2:30 a.m.
Links says there were no signs of a break-in and the front door and sliding back door were locked from the inside. “We suspect the suspect went out the bedroom window when he exited the apartment,” she says.
Sister of Victim: ‘I Feel a Lot of New Hope’
Phenotyping has been used by different law enforcement agencies in the last few years. In March, the U.S. Army, working with the Colorado Springs Police Department, used phenotyping to put together a sketch of the alleged killer of 20-year-old Army Spc. Darlene Krashoc, according to ABC. Krashoc, who was stationed at Fort Carson, was found dead March 17, 1987 in the parking lot of a restaurant.
And on Monday, the technology was successfully used to help solve the 2009 killing of Sierra Bouzigard, whose body was found in Moss Bluff, Louisiana.
The arrest of 31-year-old Blake A. Russell in Bouzigard’s case came about after the Calcasieu Sheriff’s Office received a tip based on a sketch using phenotyping of the alleged killer that was released in 2015, KPLC reports.
At first, the police believed Bouzigard’s killer was a Hispanic man because she was last seen with several Hispanic males the night she died. However, the profile, which was done by Parabon, came back matching a white male.
After the tip came in, officers followed Russell and surreptitiously obtained a DNA sample, according to KPLC.
Brooks’ sister Maria Arrick says the new technology brings her hope that one day her sister’s murder will be solved. “I feel a lot of new hope,” she tells PEOPLE. “She was a sweet all American gal. She missed out on a great life.”