For the second time this year, Alaska law enforcement has found a suspect in a long-stalled investigation using the new technique known as genetic genealogy.
The case goes back to January 1978.
“A young woman by the name of Shelley Connolly was left on the side of the Seward Highway for dead,” said Alaska State Troopers Col. Barry Wilson during a press conference in Anchorage Tuesday.
“This past Friday, 62-year-old Donald F. McQuade was taken into custody in Gresham, Oregon, and charged with murder in the first degree, and murder in the second degree for the death of Shelley,” Wilson said.
Connolly was just 16 years old when she was found murdered and sexually assaulted. Though investigators interviewed suspects in the past, none of those leads went anywhere.
A break came earlier this year, when the Alaska Department of Public Safety submitted a DNA sample from the case to a genetic database. In the last few years, a number of high-profile cold cases have been revived by so-called genetic genealogy, matching DNA evidence from criminal investigations with records kept by private commercial services.
The Department of Public Safety said the genetic match identified three brothers who could have fit the profile. One of the three, Donald McQuade, lived in Alaska at the time of the murder. According to Alaska State Troopers, a subsequent conventional DNA test on McQuade was a match, prompting his arrest.
Nationally, the same techniques turned up a suspect in the Golden State Killer case in California. In February, officials in Alaska announced they’d arrested a suspect in Maine and charged him with the 1993 murder of Sophie Sergie at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
In both the Sergie case and Connolly’s, investigators say that genetic genealogy played a critical role.
“This guy was never on the radar,” investigator Randy McPherron said of McQuade. “We had no idea that he was involved until this process developed him as a potential suspect.”
According to DPS, McQuade had lived in and out of Alaska. Court records show a number of minor charges over the years, as well as domestic violence and stalking charges, spread between Palmer, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.
McQuade remains in custody in Oregon. Troopers say they intend to try him in Alaska.