Calgary case first to be solved by the National Missing Persons DNA Program
For the first time in Canada, the body of a missing man has been identified thanks to the National Missing Persons DNA Program.
On Oct. 4, 2017, a Good Samaritan was cycling in Calgary along Nose Creek Pathway south of 16 Avenue and west of Deerfoot Trail when he stopped to check on a homeless encampment. The cyclist found a man deceased within a tent. The Medical Investigator was called out to investigate and determined the death was not suspicious.
The Medical Investigator determined the man had been in the tent between five and six months. As a result, they were unable to formally identify him through traditional methods such as fingerprinting. They were able to determine the man was 5’4” tall, and somewhere between 25 and 50 years old.
The only personal possessions the man had on him were a heavily damaged cell phone and SIM card. Officers with the Calgary Police Service Missing Persons Unit scoured missing person reports and followed up on possible leads for more than a year. One by one, they eliminated each occurrence.
Members of the Digital Forensics Unit were able to recover some of the data stored on the damaged phone, which led investigators to several chain emails alluding to the phone owner’s identity. Further checks revealed the man was originally from eastern Canada and hadn’t been reported missing. However, basic descriptions of the sender of the emails matched those of the deceased, leading to a preliminary link between the owner of the phone and the body found in the tent.
While officers worked on piecing together the potential identity of the deceased, and identifying potential next of kin, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner sent a DNA sample to a private laboratory. Due to the condition of the remains, three different samples were sent for analysis before a suitable DNA profile could be developed. This process took approximately one year.
Once a suitable profile was ready, it was submitted to the National Missing Persons DNA Program and loaded to the National DNA Data Bank in hopes of a hit.
Operated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the National Missing Persons DNA Program was established in 2018 to support missing persons and unidentified remains investigations. Through the Program, DNA profiles from missing persons and unidentified remains can be compared to the approximately 500,000 DNA profiles in the National DNA Data Bank.
On Oct. 25, 2019, the DNA hit came back matching the name of the man in the emails, confirming the phone did belong to the man who had been found in the tent two years prior. This is the first time DNA submitted to the National DNA Data Bank has been successfully used to identify human remains in Canada. As a result, police were able to notify the man’s estranged family of his death, and the circumstances around it.
“This was someone’s son, someone’s brother. Even though his death wasn’t criminal in nature, it was extremely important to the investigators that we identified him so that we could let his family know what happened to him,” says Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta, Calgary Police Service Missing Persons Unit.
“On behalf of the RCMP, I would like to applaud the hard work of the Calgary Police Service and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. This case illustrates the value of the National Missing Persons DNA Program in assisting missing persons and unidentified remains investigations. It can provide closure to families and link cases that span provinces and jurisdictions. The more profiles we get, the greater our chances of making an identification and bringing more people home. We are pleased to be able to contribute to the successful resolution of this case, and we look forward to assisting more investigations in future,” says Kathy Murphy, Manager, National DNA Data Bank Missing Persons Unit.
The Calgary Police Service is grateful for the dedication of the Medical Investigator and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for their pursuit of identification. The CPS would also like to thank the National Missing Persons DNA Program for its assistance in this investigation.