Experts treat 30-year-old murders as if they just happened

Tacoma police are trying a new technique to crack 30-year-old cold cases.

TACOMA, Wash. — Composite images made public in Tacoma could reveal the faces of two killers responsible for murders committed 30 years ago.

Using technology called DNA phenotyping, Tacoma police and the Virginia based company Parabon Nanolabs produced the computer generated composites using evidence found after the murders of 12-year-old Michella Welch and 13-year-old Jennifer Bastian three decades ago.

“These two 1986 child murders occurred at a time when the technology we know today did not exist,” said police spokeswoman Officer Loretta Cool at a Tuesday news conference.

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Phenotyping allows scientists to determine what those killers may have looked like based on their genetic and ancestral profile. And while the technique can't determine age, weight, or their exact appearance, it can approximate what the men may have looked like using their DNA.

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“These are some of the first cases in which this technology is being employed,” Parabon founder and CEO Dr. Steven Armentrout told KIRO 7 from his office.

“Essentially we’ve reverse engineered the human genome such that the algorithms can predict appearance from those DNA samples.”

Tacoma police released the images as they mobilized the Child Abduction Response team in a bold effort to treat two cold case murders as though they just happened.

Welch was found in Tacoma's Puget park in March 1986, Bastian five months later in Pt. Defiance park. Both had been raped and murdered.

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At first police thought both murders were the work of the same man, until 2013, when a re-examination of evidence proved there were actually two different killers. No possible suspects were ever identified.

The goal now is to find new evidence from new witnesses who did not go to police 30 years ago.

“We’re hoping that this will push us over the edge that we need to solve these,” said Cool.

A tip line has been set up to take information generated by the sketches and descriptions.  Call 253-798-TIPS (8477)