**CORRECTION: Based on incorrect information provided by police, a previous version of this article listed the wrong name for the woman. The error has since been corrected.
PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — Thirty years after a hunter stumbled across the skeletal remains of a woman off I-196 in Van Buren County, she finally has a name: Marcia Kaylynn Bateman.
Bateman, 28, was from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
“It sounds like she had a lifestyle in which she was living on the street a little bit and somewhat transient,” Michigan State Police Detective 1st Lt. Chuck Christensen said. “So the fact that we have somebody from Oklahoma City who made it up to Michigan could be explained in that way.”
The tool that allowed police to identify Bateman: genealogy testing. It’s being heralded as the biggest investigative breakthrough since fingerprints at the turn of the century and DNA in the mid-1980s.
In April, state police, partnering with BODE Laboratories and the nonprofit DNA Doe Project, submitted a femur bone from the skeletal remains discovered in Covert Township in 1988 to be compared against DNA submitted to a public genealogy database. Kalamazoo Mortgage donated the funds to foot the processing fees.
“We had done everything we could on those remains though the years,” Christensen explained. “Dental records, CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) entries, everything we could do, and we were not able to make an identification.”
But after 30 years of investigative efforts, forensic genealogy testing developed a possible match in just five weeks.
After reaching out to friends and relatives of Bateman’s in Oklahoma City, police, through additional investigation, were able to confirm the skeletal remains as Bateman’s. Family had filed a missing person’s report decades ago after Bateman was last seen in 1988.
MSP said the family was grateful Bateman had been found and hoped investigators could learn exactly what happened to her.
The case is now classified as a death investigation as police work to determine whether Bateman was a victim of homicide.
“The detectives at the Paw Paw Post have been conducting interviews,” Christensen said. “They’ve been working on this very hard to make a determination on the circumstances of what happened and how she came to be in Michigan.”
She often visited Dallas and Los Angeles. MSP is working to determine whether she was in one of those cities before she ending up in Michigan.
Anyone with information about Bateman or who was in the area where she was found in the summer of 1988 is asked to call MSP at 844.642.8384 or email MSP-51TIPS@michigan.gov.
‘IT COULD SOLVE THEM ALL’
Christensen said Bateman’s identification is just the beginning.
MSP’s Fifth District, which covers nine counties, is the primary agency on six other remains cases. The earliest remains of the six were found in 1979, the most recent in 2014. The Fifth District, which is piloting the genealogy testing process for Michigan State Police is working to submit samples from those six cases for testing, a process it hopes to complete in the next year.
“It’s unbelievable,” Christensen said. “It’s just a really powerful tool. When you look at the ages of these cases and the amount of work that’s gone into them, to have a tool where you can get a potential pointer to an identification, that’s huge.”
There are at least 24 cases of unidentified remains through West Michigan and more than 300 statewide.
>>App users: Interactive map of unidentified remains cases
NamUs, the nationwide clearinghouse for unidentified remains and missing people, has 13,000 entries.
An Indiana State Police detective who solved one of the nation’s earliest cases to use gene testing thinks it could have a huge impact.
“Websites like NamUs, ideally this process could eliminate all of their cases. It could solve them all,” Indiana State Police Capt. Kevin Smith said.
INDIANA POLICE USED GENEALOGY TO CATCH CHILD KILLER
Michigan State Police first learned about genealogy testing though Smith, who used it to catch a child killer.
“We had a small child who was murdered and went unsolved for a long period of time,” Smith said.
Smith was a rookie officer in April 1988 when someone kidnapped and killed 8-year-old April Tinsley of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The killer left DNA at the scene and, for years afterward, continued to terrorize the community.
“In 1990, he left some barn writing about halfway from where she was abducted to where she was found, taunting the police and the community,” Smith recalled.
The killer had scrawled a confession the barn, along with a promise that he would kill again.
In 2004, he left threatening notes at homes with small children, including one that began with, “Hi, honey, I been watching you.”
“It was the top of our list to solve the April Tinsley case,” Smith said. “It’s very unusual to have somebody taunt like this so many years after. It’s the only one in my career.”
Smith first learned of the promise held by genealogy testing through a phone call from a woman looking for her birth mother.
“A young lady called the post out of the blue, asking for help locating her parents,” recalled Smith, who said the woman had been left on a doorstep in Angola, Indiana, in 1963.
“She ended up using a genealogical company and locating her parents fairly quickly after 50 years of not knowing who they were. Within just a few months, she found who her birth parents were, and I was amazed at the technology and what it could reach and what it could do.”
Then, in 2018, police arrested the suspected California Golden State Killer with the help of genealogy testing.
“It all kind of made sense then,” Smith said. “(I thought) it’s time to do this. The process is out there.”
Smith submitted DNA from the Tinsley case to a public database where people upload their DNA to trace their roots. Within a couple months, analysts had zeroed in on two possible suspects: a pair of brothers.
Smith said police then obtained DNA covertly from both brothers and, within a few days, had a match with one of them: John Miller.
“In a matter of months, we go from having no idea who did this to knowing exactly who did it and having a full confession. It’s something,” Smith said.
QUESTIONS ABOUT PRIVACY
Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have a lot of concerns about police using the DNA profiles from websites that weren’t created to solve crimes.
But police say they are careful to protect the rights of potential suspects’ relatives found through genealogy sites.
“They (genealogy websites) have an opt-in or an opt-out clause if you want to share your information with law enforcement down the road,” Lt. Christensen said. “And in addition to that … we look at this information as an investigative pointer. We’re not going to use it to confirm an individual for court purposes. What we’re going to do if an individual is identified, then we’re going to go through and develop our probable cause to obtain a buccal swab and test that DNA to our own lab to identify potential suspects.”
The privacy debate is far from over.