Local News

Forensic genealogy helps solve cold cases like Faith Hedgepeth murder

Posted September 20, 2021 4:36 p.m. EDT
Updated September 20, 2021 7:25 p.m. EDT

— Only four days after his arrest, a Durham man was indicted Monday in the 2012 slaying of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student Faith Danielle Hedgepeth.

Miguel Enrique Salguero-Olivares, 28, remains in the Durham County jail without bond on a charge of first-degree murder.

Hedgepeth, a 19-year-old sophomore, was last seen alive around 4 a.m. on Sept. 7, 2012, when her roommate left their off-campus apartment. The roommate returned about seven hours later to find Hedgepeth dead.

An autopsy determined she had been beaten to death, and investigators said an empty liquor bottle was used.

DNA found at the crime scene nine years ago recently matched a DNA sample from the suspect, authorities said, but they have declined to say how they obtained Salguero-Olivares' DNA.

No search warrants with details of how investigators linked him to the crime have been returned.

"If there is DNA left, it doesn't matter how old the case is, there's still a possibility it can be solved using forensic genealogy," said Leslie Kaufman, a forensic genealogist who often volunteers her services to help law enforcement solve cold cases.

Kaufman didn't work on the Hedgepeth case but said she has followed it closely over the years.

"Law enforcement doesn't give up, and whenever there's a new tool to be used, they utilize that," she said. "I think, in the Hedgepath case, they did that – exactly that. They did use every single tool they possibly could."

Over the years, police gathered and tested about 200 DNA samples in the case. Because Salguero-Olivares had never been charged with a felony before, no DNA samples from him were in any crime databases. At that point, Kaufman said, investigators often turn to forensic genealogy to build a suspect profile and then use commercial DNA databases, such as Ancestry.com, to find possible relatives.

"Once you upload that into your public databases and begin building [family] trees, you still may have to wait a long time to get a close enough match to be able to build a tree that is going to lead you to the suspect," she said. "The forensic genealogy is ... only as good as the records that you can access."

Authorities have declined to discuss any relationship between Hedgepeth and Salguero-Olivares, but they noted he wasn't a person of interest at the beginning of the investigation.

"It seems like, going forward, DNA just keeps getting better and better, and our ability to use it in criminal cases keeps getting better," Kaufman said.

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