Cold Case Victim Identified as Indigenous Peoples Woman

1980 Kern County Case Solved by Genetic Genealogy

Shirley Soosay

Sebastopol, CA – April 23, 2021 – The Kern County Sheriff-Coroner (KCSO) and the DNA Doe Project (DDP) announce the identification of Kern County Jane Doe 1980 as Shirley Soosay, a member of the Cree Nation. She is one of the first Indigenous Peoples Does to be identified using genetic genealogy. Ms. Soosay was found in an almond orchard near Bakersfield, California, in 1980 and was an unidentified victim of suspected serial killer Wilson Chouest. 

In July of 2018, Kern County Sheriff-Coroner Division Chief Dawn Ratliff contacted DDP hoping to resolve the woman’s identity using genetic genealogy.  Because the DNA was so highly degraded, it took nearly a year to obtain data which could be uploaded to GEDmatch. Genealogical work on the case did not begin until May 2019.

Based on the genealogy research, it was determined that the deceased woman descended from Indigenous First Nations People from Canada, a population which is under-represented in most DNA databases. Team Leader Gina Wrather noted, “This case was particularly challenging because Indigenous family histories are usually relayed orally, so there is little written genealogical documentation available.”

The identity was solved when a close family member recognized an artist’s rendering of Kern County Jane Doe and saw the information about her likely origins, both of which were posted as part of a DDP Facebook outreach campaign. When the relative uploaded their DNA profile to the GEDmatch database the identification was confirmed.

The DNA Doe Project wishes to acknowledge the contributions of those groups and individuals who helped solve this case: Kern County Sheriff-Coroner Division Chief Dawn Ratliff who brought the case to us; Othram for DNA sequencing; Dr. Gregory Magoon, contracting through Full Genomes Corp., for bioinformatics; Family Tree DNA for upload to their database; GEDmatch/Verogen for use of their tools and database; Carl Koppelman for his artist’s rendition of Jane Doe; and DDP’s dedicated teams of volunteer genealogists who work tirelessly to bring victims home. We also recognize the assistance of the Métis Family Website Resources & Discussion Group who have supported our research on Cree family trees.

Chief Coroner Ratliff summed up the team’s efforts, “This is not about solving crime although it may be a by-product. This was about finding family who had missed her but did not know where to look.”

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About the DNA Doe Project

The DNA Doe Project, Inc. is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to identify John and Jane Does and return them to their families. The genealogy research is pro bono, but the organization relies on donations to fund lab costs when agencies cannot afford them.  To date DDP has made over forty-five confirmed identifications. Discover more at https://dnadoeproject.org.

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