Case Update February 15 2022 –
Nearly 70 years ago, on January 15th, 1953, a Vancouver Parks Board employee discovered the skeletal remains of two young children near Beaver Lake in Stanley Park in the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It is estimated that their bodies had been there for at least five years. It was determined that the two children were hit on the head with a hatchet located in the same area of where the bodies were found. In 1996, DNA was first extracted and STR profiles were produced for both children, who were previously thought to be a boy and a girl. Analysis showed that the children were both boys, and that they were half siblings sharing a mother in common. However, the STR profiles were unable to produce the identities of the boys. In 2021, the Vancouver Police Department and Redgrave Research Forensic Services began collaborative work to obtain autosomal DNA profiles for the children, and to utilize forensic genetic genealogy (also known as investigative genetic genealogy) with the goal of determining the identities of the boys known widely as “The Babes in the Woods”. Working with Lakehead University, HudsonAlpha, and bioinformatician Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations, Redgrave Research Forensic Services were able to obtain a DNA file that was suitable for upload to GEDmatch for the older one of the boys, and forensic genetic genealogy work began on January 17th, 2022. The genealogy team worked tirelessly to arrive at the right family group, and reported to Vancouver Police Department with the name of a possible mother for the children on January 31st, 2022, and the names of living family members for investigators to contact for confirmatory testing, as no immediate relatives were in the GEDmatch database. On February 9th, 2022, following the Vancouver Police Department’s request, family members were able to follow our instructions on how to download the raw data from the DTC company site and upload that DNA test to GEDmatch, so that we could perform a 1:1 direct comparison between that family submitted DNA data and the DNA sample from the child. When we compared the tests, it was 100% conclusive that our hypothesis was correct. The identities of the Babes in the Woods are confirmed to be Derek and David D’Alton of Vancouver, BC. Our thoughts are with the family as they process this news. Our thanks go out to all of the investigators and lab personnel, and our amazing team of forensic genetic genealogists for their hard work on this case.
Lead Forensic Genetic Genealogists
•Lee Bingham Redgrave
•Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, ON
•Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations
Case Update January 31 2022 – On January 17th, we received fantastic news from bioinformatician Kevin Lord at Saber Investigations! The second attempt to sequence the DNA of the older boy of the Babes in the Wood by HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology was successful, and we were able to upload his kit to GEDmatch! Our team of forensic genetic genealogists got to work analyzing the DNA profile and building out trees of cousin matches right away, and we are feeling very optimistic. We are fully dedicated to reaching an ID, and hope that we will have more good news to share with you on this historic case soon!
Case update Oct 27 2021 – The first attempt to sequence DNA data was not successful, so the decision was made to go back to perform another extraction. Our team was notified today that Lakehead University’s paleo DNA lab was able to get a more substantial second extraction and we are feeling optimistic about making another attempt at sequencing!
Press release via Vancouver Police Department (18 May 2021):
Vancouver – Vancouver Police think modern science could provide new clues in one of the city’s oldest unsolved murders, and hope DNA from the victims can lead to a break in the case, which has puzzled investigators for nearly 70 years.
“No homicide case is ever closed before it’s solved, and for decades our investigators have chased down leads with hopes of someday identifying the victims and people responsible for this unsolved crime,” says Sergeant Steve Addison, VPD. “Now, advancements in science, combined with peoples’ interest in learning about their own ancestry, has created an exciting new opportunity for VPD to finally get some answers.”
The case – known in popular culture as Babes in the Woods – dates back to 1953, when skeletal remains of two boys were discovered by a groundskeeper near Beaver Lake, in Stanley Park. The children’s skulls had been bludgeoned by a hatchet, which was found near their bodies, and they were covered by a woman’s coat. It’s believed the children, aged 7 and 8, were killed in 1948 and laid undiscovered for five years.
“We still don’t know who these boys were, why they were in Vancouver, or who killed them,” adds Sergeant Addison. “But, we hope genealogical testing will finally give us the answers we’ve been looking for.”
VPD has contracted Redgrave Research Forensic Services, a Massachusetts-based forensic genetic genealogist company, to study DNA recently extracted from the victims’ bones. Using public DNA databases, such as GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, Redgrave Research hopes to identify living relatives who share the same DNA as the murder victims. They’ll do so by comparing the DNA from the victims to people who have submitted their DNA to private companies to learn about their own ancestry.
“With so many people curious about their ancestry and willing to submit DNA for genetic testing, we think the Redgrave team can build a family tree for these boys and possibly identify others who are related to these young victims,” adds Sergeant Addison. “This process could give us new leads to follow, and we hope it will finally help us give these boys a name and identify their killer.”
Visit www.vpdcoldcases.ca to read more about VPD cold cases or to submit a tip.
Redgrave Research Forensics Services has paired up with the Vancouver Police Department to identify two unidentified boys, known as “The Babes in the Wood”, found in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1953.
At the scene, the two children’s skeletal remains were found with a hatchet (which was later determined to be the murder weapon), a woman’s coat used to cover the bodies, one woman’s shoe, and two children-sized avaiator helmets. Thought to have been killed as far back as 1947, the two half-brothers were aged 7-10 years. They were thought to be a boy and a girl until their DNA was tested for the first time in 1998.
The boys’ remains have been examined multiple times throughout the decades, and the case is featured in the Vancouver Police Museum. The case has been covered by several television documentary series and podcasts. Investigators in recent years have attempted advanced DNA testing but the attempts were unsuccessful until now.
Redgrave Research Forensic Services was able to assist investigators in finding a lab experienced in DNA extraction from much older remains and facilitated the Vancouver Police Department’s submission of bone samples to Lakehead University’s Paleo-DNA Laboratory in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Upon successful extraction, Lakehead University then shipped the DNA extract to the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama. Once sequencing of the extract is complete, the resulting file will be sent to Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations for bioinformatics.
We would like to thank Aida Rodriguez of the Vancouver Police Department, Laura Yazedjian of the Vancouver Coroner’s Office, Lakehead University for the DNA extraction, HudsonAlpha Discovery for whole-genome sequencing, and Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations who will do the bioinformatics. This case will be co-team led by Anthony Redgrave and senior intern Olivia McCarter.