Windsor, Ontario police used genealogical data to crack the 1971 Ljubica Topic murder

Ljubica Topic, 6, was killed on May 14, 1971.  Her case was not solved until 2019.  Windsor, Ontario police this week released the name of the man they believe killed them.  He died in Edmonton in 2019.  (CBC News - photo credit)

Ljubica Topic, 6, was killed on May 14, 1971. Her case was not solved until 2019. Windsor, Ontario police this week released the name of the man they believe killed them. He died in Edmonton in 2019. (CBC News – photo credit)

WARNING: This article provides details about sexual assault and may affect those who have experienced it or know someone who has been affected.

Lead investigator in the Ljubica Topic murder case says police used publicly available genetic data along with DNA from the crime scene to solve a cold case that plagued Windsor, Ontario, for decades.

The six-year-old was kidnapped, sexually abused and killed in May 1971. Police closed the case in 2019 and said they identified their killer but did not reveal his identity at the time.

This week police released his name: Frank Arthur Hall, a neighbor of the Topic family. He died in Edmonton in 2019.

Officers were able to crack the case in part because a relative of Hall’s at one point uploaded her genetic information to a public database, according to Windsor Police Staff Sgt. Scott Chapman, who worked on the case for five years.

“We put Frank Hall’s DNA into this one [genealogical] Databases, GEDmatch and Family TreeDNA… which led to us discovering individuals who shared levels of his DNA,” Chapman explained Friday.

From there, investigators created family trees. They went back generations and then forward in time depending on where the genetic similarities took them. Then they got approval to get DNA samples from a small group of people to exclude people and eventually identify the culprit.

CLOCK | People react to learning the identity of the man police believe killed Ljubica Topic in 1971:

Officials have had DNA in the case since the 1990s and have had it analyzed regularly, Chapman said. In 2015, some material was tested for the first time and it was found that seven different sources of DNA came from the same individual, he said.

Although Hall was deceased by this point, police were able to use a previously collected tissue sample and compare it to the 1971 evidence.

Hall died in February 2019. In December of that year, police announced they had found the person behind the young girl’s murder.

Ljubica’s murder is among several cold cases solved through genetic genealogy in recent years.

The earliest high-profile example is the Golden State Killer case in 2018, although there have also been cases in Canada, including Toronto and Vancouver.

“Our case was one of the first Canadian cases ever to use the technique to identify a perpetrator,” Chapman said.

Genealogy sites like GEDmatch and Family TreeDNA give users the option not to share their genetic information with law enforcement, Chapman said.

Windsor Police Service

Windsor Police Service

When Windsor Police announced in 2019 that they had solved that case, Chapman says it was unclear if they could legally name Hall because there was so little precedent.

That was one of the reasons Hall’s name was withheld at the time, Chapman said, acknowledging that the landscape has changed since then as genetic genealogy has become more mainstream.

Parabon NanoLabs, a US company that helps law enforcement with genetic genealogy, assisted the Windsor Police Department in the case.

Police were eventually able to identify Hall from a distant cousin’s DNA found in a database, said CeCe Moore, senior genetic genealogist at Parabon NanoLabs.

Amy Dodge/CBC

Amy Dodge/CBC

Moore said what the company presented to police was a hypothesis, which they would then have to test in conjunction with other evidence. Ultimately, the police will have to conduct their own DNA tests to confirm the results.

“Investigative genetic genealogy is simply a tip or lead generator. No one will be arrested based on this technology or this technique,” she said.

More said Canadian law enforcement was quick to take notice of the tool.

“We have already solved a few cases [in Canada] but it [the tool] has mostly stayed under the radar like this one,” she said.

Privacy laws in Canada are much stricter, making it harder to identify individuals, and there are fewer Canadians in the publicly available databases, she said.

The police released the name years after the investigation of the case

This week police said a new Windsor police chief and pressure from local media were factors in Hall’s name finally being released.

Before releasing this information, Chapman flew to Edmonton to tell Hall’s family members. They were shocked but showed strength, he said.

“We have to remember that whatever Frank Hall has done in his life is not a reflection of these people,” Chapman said. “They were also victims of this information.”

Dale Molnar/CBC

Dale Molnar/CBC

According to Windsor Police, Ljubica had been playing outside her family’s home on Drouillard Road when a stranger lured her away with the promise of money. She was later found dead near an alley one kilometer from her home. The case attracted nationwide attention.

According to police, Hall lived in the 1800 block of Drouillard Road, less than two kilometers down the road from the Topic family home. According to investigators, Hall later moved to Edmonton and died at the age of 70.

Geraye Smith was 17 at the time. She lived next door to Topics and knew the family.

She remembered the day Ljubica went missing. Together with her father she looked around the neighborhood for Ljubica. Her body was found later that day.

“I’m so surprised to find out that this guy [Hall] Just lived in the 1800 block [of Drouillard Road] and…never noticed him,” she said.

hundreds of prospects

Hall was never wanted in the case, although more than 500 people of interest have been identified over the years.

According to Chapman, police records are unclear as to whether Hall’s home was searched as part of the initial investigation in 1971.

However, Hall was known to police in Windsor and elsewhere, mainly for property offenses such as theft.

“He had a few arrests. Nothing … had anything to do with a sexual nature or a murder,” Chapman said.

Although Chapman’s name was not known to the public, Hall has been brought to the attention of other law enforcement agencies since 2019.

Now that Hall’s name is out, Chapman believes it could lead to more public leads regarding other cases.

“It will potentially breathe new life into various investigations,” he said. “It’s entirely possible.”

Support is available for anyone who has been sexually abused. Here you can access hotlines and local support services Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you are in imminent danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.


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