Update: The Unsolved Murder of Brad Bellino; Forensic Genealogy Testing Continues

By Carolyn Berardino

Law enforcement continues to pair forensic genealogy and good old-fashioned police work to search for the person responsible for the 1972 murder of 12-year-old Brad Bellino in Boardman. The middle-schooler disappeared during Easter break while walking home from a friend’s house the night of Friday, March 31st. His body was found four days later in a dumpster behind a shopping plaza, just two miles from where he was last seen. He had been sexually assaulted and strangled with a child's-sized belt.

On Tuesday, Boardman Police Chief Todd Werth said that forensic genealogy testing, which began last year, is ongoing. Currently, voluntary DNA samples are being collected to seek out potential relatives of the unidentified suspect, whose DNA was discovered during the reinvestigation of the case nearly 15 years ago. These voluntary samples are used to build out a family tree of the unknown suspect, confirming or eliminating potential branches. The hope is that this process will eventually lead police directly to the perpetrator. The most recent sample was sent to the lab just eight weeks ago.

As was previously reported in an exclusive “Philosophy of Crime” article, police were able to recover the DNA of the killer from evidence that had been in storage for more than 30 years. The unidentified suspect’s DNA was entered into CODIS, the FBI’s national database, but no match was found.

In 2018, the DNA was sent to Parabon Nanolabs for further testing. Parabon describes the process of familial DNA testing on their website:

By comparing a DNA sample to a database of DNA from volunteer participants, it is possible to determine whether there are any relatives of the DNA sample in the database and how closely related they are … This information can then be cross-referenced with other data sources used in traditional genealogical research, such as census records, vital records, obituaries and newspaper archives…When a genetic genealogy search yields useful related matches to an unknown DNA sample, it can narrow down a suspect list to a region, a family, or even an individual.

While the process takes time, and nearly a year has passed since they began the familial DNA testing, Werth said, “We haven’t hit a dead end yet.”

Carolyn Berardino is a freelance writer from Youngstown, Ohio.  She can be reached at berardinocarolyn@gmail.com.

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