How advancements in DNA testing cracked a decades-old mystery - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

How advancements in DNA testing cracked a decades-old mystery

Posted:

BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) She was the 27-year-old bank teller who seemingly vanished in 1977 on her way home from work. Nearly four decades after her disappearance, detectives revealed on Monday they had identified the 1993 body found on Bolt Mountain as Margaret Dodd.

How were detectives able to connect the dots after all these years? According to experts, it could be the same technology that helps find her killer. 

"We were able to find a brother of Margaret and have the mitochondrial DNA of those remains compared to his," said Raleigh County Sheriff's Capt. Larry Lilly.

Mitochondrial DNA testing did not even exist when Dodd disappeared in 1997. When her remains were found 16 years later on Bolt Mountain, they were among the first in the country to undergo the new testing. 

"Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from your mother. So you have the same mitochondrial DNA as your mother and your mother has the same mitochondrial DNA as her brother and sister," said Andrew Wheeler an Associate Professor for Forensic Investigation at WVU Tech. 

But Wheeler said the test alone cannot prove a positive I.D. Mitochondrial DNA is different from nuclear DNA, which is unique to each person. 

"You can share the same mitochondrial DNA as your cousins," said Wheeler. 

However, together with other evidence, Mitochondrial DNA can be that missing piece in the puzzle. 

"She had a wedding ring and engagement ring that matched and were soldered together," said Lilly. "The family told us this, even prior to being shown the pictures," said Capt. Lilly.

So is there more evidence out there that could link Dodd to her killer? 

In the interest of preserving the investigation, Capt. Lilly declined to answer whether any other DNA had been collected at the scene. However, according to Wheeler, whether that DNA has been preserved depends largely on the surrounding environment.

"The environment plays a huge role on the degradation of DNA. So if an item was somewhat preserved, shielded from the elements, there may be DNA out there for centuries." 

Wheeler also said Mitochondrial DNA testing is constantly evolving, utilizing smaller and smaller samples to make or break a case. 

"The techniques have improved on our ability to replicate those samples so we're able to use useful samples of smaller and smaller original pieces." 

Why were Margaret Dodd's remains on Bolt Mountain? What was her killer's connection to the area?

Those are the questions investigators need help from the public in answering.

Those with information can call CrimeStoppers at 255-STOP or visit their new website at http://CrimeStoppersWV.com/.  Tips may remain anonymous.
 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) Her disappearance rocked the tight-knit community of Beaver in September of 1977. Nearly forty years ago, Margaret Dodd, 27, left her job at the Raleigh Mall in Beckley and never made it home. 

At the time of her disappearance, two witnesses spotted Dodd en route to her Beaver home pulling off at the old Amoco gas station on Route 19. The father and child who lived nearby said they saw a second car pulled in behind her and a struggle ensued. The witnesses said they left to call police, but by the time they returned, Dodd and her attacker were gone. 

"They knew something was very very wrong," recalled retired Beckley Police Chief of Detectives Frank Pack, who worked 22 hour days in the weeks following the abduction. 

Pack said one of the witnesses described her attacker as 'the Fonz' off of Happy Days, a popular television show at the time. There were many leads during that time, he said, but no body until now.

It would not be until nearly 40 years later that investigators would get a break in the case. In January, Raleigh County Sheriff's Capt. Larry Lilly decided to take a closer look at the case of a 1993 body found on Bolt Mountain.

"There were loose ends," said Capt. Lilly, and he brought in Dodd's family to compare jewelry, clothes, and mitochondrial DNA found on the Bolt body. (Mitochondrial DNA testing was not available at the time of Dodd's disappearance). 

Dodd's family recognized the items, said Lilly, but it was not until this week that he learned the mitochondrial DNA was a match.

"Now, there's people we want to talk to. I've talked a lot with Sgt. Daniel and we're going to be actively working this," said Capt. Lilly, who is working closely with Raleigh County's new Cold Case Committee and Sgt. R.A. Daniel with the West Virginia State Police. 

Sgt. Daniel said he was included in the investigation because of his familiarity with several of the people who were interviewed or witnesses in the case. "It's difficult, but not impossible to convict someone when you don't have a body. But now we have that missing piece."

Why were Margaret Dodd's remains on Bolt Mountain? What was her killer's connection to the area?

Those are the questions investigators need help from the public in answering.

Those with information can call CrimeStoppers at 255-STOP or visit their new website at http://CrimeStoppersWV.com/.  Tips may remain anonymous.
 

Powered by Frankly