Public genealogy website helps police crack cold case murder

Tina Franke and her family joined detectives for a major announcement Monday afternoon.  

Seventeen years after her daughter, Christine Franke, was murdered investigators now say they've arrested the killer.  He's been identified as Benjamin L. Holmes, 38, of Orlando.  

"I honestly thought they would never find him.  This is such a blessing for our family," Tina Franke told reporters.

October 2011, Christine Franke was a University of Central Florida student, majoring in education, when she was found dead in her Audubon Park apartment.  Lead Detective Michael Fields says she'd been robbed and assaulted, the killer had left lots of DNA behind.  

That DNA never matched with an on file in the state's database.  Two years ago investigators sent a sample of the DNA to Parabon Nano Labs which came up with computer generated composite of what Christine's killer could look like.  But even that didn't help crack the case.

"We knew everything about his genetic make up, but we did not know his name," said Det. Fields.  

Earlier this year, OPD teamed up with that same company again and they sent some of the DNA to Gedmatch, a public genealogy.  

"Three of his family members had submitted their DNA up into Gedmatch," said Detective Fields.  

That information helped police put together the suspects family tree.  

"We went out, we interviewed family members.  We received DNA samples to compare against the killer's DNA through kinship testing. Through this testing we were able to shop the kinship relationship between the killer and other family members. We eliminated most of the family using DNA genealogy and  narrowed down to Holmes and his brother."

According to Holmes' arrest warrant, investigators tailed both men.  Police say DNA from a discarded Gatorade bottle eliminated Holmes' brother.  The arrest affidavit reveals that a cigar and beer can they watched him toss provided DNA that turned out to be an exact match to the DNA found at the crime scene 17 years ago.  

Detectives arrested Holmes' with Christine Franke's murder Friday.  He's now being held at the Orange County Jail without bond.

Investigators say Holmes had recently gotten divorced and was managing a fast food restaurant in Orlando.  Records show he's been in trouble with police before, but none of the charges against him were serious enough that they would have required him to give a DNA sample to put in the state database.

A high ranking official with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement tells FOX 35 they're using these same combination of technology and genealogy on several cases across the state right now, three of those cases are right here in Central Florida.