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Toronto police identify woman found dead in 2017 by tracing DNA to Switzerland

Written by on May 22, 2024

Toronto police say DNA tests helped identify a woman found dead in Lake Ontario in August 2017 by leading investigators to her Swiss relatives, the latest cold case cracked by investigative genetic genealogy.

Police say in a press release that the woman’s DNA matched that of someone reported missing in Switzerland earlier that year.

The woman was discovered at Humber Bay Shores Park in Etobicoke with no identification or possessions.

Police say they launched a Canada-wide investigation with multiple public appeals, but no leads emerged.

They say genetic genealogical testing later found distant relatives in North America, ultimately tracing them to a region in Switzerland.

Police say the woman’s death is not considered a criminal matter and her identity will not be released.

Det. Sgt. Stephen Smith from the homicide and missing persons unit said genealogical testing was essential to identifying the woman.

“In this case, the subject was actually from Switzerland and here visiting Canada. So we have to look way outside our borders — missing people have no borders,” Smith said in an interview.

“When we have unidentified human remains, using (investigative genetic genealogy) was the only possible way we ever would have been able to solve this case and provide this lady with her name back,” he added.

The testing process took more than a year, partly because the woman did not have many genealogical matches, he added.

Identifying her required collaboration with multiple agencies and Swiss investigators, Smith said.

“The goal is to identify this person and allow the families to start their healing process and figure out what happened to their loved one.”

Smith said there are currently 18 cases of unidentified human remains from Toronto undergoing genealogical testing and more cases could soon be solved.

“This is the way to go,” Smith said. “We can solve every unidentified human remains in Canada if we all work together. That would give hundreds, if not thousands of people their names back and allow them to be returned to their family.”

Genetic testing has been credited with solving cold cases across Canada.

High-profile successes include the arrest last year of Joseph George Sutherland, who pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of Erin Gilmour and Susan Tice in 1983.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2024.

Rianna Lim, The Canadian Press