GEDmatch Helped Give 'Annie Doe' Her Name Back. Some Fear She's Among the Last as Site Revamps Privacy Policy | Inside Edition

GEDmatch Helped Give 'Annie Doe' Her Name Back. Some Fear She's Among the Last as Site Revamps Privacy Policy

Annie Lehman was identified after 48 years.
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Advancements in DNA technology and resources available through genetic genealogy websites, such as GEDMatch, have led to the solving of dozens of cold cases, but its reworked privacy policy may make doing so going forward more difficult.

For three times longer than she walked this earth with an identity to call her own, the girl whose bones were found scattered in the Oregon woods was known by the name she was assigned in death. 

She was “Jane Doe – Josephine County 71-940,” or “Annie Doe” as she would later come to be called, for 48 years, a girl with no identification, no home and no known loved ones. A girl with no history. 

“For so many years, you feel like you have a sister with no name, with no face,” retired Detective Sgt. Ken Selig told InsideEdition.com of taking on such a case and with it, the mission to do what hadn’t been possible for nearly a half century: give the girl her name back. 

And finally that day would come when earlier this year, Selig learned that Annie Doe may have a family of her own. It was a revelation that would open the door to a chance at closure and the answers that have long eluded investigators and the loved ones unsure of what happened when that girl disappeared so long ago.

“All those years that I spent on a daily basis investigating … murders of kids, innocent folks, you deal with that and take it with you,” Selig said. “But there’s a certain amount of satisfaction and comfort that overcomes the pain and suffering that you take with you. In amongst the tragedy you see the good. [This case] is a win – we know who she is, and she’s going home.”

That semblance of a happy ending was only possible through advancements in DNA technology and resources available through genetic genealogy websites, such as GEDmatch, Selig said. But it’s one that some fear may again become a pipe dream for other investigators as access to those same resources are rolled back to quash the growing concerns surrounding privacy rights.      

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GEDmatch has been the main database used by law enforcement trying to solve cases by linking DNA collected in investigations to the genetic data uploaded by others on the site. Connecting the genetic material they had to others is a way for authorities to identify relatives of possible suspects and victims and further narrow their scope of investigation.

The technique proved effective. 

In April 2018, police announced they arrested the man they believed to be the Golden State Killer, whose reign of terror included at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes and more than 100 burglaries across California from 1974 to 1986. Cops said evidence samples collected during the investigations into his crime spree matched James DeAngelo Jr., who has since been charged with 13 murders and numerous sexual assaults. He has not yet entered a plea.

That arrest seemed to lead to dozens more, as law enforcement agencies from every corner of the country announced the closing of decades-old cold cases, the identifying of John and Jane Does, and the capturing of suspects long thought to have gotten away. 

“The [arrest of the alleged] Golden State Killer – that happened and people said, ‘Oh, it’s worth it. That’s a special case and we all want that guy off the street, we’ll let violent crime be solved [using the site],’” forensic genealogist Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick, founder of Identifiers International and co-founder of the DNA Doe Project, told InsideEdition.com. 

“Then law enforcement goes, ‘Hey, if they let that big awful crime be solved, they’ll be OK with much lesser crimes,’” she continued. “[They say] ‘We have this very violent crime … there’s this assault, and they really have to be OK with [the arrest of] a teenager that committed that assault.’”

Police in Utah in April arrested a high school student for allegedly breaking into a Mormon church and attacking an elderly woman five months earlier. The unnamed teen’s arrest came after police uploaded a DNA profile from the crime scene to GEDmatch. The upload fell outside of GEDmatch’s terms of service, which only permitted police investigating homicides and sexual assaults to use the site, but the site’s officials made an exception. 

“This case was as close to a homicide as you can get,” GEDmatch founder Curtis Rogers told BuzzFeed News, which broke the news that GEDmatch made an allowance that led to the teen’s arrest. “The victim was reportedly in great fear that he would return to end her life. It was a difficult decision, but I decided to allow [the] use of genetic genealogy in this one case and take full responsibility for this decision.”

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Critics pointed to the arrest as a sign that the concerns they held that the privacy of users on the site was being violated by allowing police to also utilize its resources were not unfounded. GEDmatch has since changed its terms of service so that users now have to clearly choose, or “opt in,” to have their DNA profiles be included in law enforcement searches. 

"Up until now, GEDmatch had always been an open, welcoming, sharing place where anyone for any reason can upload a file and compare it to other people in the database,” Dr. Margaret Press told InsideEdition.com. “The next day [after GEDmatch changed its privacy terms] suddenly none of our Does had any matches at all.”

With Fitzpatrick, Press founded the DNA Doe Project, an organization that uses genetic genealogy to identify John and Jane Does. They often turned to GEDmatch in their work, and until mid-May, found success there. 

“Twenty-something cases advanced through the genealogy area,” Fitzpatrick said. “Of the cases that have advanced — 20-something — we’ve solved half of them.”

Among those cases the DNA Doe Project was able to help solve using GEDmatch was that of Annie Doe. 

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On Aug. 18, 1971, a father and son were traveling through northern California and southern Oregon when they decided to rest along the Redwood Highway in Josephine County. 

They came to stop near milepost 35, about 7 miles away from Grants Pass. 

“They decided to spend the night and the next morning they wake up, walk into the woods to relieve themselves and the son sees a scapula,” Selig said. “And then they come across the skull.”

The remains police said were dumped in the grass belonged to a young female, believed to have been 16 when she died. She had laid out among the trees for some time, reduced to nothing but bones, some hair and the clothes she had on her back when she took her last breath. 

“They’re treating it like a homicide although at that time, the remains were completely skeletonized,” Selig said of the investigators who first took up the case. “Her coat, her shoes, her pants, her underwear, and all those things, were basically tattered. They did the usual at the time, which was to have the teeth analyzed and documented, they examined the bones for any type of injury and they put out fliers notifying the police agencies … they had no cause or manner of death at all.”

Inside the girl’s pants pocket was a map of northern California camp sites. She also had a couple of rings, baubles that didn’t cost much and were easy to come by, but that contained a clue investigators hoped would help them lead to the girl’s identity. 

“She had a mother of pearl ring, it was widely mass produced at the time, a piece of costume jewelry,” Selig said. “But inside were the initials, scratched in: A.L.” 

Despite police’s efforts, the case went cold. No one came forward to claim the girl as their own and her bones sat in a cardboard box collecting dust.

“At that time, there was a lot of influx from a lot of counter-culture, communal type people … moving north. Not far from this location were two semi-well-known communes,” Selig said. “It wasn’t uncommon for young kids to be traveling, hitchhiking. [Police] did all they could, they were limited and they really couldn’t identify who this person was.” 

Then in August 2004, cold case detectives inspired by advances in forensic science reexamined the case. Forensic artist Joyce Nagy set out to create a clay reconstruction of the girl’s face. She styled the girl’s hair, pulled her coat from evidence and presented her approximation of what the unidentified teen would have looked like to police. 

“She nicknamed her creation ‘Annie,’ so she became Jane Annie Doe,” Selig said. 

The image was circulated nationwide and leads poured in, but the case again went cold. Investigators then entered Annie Doe’s DNA into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS. 

“Again, nothing,” Selig said. 

Selig retired in 2012, but continued to work on the Annie Doe case for free. In late 2016, forensic isotope analysis of Annie Doe’s hair, teeth and bones indicated she was most likely from the northeast portion of the U.S., specifically New England. That information was circulated across the nation, but again, DNA failed to find a match. 

Then in February 2017, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children funded and sponsored a case study of the investigation into Annie Doe’s death through the DNA Doe Project. 

“A sample of bone was sent to their lab, analyzed … they developed an enhancement system that allowed them to take degraded DNA … that was able to provide us DNA results and sequencing that would allow the information to be put into GEDmatch,” Selig said. “They got results.” 

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Investigators found relatives of Annie Doe living all across the world. 

“They started to identify cousins in New Zealand, England, Canada, and eventually that led them to a half-niece,” Selig said. 

The woman had written in her genealogical profile that she knew she had a “half-aunt” born in August 1954 who had disappeared. The woman wrote that her family believed the woman to be dead, but were uncertain, and noted that her half-aunt’s name was Anne Lehman. 

Convinced their match was sound and bolstered by the ring containing the initials A and L Annie Doe had with her when she died, researchers from the DNA Doe Project pressed on. 

“Then they found her sister, who was still alive,” Selig said. 

Selig called the woman, who was now in her 70s, to explain what by that point, was surely inconceivable. 

“What do you say? After 48 years?” Selig said. “I called up and said, ‘My name is Detective Selig, I want to talk to you about what I think might be your sister.’”

Selig visited the woman in person to collect a DNA sample and learn more about the sister she lost decades earlier. 

“I’m thinking to myself, 'This is what Annie looked like, or would have looked like, if she lived,'” Selig said. 

The woman explained that her family’s history was a sad and complicated one. She and her sister who disappeared in 1971 were two of three children born to Albert Lehman, a Canadian World War II veteran and Norma, an English woman who met her future husband while he was stationed in Sussex during the war.

They moved back to Canada together and eventually settled in the Pacific Northwest. Life in the logging and port town of Aberdeen was far from idyllic, as Albert’s drinking gave way to bouts of violence and abandonment that left his family scrounging for scraps for months at a time. 

The woman’s younger sister got involved in recreational drugs, including marijuana, and when she was offered the chance to get out of her family’s home, she took it. The woman recalled visiting her family one day to find her sister packing her bags, saying she was moving out to live with a woman her sibling had never before met. 

About 10 days after leaving home, a postcard appeared in the mail. It was from the woman’s younger sister and it read: “I’m with my boyfriend, don’t bother looking for me, I love you.” 

But the woman told Selig her sister “was an angry child and she would not have said I love you.”

Several weeks later, the woman’s husband began investigating his wife’s teen sister’s disappearance, and eventually tracked down the stranger the girl had left home with. 

“This gal said she was paid a new wardrobe and a new car to sell her into prostitution,” Selig said, details which he said he has not yet been able to corroborate. 

The teen was never reported missing — “Police didn’t do it then,” Selig said — and the family found no further leads into where their daughter and sister had gone. Anne Lehman, who was known by family and friends as “Annie,” had simply vanished. 

“In 2004, Joyce Nagy names her Annie, and in fact, that was what her name was,” Selig said. “I felt it was some kind of divine destiny … I think and I believe that, now that I met the family.”

Selig left with the story of Annie and her sister’s DNA, convinced he had finally found some answers. 

“Here’s this guy, me … can offer her nothing at the moment and nonetheless, she thanks me for all the work and never giving up,” Selig said, clearing his throat. “Gave me a big hug and then I leave. And three weeks later, GEDmatch proves to be worth its weight in gold and we confirm: Jane Doe, Annie Doe, Josephine County, 1971, now has a name, now has a family, is going home.”

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After confirming Annie Lehman and Annie Doe were one in the same, authorities have begun the process of transferring her remains to her sister. 

“They’ll have a memorial and they’ll put her to rest,” Selig said. “I told her sister that at the very least, I want to send flowers, and she said, ‘No, I want you to plant a tree.’ I think it’s a fitting memorial, she was found amongst the trees.”

Were it not for the work of the DNA Doe Project and the access authorities had at the time to the genetic material hosted on GEDmatch, Annie would still be sitting in a box, Selig said. 

“The leads we thought we had meant nothing to anyone who knew her,” he said. “There was no connection that was even possibly linked to Annie whatsoever.”

Neither the clothes nor jewelry found near her remains were familiar to those who knew Annie. 

“Nobody remembers those clothing, nobody can place her in those clothing,” Selig said. “Annie didn’t have any jewelry; she wore a leather strap. So where did this jewelry come from?” 

The isotope analysis that pointed investigators toward New England also proved to be incorrect.

“She had never been to the New England states,” Selig said. “What does that tell us? Isotope readings are not a reliable source.

“What does that leave us?” he continued. “The only way to find or match people with long lost relatives is DNA, ancestral DNA found on GEDmatch.”

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Selig’s work on Annie Lehman’s case is far from over. 

“Every single time I go over there and pass milepost 35 I look over to the east, I can see Annie,” he said.

“I want to know who she spoke to, what her last known location was; somebody talked to her, somebody asked her a question. Her features were striking. She was a beautiful gal. Somewhere along the lines she stopped for a cup of coffee or something to warm up.” 

It’s unclear how and when Annie died. How she traveled from Aberdeen to Josephine County is also a mystery. Who she was with and how she came to scratch her initials into a mother of pearl ring remain unanswered as well.

But Selig has a theory.

“The ring, I believe, was Annie’s attempt to leave some clue as to who she was,” Selig said. “Either she was hitchhiking or she got picked up or she fell into company with bad people, and the only clue she could leave was to scratch her initials — and it was an important clue.” 

Genetic genealogists like Fitzpatrick and Press also still have their work cut out for themselves. 

“We’re still working,” Press said. “Our jobs just got 10 times as hard, which just means we’re working 20 times as hard.”

Their hope is more people than not will choose to opt in on GEDmatch, allowing once again law enforcement and other organizations, like theirs, to view their profiles. 

“You need to log on and specifically change the setting to opt in,” Perry said. “I think it will take upward of a year, and then it will mostly be new people [signing up who choose to opt in].”

Selig urged users to choose to opt in, saying: “No one believes in a person’s personal rights more than I do. But if you can do that, you’re contributing to your communities in ways you could never have ever imagined.”

Anyone with information concerning Anne "Annie" Marie Lehman’s disappearance and her activities in years 1970 and 1971 is urged to contact Detective Ken Selig of the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office at 541-474-5113. The case number is #71-940.

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