Tip line established
Channel Blend, an Idaho Falls-based call center, volunteered to set up a tip line to take information from those who think they may recognize the sketch or know something else about the crime.
“When we heard about this effort, we met with the police department on a couple of occasions and we came up with a solution that’s fairly simple,” said Jeff Neiswanger, president and CEO of Channel Blend.
To provide information, tipsters can call 1-800-927-1239. They will be given the option of leaving an anonymous tip or asking detectives to call them back.
The Idaho Falls Police Department released a DNA-based sketch of the man who killed 18-year-old Angie Dodge more than two decades ago.
Police Chief Mark McBride unveiled the sketch at a press conference Wednesday morning, emphasizing that investigators have never given up on finding out who killed Dodge in June 1996.
“Since that day the Idaho Falls Police Department has dedicated thousands of dollars each year toward this investigation,” McBride said. “… The Idaho Falls Police Department has spent more time and money investigating this case than any case in the history of this department.”
McBride said the department has spent $43,000 on the investigation over the last four years, including about $3,600 for the sketch.
Ellen Greytak is the director of bioinformatics with Parabon Nanolabs, the Virginia company that produced the DNA sketch. She appeared at the news conference via Skype to explain how the company’s technology — which it bills as a “genetic witness” — works.
“We built a big database of thousands of people where we have their DNA and also their physical appearance,” Greytak said. “… We basically can find parts of the DNA that correlate with differences in eye color, facial features, ancestry, all of that. … With that we can make predictions about a new subject.”
What DNA can say
Scientific evaluation of Parabon’s technology is still in its infancy. Greytak said the company is working to publish the first scientific paper on the reliability of its technology.
The DNA reveals important details about the killer’s appearance, Greytak said.
The killer was almost entirely of northern European descent, and likely has fair to very fair skin. His eyes were dark brown or hazel. His hair color was light brown or dark blonde. He most likely had some freckles but was not heavily freckled, though there’s about a one in three chance that he was heavily freckled or had no freckles.
Many in the Idaho Falls area share those characteristics. The 2000 census indicated that 92 percent of the population in Idaho Falls was white. Brown is the most common eye color among Caucasians.
Greytak said the technology also allows Parabon to make informed estimates of the shape of a suspect’s face, such as the shape of the nose, the height of the cheekbones or the protrusion of the brow.
But because the technology relies solely on DNA, the snapshot can’t guess how his life history could have effected his appearance. He could have been 600 pounds with face tattoos, a long beard and a shaved head, for example. Or he could have been gaunt and clean-shaven with long hair. He could have been in his teens or an old man, since DNA remains the same throughout life.
On matters such as these, the DNA is silent.
“We can only predict things that are in the DNA,” Greytak said. “We can’t predict how they have lived their life.”
Carol Dodge, Angie’s mother, remarked that the man in the sketch looks a little too clean-cut.
“A person who just committed a horrific crime doesn’t look like they just walked out of church,” she said.
Parabon’s track record
Greytak emphasized that the snapshot is more useful to exclude suspects than it is to identify a particular individual. For example, it doesn’t make any sense to pursue suspects who are black, Hispanic or Asian since there’s a high degree of certainty that the killer was white. But just because a man resembles the sketch doesn’t mean he is likely to be the killer.
“There isn’t going to be just one person in the world who matches (the sketch),” she said. “… You’re looking to exclude people on a suspect list who really do not match these characteristics.”
The Idaho Falls Police Department is utilizing the sketch to try to generate new leads.
Greytak said Parabon technology, which was first used in 2014, has aided in identifying 11 suspects so far. Most of those cases are still in their early stages, she said, but two have been reported on publicly.
One was the identification of Jose Alvarez Jr., who killed a couple in their North Carolina home in 2012, which Forensic Magazine documented in January. There was one witness, the couple’s teenage daughter, but Alvarez was wearing a hood during the crime. She was unable to identify him.
There was one good clue: During the crime Alvarez accidentally cut himself, leaving blood on a stair railing. Police had their eyes on several suspects, including the daughter’s boyfriend and his family. But after they tested the Y chromosome DNA of the boyfriend’s father, Jose Alvarez Sr., they concluded that no one in the family could have done it.
But police didn’t know that Jose Alvarez Jr., the boyfriend’s brother, wasn’t Jose Alvarez Sr.’s biological son.
Police eventually had a Parabon Snapshot produced, and it bore a resemblance to Jose Alvarez Jr. Police tested his DNA, and it was a match.
Jose Alvarez Jr. pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without parole, according to local reports.
A second case involved the 1997 murder of 26-year-old Sunny Adrienne Sudweeks in Costa Mesa, Calif. In that case, police identified Felipe Vianney Hernandez Tellez as the likely killer using a DNA sketch and fingerprints. Hernandez Tellez is believed to be in Mexico, and police are seeking to extradite him, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Still holding out hope
For Carol and Brent Dodge, Angie’s mother and brother, the release of the sketch keeps hope alive that someone may come forward with important information about the crime.
“People may not recognize this particular picture, but I really believe that someone knows something,” Carol Dodge said. “Maybe they’ve been too afraid to say something. I really urge anybody, if they possibly may have heard something to call.”
For those who are unsure whether their information could be valuable, it’s best to call and let investigators sort out what’s useful and what isn’t, she said.
Brent Dodge remembered that when he first found out that something terrible had happened, it was through a pager. At that time, no one could have imagined that DNA left at the scene could have produced a sketch of the killer.
“I was impressed with the presentation,” Brent Dodge said, adding that he was also impressed with the amount of time and effort investigators had put in over the years. And he said the sketch provides some new information that could be valuable.
“It excludes those with blue eyes,” he said. “It excludes those who are African American. It excludes those with black hair.”
Carol still hopes she will get the resolution she has sought for nearly 21 years.
“I don’t know why my daughter was killed,” she said. “I don’t know whether it was a crime of passion or a hate crime. I do not know. I just know that I want the person who killed my daughter.”
Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 542-6751.