Genetic Genealogy Leads Florida Police to Arrest in 35-Year-Old Murder of Young Mother

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 Genetic Genealogy Leads Florida Police to Arrest in 35-Year-Old Murder of Young Mother

Captain Charles Mallett was hired by the Pensacola Police Department as a young police officer in 1990. Five years before his hiring, on New Year’s Day 1985, 23-year-old Tonya McKinley was strangled, sexually assaulted, and left on the side of the road. In addition to other family members, she left behind a baby boy.

A few weeks ago, Mallett called McKinley’s now-adult son, Tim—who he has never met—to let him know they arrested a man for the alleged murder of his mother 35 years ago.

“When detectives retired, Tonya’s case was passed along to the next generation again and again. As technology advanced, the case was brought back to the forefront. Detectives laid fresh eyes on all of the evidence, new theories were presented, and hopes of catching Tonya’s killer were renewed. Each time, evil won, just out of reach. For thirty-five years. Until today,” the Pensacola Police Department said in a press release.

As it turns out, newer technology was the key to making an arrest. Police identified Daniel Wells as a suspect after the DNA of a member of his family caught the police’s attention through a genetic genealogy database search. Officers with the Pensacola Police Department then surveilled Wells, collected one of his discarded cigarette butts, and matched his DNA to DNA left at the crime scene.

Mallett said the department had been working the genetic genealogy angle for a year before they were able to gather enough evidence to arrest Wells as McKinley’s alleged murderer.

Wells was arrested on March 18 and held without bail in Escambia County Jail on murder and sexual battery charges.

The Pensacola Police Department posted the heart-wrenching audio of Mallett informing Tim McKinley of Wells’ arrest for the alleged murder of his mother. Listen below.

“The evil that took Tonya from her friends and family was arrested for her brutal murder,” said the Pensacola Police Department. “The reasons why this happened, how evil crossed Tonya’s path, may never be answered and in the end may not be important. What is important is that no one forgot Tonya. For thirty-five years. Her family did not forget. Her friends did not forget. Her son did not forget. And the Pensacola Police Department did not forget.”

Photo: Tonya McKinley and her son, Tim. Credit: Pensacola Police Department.