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Local Column

Olson: Science turns DNA into eyewitness

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Office released three renderings created by Virginia-based private laboratory, Parabon Nanolabs. The images are based on DNA collected at the scene that allowed the company to create a picture of what the killer might look like (clockwise from top left) at ages 18, 25 and 40: a fair-skinned main with blonde hair and blue eyes.
The DeKalb County Sheriff's Office released three renderings created by Virginia-based private laboratory, Parabon Nanolabs. The images are based on DNA collected at the scene that allowed the company to create a picture of what the killer might look like (clockwise from top left) at ages 18, 25 and 40: a fair-skinned main with blonde hair and blue eyes.

This week, we published three images of what the man who killed Patricia and Robert Wilson probably looks like – or at least, resembles.

The next time the killer appears on our cover, let’s hope it’s in the flesh.

The day is coming. Someone killed Robert, 64, and his mother Patricia, 85, on a Sunday evening Aug. 14, 2016, after breaking into their house at 16058 Old State Road outside Sycamore, and we all want justice for their family and friends.

How helpful these newly released images, which predict what the killer might look like at 18, 25 and 40, will be remains to be seen.

At a minimum, they helped get the two-year-old investigation back into the headlines. There is still a $50,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of the killer, which can be claimed through DeKalb County CrimeStoppers.

A desperate need still exists for this information in order for police to solve the case. It is not too late to speak up and do the right thing.

Does anyone out there recognize the person in the images? Sycamore is full of blue-eyed white guys. Although they released these composite images this week, the police have had access to them for some time and it hasn’t led them anywhere, despite the use of facial recognition technology.

But maybe it will jog someone’s memory. Or maybe it will make them realize they hadn’t put something together before, and they should have.

The faces have a rather clean-cut appearance, although the FBI-created profile in this case suggests that the killer was a transient with ties to Sycamore, who might have been bumming rides around town in the days before the killings.

The man also might have had ties to the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, where Patricia’s white Chevrolet Impala – the only thing taken from the Wilson house – was found legally parked days after the crime was discovered.

The lack of eyewitnesses and the long delay from when the bodies were discovered until the vehicle was found have put investigators at a disadvantage. By the time they found the car, the trail had gone cold.

But the DNA evidence investigators recovered from the scene will be waiting whenever it heats up again.

That DNA evidence in itself is something of a witness. DeKalb County Sheriff’s investigators took it to a Virginia-based company called Parabon Nanolabs, which used a process called DNA phenotyping to give us a basic idea of who police are looking for.

By analyzing the killer’s genetic code, scientists can predict with reasonable certainty the suspect’s ancestry and gender, along with the color of the eyes, skin and hair, whether the person has freckles and the shape of the face.

The company’s web site shows several comparisons between DNA-predicted images and the actual faces of people eventually arrested. Sometimes there are differences in their weight, facial hair or other cosmetic features, but their basic look is usually pretty spot-on.

It’s only a matter of time until we can compare a suspect’s face with these photos. Someone knows something. Eventually, they will speak up.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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