MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) -- Many unsolved crimes are missing one key piece of evidence. Another look at a strand of DNA could lead to the match needed to crack a case.
The State Crime Lab in Madison is now looking for more genetic markers when they analyze DNA. The goal: find a true match.
"We made that little modification in the search parameters which allows us to now see potentially more matches," says Jenn Naugle, Deputy Director, Wisconsin Crime Lab Bureau.
That "little modification" could prove to be a massive break for investigators. Just ask the Brown County detectives who have been investigating the 2016 murder of Bellevue woman Suzette Langlois.
Target 2 Investigates visited the State Crime Lab in Madison to find out how a newly expanded DNA search helped investigators find their suspect.
HOPING FOR A HIT
The search for Suzette Langlois's killer started Aug. 29, 2016. Her boyfriend had found the 52-year-old mother shot to death in the driveway of her home at 3020 Manitowoc Road.
A gun magazine found in Langlois's car was sent to the State Crime Lab for DNA analysis. There was no match to profiles in the National DNA Database--also known as CODIS.
The case remained cold for two years. On Sept. 24, the Lab received a DNA hit from the gun magazine that matched initial suspect Anthony Kitchenakow, detectives said.
A criminal complaint identified the motive as a drug debt owed by Suzette's boyfriend.
Investigators tell Target 2 Investigates that Kitchenakow's DNA had been in the National Database the entire time. So why did it take two years to make a match?
EXPANDING THE SEARCH
"Forty percent more locations on a DNA strand," Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel says during our visit to the lab.
Crime Lab Bureau Deputy Director Jenn Naugle interjects, "So it takes twice as long."
Naugle continues, "So for every profile that's generated, we've increased by 40 percent of the data that we're looking at."
DNA can break down in heat or water, limiting an already limited sample. There might not be enough to match one of the millions of profiles in CODIS.
An FBI mandate from January 2017 ordered analysts to expand how much DNA they look at in each search.
Naugle says the State Crime Lab had compiled enough data by this summer to adjust the way the CODIS database continually searches for matches.
Analysts used to look for 15 genetic markers on each DNA strand. Now they look at more than 20 markers.
That means a greater likelihood of finding suspects, like Anthony Kitchenakow, who slipped through the cracks in previous searches.
"We might be looking at a few more no matches, but if we actually end up seeing some hits that we might not have previously seen, that's a benefit, and this case just happened to fall into that category," Naugle says.
Analysts are not allowed to talk about Kitchenakow's case in detail. It's still in the court system.
This new method of searching DNA is now the same for all cases.
"We're going to have greater evidentiary certainty. With the heightened sensitivity, we are solving more cases," Schimel said.
IT'S NOT LIKE HOLLYWOOD
Behind the windows of the State Crime Lab, scientists spend all day finding and analyzing evidence. When it comes to identifying the origin of the DNA, it's all in the math.
"They don't just auto-populate," Naugle says. "And it's not beautiful and clean like we see on TV shows, where yes, it matched! And there's a big red light that said you did it!"
Instead of the flashy technology on TV shows, the reality of a DNA case is found in the less glamorous folders lined with paperwork.
"We have to make sure the results we produce are reliable because at the end of the day, we're talking about. ... Forensic testing is somebody's life potentially," Naugle says.
The key is not just looking at a larger number of genetic markers. It's which markers they're looking at. Naugle says it's become a global search.
"So not just in the United States, but are there profiles in Canada we should be looking at," Naugle says. "So we adopted some of the locations--were actually European locations that are being looked at. Because I think at the end of the day, that's where we're going."
The process takes time--and looking at more DNA takes even longer. But Naugle says making that call to investigators is worth it.
"But when it does happen, it's very exciting," Naugle says. "And that's very rewarding. Very rewarding moment."