Exclusive: Revolutionary DNA Tech Used To Create ‘Serial Creeper’ Sketch

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The sketch released Thursday by police agencies searching for a man who has been spying on and sexually terrorizing women in Coral Gables, Miami and Miami-Dade County, was developed using a new DNA technology that could revolutionize the way crimes are investigated.

“We believe in meeting with the rest of the chief’s upstairs that we haven’t really done something like this before,” said Coral Gables Interim Police Chief Ed Hudak, who released the sketch along with representatives from Miami, Miami Beach and Miami-Dade police departments.

Police believe the man may be responsible for a minimum of 15 incidents and as many as 30 to 40.

The incidents vary from him watching the women through their windows to actually breaking in their first-floor apartments. In some cases he touches the women and on at least two occasions he has raped them. All of the encounters, police say, have a sexual nature to them.

“This is a dangerous individual, we need to get him in custody as soon as possible,” said Miami Police Chief Rudy Llanes.

For more than a year detectives mounted an intense manhunt for this individual, but by July of the investigation had stalled. So they contacted Parabon NanoLabs located in a non-descript office building in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC.

Parabon developed a technology that could revolutionize the way all crimes are investigated.

It’s called DNA phenotyping.

“So DNA phenotyping is just a brand new way to look at DNA and think about DNA from the point of view of an investigator,” said Ellen McRae Greytak, a scientist with the firm. “With phenotyping what we are doing is taking that DNA and reading the actual genetic content out of it and using that to predict what a person looks like because all of that information is written in the DNA – your eye color, your hair color. All of that is in the DNA so it’s just a matter of finding it.”

They can even estimate the shape and structure of a person’s face from the size of their nose to the width of their chin.

Parabon would not discuss the specifics behind the creeper case, but they provided CBS4 News an understanding of how they build a sketch using their Snapshot technology.

“Our investigators want to know what a person looks like and that’s really the focus of the technology,” said Steven Armentrout, the President and CEO of Parabon. “Traditional DNA analysis treats DNA like a fingerprint, whereas Snapshot treats DNA like a blue print, a genetic blue print of an individual, from which a composite can be created.”

In the serial creeper case they were sent DNA from two attacks in Miami which they were able to break down and isolate his genetic code. The scientists then compare pieces of the code to tens of thousands of DNA samples they’ve collected where they know the eye, hair and skin color. They then look to see which codes are the closest match to the Creeper’s code. The technology is rooted in math and a complex series of algorithms.

“DNA is serving the role of the witness and the algorithms are serving the role of the sketch artist,” Armentrout said.

The technology was originally developed for the U.S. military. In the past nine months, however, more than 50 police agencies have used it. It costs police between $3,500 and $5,000 to obtain a sketch.

Police claim this is only the fourth time in the country a sketch has been released to the public.

“This is the thinking outside the box that gets us the step ahead,” said Assistant Miami Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez. “Couple that with the help of the community and I feel very confident we’ll be able to apprehend this dangerous person.”

More from Jim DeFede
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