Anne Arundel County Police Use DNA Snapshot to Aid Identification of Baltimore Murder Victim, Leading to Arrest and Confession

A Snapshot summary report created from DNA and an actual photograph of the victim.

Anne Arundel County, Md. (12 Feb 2018)  Detectives at Anne Arundel County Police explained today how a new forensic DNA technology, called DNA phenotyping, ultimately led to the arrest of a Baltimore resident for murder.  On 29 January 2018, Baltimore Police charged Taras Caldwell with the murder of his girlfriend, Shaquana Marie Caldwell, bringing closure to a case that began in Anne Arundel County on 14 June 2017 when Anne Arundel County Police received a report that skeletal remains had been found in Glen Burnie, Maryland.  The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that the decedent was a female approximately 20 years of age and that foul play was suspected in her death.

In the fall of 2017, after initial investigative efforts failed to reveal the victim’s identity, Anne Arundel County Police contacted Parabon NanoLabs with a request to use the company’s Snapshot® DNA Phenotyping service to generate a likeness of the victim to assist with identification.  “We had engaged Parabon on such cases in the past and felt it would be the most efficient way to get to a positive identification,” said Anne Arundel County Police Detective Sgt. Rob Price.  Snapshot’s analysis of the DNA indicated the victim was of African American ancestry, with brown to dark brown skin, brown eyes, black hair, and no freckles.  Thom Shaw, a certified forensic artist at Parabon, performed a facial reconstruction from the victim’s skull and digitally combined it with the DNA predictions in order to generate an image of how the victim may have looked when she was alive.  “The ability to fine tune a Snapshot composite with details from a skull gives the best possible likeness of an unidentified victim,” says Shaw.

Anne Arundel County Police disseminated a bulletin to area law enforcement containing the Snapshot report and a description of clothing and jewelry found at the crime scene.  Shortly thereafter, the Baltimore City Police Department contacted Price and advised there were several similarities between the Glen Burnie victim and a Baltimore missing person.  Dental records were compared to the victim, and on 13 November the unknown victim was positively identified as Shaquana Marie Caldwell.

With this information, Baltimore Police began an investigation into Shaquana’s death, which quickly led to the arrest of Taras Caldwell, her boyfriend (they share the same last name, but were not married), who subsequently confessed to the murder.  Baltimore Police reported that, during an argument, Taras Caldwell strangled Shaquana in an apartment in Baltimore and then disposed of her body in a wooded area in Glen Burnie.  He was apprehended in Park City, Utah after violating his parole by leaving the state.  Caldwell had been released on parole after serving 17 years of a 30-year sentence for the death of another woman in July 1998.

After he was taken into custody in Baltimore, Taras Caldwell went with Baltimore city homicide detectives and FBI agents to the area where Shaquana Caldwell’s body had been found.  He confessed to the murder and was able to point out the exact location where he had left the body.  Taras Caldwell is currently being held pending trial.  Det. Price remarked, “This case provides a great example of the potential for DNA phenotyping to assist with the identification of skeletal remains.”  He added “Most of these unidentified individuals are victims of crime, and the investigations into their deaths cannot begin until we know who they are.”