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Snapshot™ Puts a Face on a Four-Year-Old Cold Case

By January 12, 2015No Comments
Parabon Nanolabs used DNA to capture a snapshot of what the suspect looked liked.

Snapshot composite of a person-of-interest produced by Parabon NanoLabs; released 9 January 2015 by the Columbia SC Police Department.


Carl Alston of Columbia, South Carolina, has been waiting for this day for four years. On 9 January 2011, his daughter, Candra Alston, 25 and her 3-year-old daughter, Malaysia Boykin, were brutally murdered in their Brook Pines Apartments home. That day marked the beginning of a long journey to bring the murderer of his only child and granddaughter “LayLay” to justice.

Investigators have interviewed over 200 people, traveled to several states and collected DNA samples from 150 people. Leads have come from everywhere, but without a DNA match or an eyewitness, the trail to the killer has remained cold. Mr. Alston has not been able to rest knowing the murderer is still on the loose. For the past four years, he has kept the memory of his daughter and granddaughter alive with consistent outreaches to the public through the media, asking for any information that might help the investigation.

On the four year anniversary of the double homicide, Columbia police revealed new information that may soon make it possible to offer a grieving father closure, thanks to a breakthrough technology in forensic DNA phenotyping, called Snapshot™.

Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company located in Reston, Virginia has been developing Snapshot for nearly four-years with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Snapshot gives crime solvers a new way to use DNA.

Current DNA analysis techniques employed by law enforcement attempt to match a DNA sample from a crime scene with the DNA of potential suspects or criminals registered in a DNA database.  This process is definitive when a match can be found, however most DNA crime scene samples do not produce a match.  In those cases, Snapshot provides investigators with perhaps the most pertinent information on the potential suspect – a composite sketch derived solely from DNA evidence.

Ellen McRae Greytak, Ph.D., Parabon’s Director of Bioinformatics explains, “Human DNA encodes the genetic information that largely determines a person’s physical appearance. A copy of this genetic code or “DNA blueprint” exists in every cell of the body, which makes DNA a potentially invaluable source of investigative information. However, traditional DNA forensic analysis ignores genetic content and treats DNA as simply a biometric identifier, a “DNA fingerprint” that can be used for matching to a known individual.”

Dr. Greytak points out that Snapshot takes advantage of modern DNA technology to read the parts of the genome that code for the differences in physical appearance between people. Using sophisticated computer algorithms that have been trained on thousands of reference samples, Snapshot translates this raw genetic code into predictions of physical traits. These are combined to create a highly accurate composite profile, or “digital mugshot” of an unknown suspect or unidentified remains.

“As we see from this investigation, with Snapshot, there is no reason to let a case remain cold waiting for a DNA database hit,” Dr. Greytak added.  “Snapshot can bring renewed hope to the families and friends of crime victims, like Mr. Alston, that their loved ones will get the justice they deserve.”