Seattle police said Tuesday they have solved a murder from nearly 52 years ago with the help of DNA and a family tree — a method that has revolutionized cold-case investigations across the U.S. in the past year.
Susan Galvin was a 20-year-old records clerk for the department in July 1967 when she was found raped and strangled in a parking garage elevator at Seattle Center. Dozens of people were questioned, and one potential suspect — a professional clown who had been seen with her a few days earlier, and who quit his job just a few days later — was never charged for lack of evidence. The clown, located in Utah in 2016, was finally cleared by a DNA test.
Last summer, Seattle police provided the killer's DNA to Parabon NanoLabs in Reston, Virginia. CeCe Moore, a Parabon genealogist who is known for her work on the public television series "Finding Your Roots," used a public genealogy database to create a family tree for the killer and ultimately identified a potential suspect as Frank Wypych, a married Seattle man and former soldier who died of complications from diabetes in 1987.
Seattle police exhumed his remains from a cemetery earlier this year to collect DNA and confirmed it matched that collected from Galvin's clothing. They're now looking into whether he may have killed anyone else while stationed in New York, Alaska and Germany while in the Army.
"It's the oldest case where genetic genealogy has helped to identify the suspect," Moore said Tuesday. "It's amazing the DNA was still viable. The original investigators who collected the crime scene evidence did such a great job, long before they could even have imagined what could be done with DNA."
The use of the public genealogy databases, which contain DNA information from customers of companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, as a powerful police tool has taken off in the past year, since investigators in California revealed that they used the method to identify and arrest Golden State Killer suspect Joseph DeAngelo. DeAngelo, a former police officer, is accused of having murdered at least a dozen people and raped 50 in the 1970s and '80s.
At least 40 cases have been solved since then, including now five in Washington state. Among them were the killing of a young Canadian couple in 1987 and the rape and murder of a 26-year-old woman in 1994.
Galvin had left her childhood home in Spokane a year before she was killed, according to a written statement from one of her brothers, Lorimer "Larry" Galvin, who now lives in Florida. He thanked Detective Rolf Norton, who began reinvestigating the case in 2016.
Larry Galvin released the following statement Tuesday on their family's behalf:
"53 years ago the oldest of the eight Galvin children left home in Spokane to make her own life. She settled in Seattle working for the Police Dept. She survived only a single year when she was taken from us. Those 53 years have seen the passing of Mom, Dad, and sister Arlene. brother Larry had a Naval career and ended up in Florida, sister Patti settled in the California desert, Mike spent his life working for the railroad and retired to a mountain in Kentucky, Chris retired from the City of Spokane, David ended up in Denmark working for Michelin, brother Tony still works and resides in the Spokane area.
The loss was felt mostly by our mother, who did her best to keep us near her. It would be hard for her to lose another child. For her the question was not necessarily who, but why. We children were young and resilient. We found our own ways to cope; as the years passed, we scattered to the winds.
52 years later we learn the who, but still have no clear understanding as to the why. There will always be that lingering question.
The tenacity of Detective Norton and the Seattle Police Department as they conducted their investigation is most appreciated. The family would like to thank them for providing a sense of closure."
The suspect Frank Wypych was 26 and the father of a young child at the time of the killing, police said. He and his wife divorced in 1971, and he was convicted of larceny that year — his only criminal conviction. He served nine months in jail and was arrested for a weapons offense in Seattle in 1975. The department said it no longer had records of the offense, but relatives told investigators he had been impersonating a police officer and making traffic stops in uniform, armed with a gun.
He was living in Federal Way, a south Seattle suburb, when he died.