Cracking cold cases: Athol couple uses genetic genealogy to ID bodies, find killers

  • The research tree indicating Calvin Hoover as the person who killed 9-year-old Canadian girl Christine Jessop. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE

  • Christine Jessop, who was murdered in 1984 at 9 years old in Canada. Her case was solved through a forensic geneology investigation by Athol-based Redgrave Research Forensic Services. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Lee Bingham Redgrave Contributed photo—

  • Anthony Lukas Redgrave Contributed photo—

  • Lee Redgrave wears a neclace with a photo of Christine Jessop, whose murderer the Redgraves helped ID. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Anthony Redgrave with their company logo. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Anthony and Lee Redgrave in the Central Cemetery in Orange. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • A thank you note from the Clark County Sheriff to Anthony and Lee Redgrave. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Anthony Redgrave with their company logo on buttons. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Anthony and Lee Redgrave by the receiving vault in the Central Cemetery in Orange. Staff Photo/Paul Franz.

  • Anthony and Lee Redgrave by the receiving vault in the Central Cemetery in Orange. Staff Photo/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • Anthony and Lee Redgrave in the Central Cemetery in Orange. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 1/18/2021 11:11:22 AM

The murder of 9-year-old Christine Jessop in October 1984 was one of Canada’s most infamous unsolved crimes for decades. She was found about 31 miles away from her home on New Year’s Eve of the same year she was killed. The girl’s family thought they had closure when a man was convicted of the crime and sent to prison — but DNA evidence exonerated him a decade later in 1995.

With the killer still on the loose, police reopened the notorious cold case, rife with stomach-turning details of abduction, rape and murder. It wasn’t until October 2020 that Toronto Police announced they had solved the killing, identifying the culprit as Calvin Hoover, who was 28 at the time of the crime and died in 2015 of an apparent suicide. Hoover was matched using genetic genealogy based off a DNA sample taken from Christine’s underwear.

More than three decades after the murder, the puzzle pieces were put together by Anthony Lukas Redgrave and Lee Bingham Redgrave, who operate Redgrave Research Forensic Services in Athol. The husband and wife team discovered Hoover in just the right spot in their research tree after exhaustive work and put him forth as the suspect. Toronto Police then followed through with other standard means of identification to confirm the Redgraves’ assertion.

“We’re just the closers, basically,” said Lee Redgrave.

Notably, the forensic use of family genetics is the same technology used to catch the Golden State Killer in April 2018.

“Working to find the identity of Christine’s killer was an intense experience. We thought about her family all the way, and of Guy Paul Morin, who, though he was exonerated, was still treated with suspicion and lived under a heavy burden until the real killer was found,” Anthony Redgrave said. “We put every waking moment into looking for a candidate for identification to put forward to the police, because we were driven by the thought of all the pain and uncertainty that was being felt by her family, neighbors, and everyone who had ever worked on her case. ... I don’t know if I can fully describe the emotions I felt when we realized that he was it, because there were so many.”

Police officials announced the findings Oct. 15 of last year. Reporting published at that time noted that Hoover was a friend and neighbor of Christine’s family.

“We didn’t know it had been confirmed until a few minutes before the press conference, when the detective texted us and told us to turn on the TV,” Anthony Redgrave continued. “They’d found a sample in reserve from Calvin Hoover’s autopsy and were able to compare much more quickly than we anticipated.”

Lee Redgrave, 41, was born in Maine and raised in southern California. She said closing Christine’s case was an amazing experience, though she and her husband are not oblivious to the fact that this discovery was devastating news for Hoover’s family.

“That does weigh on us a little bit,” she said, “but at the same time, we’re thinking of the Jessop family.”

This case was a deviation for the Redgraves, whose work typically involves identifying dead bodies, known as “John Does” or “Jane Does.” Before, Lee Redgrave said they had been doing this type of genetic genealogy for adoptees and people who wanted to know about their heritage. Some hire genealogists to build their family tree.

“This is basically the same puzzle, but on ‘hard mode,’” she said, using a video game reference. “When you have an unidentified person, you don’t know when or where they were born. Sometimes, that range can be decades. You don’t know where they are from. ... Adoptees at least usually know where they were born and how old they are.

“The analogy I use is, it’s kind of like playing ‘Wheel of Fortune,’” Lee Redgrave continued. “You’re missing letters and you still have to guess the phrase.”

The Redgraves, who have lived in Athol for about 12 years, started their company last year, having previously worked for others. They also volunteered with the DNA Doe Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed to identify unidentified deceased persons using forensic genealogy. The Redgraves became regional case managers and participated in the solving of two dozen cold cases with the organization.

“I’m a parent as well and … it’s a great motivator to continue this work that is actually really difficult to do. It’s really emotionally intense work,” Lee Redgrave said. “It’s definitely traumatic, to a certain degree, on our team members.”

As a result, Lee Redgrave stressed the importance of self-care habits with the team. She said they planned to soon have a watch party and enjoy “Finding Your Roots,” a PBS series in which Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. helps celebrities dig into their ancestral histories.

Anthony Redgrave, 38, who hails from Baltimore, explained he and his wife are the only employees but they have a group of interns they are teaching and pull them in to assist on particularly difficult and lengthy cases. Right now, they have about eight interns who have assisted on cases.

“Since we just started up our company in the middle of the pandemic, we are still awaiting our first official case submission. Sometimes we reach out to departments to ask if they have any interest in our services, and sometimes they will hear about us from reading about a case we worked on with another company,” he said. “We are setting ourselves up to turn this into our full-time careers, yes, but we are definitely still in the start-up phase. Our field experience that we’ve gained to date has been volunteer or pro bono so as to make a name for ourselves and establish ourselves as leaders in the field.”

Anthony Redgrave said his path to forensic genetic genealogy started because he never knew his father growing up; he used genealogical searching to find his family and reconnect with them.

“I originally learned genealogy with my sister when we were participating in Civil War reenacting together so we could play living history roles of people we were related to. It stuck for both of us,” Anthony Redgrave said. “I love this work because I started learning genealogy to help myself and my own family, so I personally associate the work with love and caring.

“Being able to bring answers to others who have been waiting is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done in my life,” he continued. “Sometimes, those people are families of the missing, and sometimes they’re families of people who were murdered. And sometimes it’s the detectives and coroners themselves who are deeply affected by working these cases and can’t retire until they get solved.”

Anthony Redgrave holds a master’s degree in instructional design and technology. He is now in the dissertation phase of a doctorate in transformative leadership in education at the University of New England in Maine. Lee Redgrave, an adoptee herself, also volunteered as a genealogical research assistance with FamilySearch.org. The Redgraves are also the co-founders and administrators of the Trans Doe Task Force, which works to research and educate people regarding cases involving unidentified transgender victims, and to get them identified via forensic genealogy.

“We want to bring a little more peace to the world, and (helping) these families that have experienced such horrific violence is good place to start,” Lee Redgrave said. “Unfortunately, there’s plenty of work — not the number you want to see when you look at how many cold cases you’ve got lying around. It’s bananas.”

Looking ahead, the Redgraves are interested in working on the case involving “Granby Girl,” a Jane Doe from Granby. The decomposing body of a young blonde woman stuffed under a log was discovered on Nov. 15, 1978. She is estimated to have been 19 to 27 years old and roughly 5-foot-4. She had been shot in the temple, likely three months to a year before her body was found by loggers.

More information about the Redgraves and their company can be found at redgraveresearch.com.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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