Through a casual exchange of emails a few weeks ago, Deb Cashion alerted me to a recent article “Police chase DNA of Elmer Crawford relatives in Northern Ireland” that appeared in the Herald Sun. It described the Victoria police search for a DNA family reference for Crawford.
Since I was traveling in Ireland at the time, I offered to help locate the required reference. Deb put me in touch with Keith Moor, the Insight Editor of the Herald Sun, an award-winning journalist and the author of the article. Keith forwarded me two new articles that appeared in the Sun on July 14 “Mystery man was a drifter” and July 15 “Police chase tip to retrieve DNA” that provided more information on the case.
According to the articles, authories were searching for Crawford family members who could serve as DNA references for Elmer. The object was to compare family DNA to that of an unidentified man who had died in a Texas hospital in 2005 who was thought to be Elmer.
Under normal circumstances, Y-DNA would have been used to confirm the Texan as Elmer. Because the Y-chromosome follows the male line of a family as does the family name in western cultures, a Y-DNA match offers the most straightforward method of identifying an unknown male. Elmer could have aged, he could be living under an assumed name, or he even could have had cosmetic surgery to alter his appearance, but he could not have changed his DNA.
Y-DNA matching could not be done in the present case, however, because Elmer was illegitimate of unknown paternity, had no known brothers, and his son was dead. (He killed him). There were no males who would qualify as a Y-DNA reference, so that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) would have to be used instead. Because this type of DNA is handed down along the direct female line of a family, it can be difficult to locate a family member who can serve as an mtDNA reference because the name changes in each generation.
In my experience, the key to success in soliciting someone to give a DNA sample is being well prepared with information about his family pedigree. My first step was to learn as much about Elmer himself as I could.
Elmer was born 18 May 1929 in Quebec, Canada, the son of Anna B. Crawford and an unknown father. His mother traveled to Canada from Tamneymartin, Maghera Parish, Co. Derry, Ireland, to give birth to Elmer. This information allowed me to locate his baptismal record in the Drouin Collection, the largest repository of French Canadian church records. He was baptized 11 June 1929 in Hemmingford, Quebec. One of his baptismal sponsors was his maternal grandmother Elizabeth Crawford. The Sarah Crawford whose burial record appears on the page following Elmer’s baptismal record was probably a relative, perhaps the reason Elmer was born in Hemmingford.
During a brainstorm, I emailed the Maghera District Genealogy and History Society for “Help with a Murder Case”. An immediate response came from Society member Denver Boyd, “We don’t normally get emails as dramatic as yours!”
Denver provided a pedigree of the Crawford family. It seemed ordinary even though one of its branches ended with a cold-blooded killer. He also provided me with the contact information of Gilbert Crawford, a local businessman, auctioneer, and Justice of the Peace. He is also Anna B. Crawford’s nephew. If anyone knew everyone, it would be Gilbert.
In the next few days, with the help of Denver and Gilbert, I discovered that Anna’s sisters had not married and had had no children. It was time to research one generation back, with the hope of finding a female line that had survived.
Elizabeth Kyle Crawford’s family was large. She had four sisters and three brothers. It seemed there was ample probability of success. Yet according to the family chart, of those four sisters, the only one to marry besides Elizabeth was her younger sister Charlotte. Charlote had had three sons and one daughter Kathleen, but Kathleen was deceased and had had no children. I was back to square one.
In a foreign country, internet access can be difficult when you are staying in B&B’s as we were. Libraries usually have terminals for their patrons to check email and surf the web, but it is usually not possible to connect your laptop to their server. If you have to send email attachments, libraries are not much use to you. Drogheda, the largest town near the village where were were staying, did not have an internet cafe, but we were lucky to discover a hotel where I could purchase broadband access. Since my cell phone did not work in Ireland, my personal calls to the Crawford family had to be made over Skype from the hotel. This was a quiet and comfortable arrangement, but it did not allow anyone to call me back.
Nevertheless a lucky mistake led to the sought-after mtDNA reference. After speaking to Gilbert’s sister June, the Crawford family genealogist, I discovered that I had forgotten to ask her for a certain phone number. I was glad I called her back. June had just located her genealogical documents, and discovered that Elizabeth’s sister Sarah had not died in 1901, as indicated by the family chart. The notation shown in the chart was only an abbreviation. The attached pedigree that I had ignored revealed that Sarah had died after 1901. June discovered that Sarah had married, had had two daughters and a son, had lived until April 1979 and that Sarah’s granddaughter Lois still lives in Maghera Parish. By coincidence Lois’ daughter Sheelagh lives in New South Wales, Australia making it convenient for the Victoria police to contact her for a DNA sample.
Although it sounds as if everything fell into place at one time, it took me several days to work out the family connections. We were traveling, and the hotel internet proved too expensive for everyday use. Luckily we discovered that the local McDonald’s offered free internet access with the purchase of a cup of coffee. Free parking was included. Over the next few days, we drank a lot of McDonald’s coffee as I emailed to Keith Moor and the Victoria police Sheelagh’s contact information and the documentation confirming her as Elmer Kyle Crawford’s mtDNA reference. My job was done.
It took a few weeks for the authorities to obtain a DNA sample from Sheelagh, analyze it, and discover it did not match the man who died in the Texas hospital. The man in the hospital is still unidentified, and Elmer Kyle Crawford, who so brutally murdered his young family in 1970, is still at large.
If you have any information on the whereabouts of Elmer Kyle Crawford, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may remain anonymous.
DNA Rule-Out for Cold Case, Australia, 1970 – Part I