Investigators in Alaska used genetic genealogy to close the murder of the cold affair of Jessica Baggen, who was raped and killed after she celebrated her 17th birthday in 1996, authorities said on Tuesday.
A suspect identified in the case, Steve Branch, 66, died of suicide last week after state police investigators traveled to his home in Austin, Arkansas, to interview him about Baggen’s murder in Sitka. , southwest of Junau, Alaska Police Department Maj Dave Hanson told reporters.
After authorities attempted to obtain a DNA sample, the Branch denied involvement in the teenager̵7;s murder and refused to provide one, Hanson said. Thirty minutes after officers left to receive an order, Branch died of suicide, Hanson said.
“While the Branch will never face a jury of his peers in this case, we can finally say that Jessica’s case has been resolved,” said Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price.
Baggen disappeared on May 4, 1996, after she left a birthday at her sister’s house to walk home, Hanson said.
Her body, which was found two days later, was buried in the woods, he said.
Nine days later, a man contacted local police and confessed to sexually assaulting him, but no physical evidence linked him to the crime, and he was later released during a trial, Hanson said.
In 2018, cold matter investigators submitted a suspected DNA sample taken from Baggen’s body to Parabon NanoLabs, which uploaded it to public genealogy databases, he said.
Eventually, the Branch emerged as a suspect, Hanson said. He lived in Sitka when Baggen was killed, and he was indicted – and acquitted – of sexually assaulting another local teenager around the time of Baggen’s murder, Hanson said. He moved to Arkansas in 2010.
After a DNA sample was taken from a relative of the Branch, investigators determined it was likely a match with the suspected DNA.
Following Branch’s death on Aug. 3, scientists matched the DNA taken from his body during an autopsy on the suspect’s DNA, Price said.