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Elodie Kulik and familial DNA - Defrosting Cold Cases

Elodie Kulik and familial DNA

Elodie Kulik

Elodie Kulik

In the night from January 10 to 11, 2002, Elodie Kulik (24) was murdered. She was kidnapped and raped. Her body was set on fire. Her remains were left in a farmer’s field. Her attacker(s) tried to burn anything that could identify them but they didn’t succeed.

The authorities found Elodie’s red Peugeot less than a mile from the crime scene. The passenger door was open, no fingerprints on the door handles, no fibers on the seats, and no tracks to follow. However, one used condom and two cigarette butts would break this case open.

On Jan. 10, 2002, Elodie Kulik went missing after an evening out. Around 11pm, she told her friend that she would take the dark country back roads home to avoid traffic. The last we heard from Elodie was a 26-second screaming call for help to the local fire department around 1220am on Jan. 11, 2002. Two men were heard yelling in the background of Elodie’s call.

A complete DNA profile was taken from the used condom. The search for a match included nearly 2 million arrestees and suspects. No match was found. To make matters worse, the found profile didn’t point to any of the 5500 people targeted by the French police in the Somme region. About 14,000 cellphones were seized. Again none could be connected to Elodie’s murder. Her own phone was never found. But police doesn’t give up and doesn’t forget.

Years later Capt. Emmanuel Pham-Hoai contacted Denver Police Crime Lab Director Gregg LaBerge to discuss familial DNA. Of course, there were many legal issues about privacy and civil rights of family members and the regulations related to international collaborations. However, the call proved to be well placed.

LaBerge suggested that Pham-Hoai cross-checked a rare marker found in the DNA profile against people in France’s national DNA database who had the same rare marker and lived in the region where the murder happened. Pham-Hoai did exactly that.

The same rare markers from the unknown DNA sample pointed to a convict in prison for sexual assault. He had the same Y chromosome (it identifies the male gene). Police then checked his family. They found that the convict had a son, Greg Wiart. Wiart was killed in a road crash a year and a half after Elodie’s murder. Despite dismay of Wiart’s family, a judge ordered his body exhumed to get a tissue sample. It was a match.

This was the first use of familial DNA searching in a criminal case using the French STR DNA database. It holds about 1,800,000 profiles. The identification was based on confirming the Y-chromosome DNA from the putative father, an STR profile from the mother, and finally a tissue sample from the exhumed son’s body. Read more about the technical details here.

In 2013, French police arrested and jailed one of his Wiart’s friends. Willy Bardon is the owner of a small café. Police believe his voice is on Elodie’s 911 call. However, after a year and a half with no charges and no other evidence against him, Willy Bardon was set free. Bardon denies having anything to do with Elodie’s murder. There is no DNA to tie him to her or the crime scene. Despite that, he will stay on the authority’s radar.

Rest in peace, Elodie Kulik.