Trish Hurtubise was drawn into Shirley Ann Soosay’s story in a startling personal fashion when she discovered her own DNA loosely connected her with the murdered, unclaimed woman. (Contributed)

Trish Hurtubise was drawn into Shirley Ann Soosay’s story in a startling personal fashion when she discovered her own DNA loosely connected her with the murdered, unclaimed woman. (Contributed)

B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped, stabbed to death and then dumped in an almond orchard near Bakersfield, California.

For 40 years she remained unidentified – a Jane Doe.

Last week, it was confirmed publicly. She was given a name and a family, with a Princeton woman at the heart of solving a decades-old mystery that might have been cribbed from a television forensic series script.

Trish Hurtubise, 46, is a genealogist who has worked on at least 150 private cases, connecting adoptees with birth parents and siblings.

“I help people resolve the unknowns,” she told The Spotlight. “It’s a passion.”

Two years ago, Hurtubise was drawn into Soosay’s story in a startling personal fashion.

She discovered her own DNA loosely connected her with the murdered, unclaimed woman.

And so, she began working with the DNA Doe Project (DDP), a U.S.-based not-for-profit group dedicated to identifying Jane and John Does.

Related: Red Dress Day honours Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous people

The Kern County Sheriff-Coroner’s Department handed DDP the case in 2018, just a year after the organization was founded.

A blouse worn by the dead woman, preserved in a police evidence box, gave up just enough decomposed genetic material to produce a DNA sample that proved the victim was of Indigenous descent.

That data was uploaded to GEDmatch, an online database able to cross-reference DNA findings from various commercial providers like Ancestry.com and 23andMe. The submission eventually found several distance matches, including Hurtubise, which indicated she could be anything from a third to an eighth cousin.

The DDP search began centring its investigation around Cree Nation communities in Western Canada.

Hurtubise was so intrigued with the case she underwent the DDP’s training program, officially becoming one of the group’s 55 volunteers and just one of a few working from Canada.

Approximately 2,000 hours of research went into identifying Soosay. The process involved building “hundreds of family trees,” one for every remote DNA match in GEDmatch, and then connecting them to one great grandparent, said Hurtubise.

It also included combing through countless newspaper articles about missing Indigenous women, always looking for a clue.

Hurtubise is a member of Couchiching First Nation. “When you are going through these missing and murdered women, you read the stories and you read the outcomes. You go to bed very heavy, very heavy, like heartbroken heavy.”

Knowing the victim she was trying to help was a family member wasn’t the hardest part.

“It’s not just being related. It’s just about being a woman. It’s overwhelming sometimes. I guess knowing as much as I do about my family, and knowing I have extended cousins that are missing or have been murdered, it desensitizes the shock part. As a non-native you find out your cousin Lucy has been murdered and it hits you like waves. With me, it’s like, ‘Well, not again.’”

Related: Five years pass with no peace for families of North Okanagan-Shuswap missing women

When the DDP was able to narrow down the geographic area Soosay’s close relatives were likely to live – Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba – the group flooded Indigenous social media platforms in those provinces with a composite drawing, based on a postmortem photograph.

Her niece Violet Soosay came forward. “I was surprised at my feelings,” said Hurtubise. “We were thinking how good it would feel once we solved it, once we figured it out.

“But when it finally happened it was a feeling of grief, too. It was happiness that we did it, but then it was also knowing that someone was now finding out their loved one is gone.”

Gina Wrather was the DDP’s team lead on the investigation.

She said the outcome was the best possible result.

“She (Violet) explained that she had been looking for her aunt for 40 years. At that point, they had travelled all over Vancouver, all over Seattle, visited hospitals and visited cemeteries. It’s cases like this that make it worth it to do this work, to bring a resolution to a situation just like this.”

DNA evidence, generally, has been admissible in U.S. state courts since 1988, several years after Soosay was killed.

However, it was also DNA that identified and convicted her killer, when she was still nameless. Material from beneath her fingernails, again saved by police, was matched with a sample collected from Wilson Chouest.

Chouest was serving a life sentence for a string of abductions and rapes when his DNA linked him to Soosay’s murder and that of another woman in the same area. He was found guilty of those crimes in 2018.

His second murder victim remains unidentified and is also a project of the DDP.

Just days ago, Hurtubise accepted a new private investigation, an attempt to reunite a birth family.

She continues to actively volunteer for the DDP but is unable to comment on still open cases.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:andrea.demeer@similkameenspotlight.com


 
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

crime

 

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photograph and circulated on social media. Image DDP

Just Posted

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)
WATCH: Sandhill cranes an unusual, joyful sight in Saanich parkland

The birds don’t often touch down in the south of the Island

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

(Victoria Cool Aid Society/Facebook)
Victoria food drive aims to feed those also struggling with housing

Quadra Village furniture store hosting drive-thru event Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Victoria police are asking for witnesses who might have information about this tricycle that was stolen in downtown Victoria on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Police seek witnesses after downtown Victoria company’s tricycle stolen

The three-wheeler was taken from the 2100-block of Store Street on Thursday

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Freighters have becomd abundant in the Trincomali Channel on the east side of Thetis Island.
Nanaimo ponders taking on waste from nearby anchored freighters

Vancouver-based Tymac petitioning the Regional District of Nanaimo to accept waste at its landfill

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: When was the last time you visited the mainland?

The films are again lighting the screens at local theatres, the wine… Continue reading

Most Read