On July 13, 1967, Susan Galvin was found dead in a parking garage elevator at Seattle Center. The 20-year-old administrative employee at the Seattle Police Department, who moved to Seattle from Spokane, Wash., a year earlier, had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
For more than 50 years, detectives have searched for a suspect in the unsolved murder, until a break in the case came a year ago, when Seattle police employed the same science and legwork that led to the arrest last April of a suspect in the notorious “Golden State Killer” case in California.
Relying on DNA evidence collected at the scene of the murder, detectives turned to a free genealogy website called GEDmatch to look for matches in its database of voluntary submissions. What they learned through ancestral links, further research and the creation of a family tree allowed them to zero in on a previously unknown suspect.
On Tuesday, during a meeting at SPD headquarters in downtown Seattle, Chief Carmen Best, alongside Homicide Detective Rolf Norton, turned to Chris Galvin, a surviving brother of Susan Galvin, and said that after almost 52 years, police were confident that they had identified Susan’s killer.
“We never give up,” Best said.
And Norton, a 24-year member of the department, with 18 as a homicide detective, said he was amazed at every turn by the evidence collection, investigation through the years and finally technology that allowed he and fellow detectives and scientists to solve the case.
“The fact that we’re here today and to be able to talk about what we could do with forensic evidence that was collected 51 years ago is astounding to me,” Norton said.
A death at Seattle Center
Unlike the “Golden State Killer” case, in which 73-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo was identified and arrested as the suspect behind multiple killings and rapes across California, Seattle police won’t be bringing anyone in alive.
Frank E. Wypych, the newly discovered killer in the Galvin case, died in 1987.
According to police, Wypych grew up in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and graduated from Pacific School in 1959. He served a stint in the U.S. Army in the early 1960s and was 26 years old and a married father of one living in the Seattle area at the time of Galvin’s murder.
Wypych worked general labor and security jobs and was known to visit Seattle Center during his leisure time. The sprawling events center built for the 1962 World’s Fair, and home to the iconic Space Needle, was a burgeoning hub of activity.
Galvin was a civilian records clerk at the Public Safety Building in downtown Seattle — “she was one of us,” Norton said Tuesday, rattling off her SPD serial number. She lived in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood, adjacent to Seattle Center, and was also known to spend her off time there.
After failing to show up to work a midnight-to-8 a.m. graveyard shift on July 10, 1967, Galvin was reported missing and an investigation into her whereabouts began on July 12.
On the evening of July 13, 1967, Galvin’s body was found by an attendant in a Seattle Center parking garage at 300 Mercer Street. The garage, which had been closed for several days, provided access to an elevated walkway above the street which Galvin reportedly used to get to the bus she took to work.
The crime scene was processed using techniques available at the time — fingerprints were lifted from the elevator and garage area. Autopsy evidence samples were collected and Galvin’s clothing was entered into the department’s evidence files. Homicide Detectives Archie Porter, Dave Grayson, Henry Aitken and William Sands began an investigation which lasted well in to the next decade.
Wypych divorced from his first wife in 1971 and was arrested for larceny that year and sentenced to nine months in jail. He remarried in the mid-’70s and lived at various times in locations around Seattle, including South Park, West Seattle, White Center, Burien, SeaTac, and Federal Way.
He was living in Federal Way when he died in April 1987 from complications related to diabetes, police said.
New technology, new leads
DNA evidence was first used to gain a conviction in the United States in a 1987 rape case in Florida, and it ushered in a new era of police procedure in which samples were collected from suspects to use against them in court. The FBI established a database of DNA profiles in the 1990s to be used to help determine whether convicted felons could be tied to other crimes.
Seattle homicide detectives reviewed the Galvin case in 2002 and submitted items associated with the victim from the crime scene to the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory (WSPCL) for DNA analysis. WSPCL scientist Lisa Collins was able to recover DNA from semen on Galvin’s underwear, but when the profile was searched in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), no match was located.
Norton began re-investigating the case in October 2016.
At one point he even tracked down a man who worked as a clown at Seattle Center during the time of Galvin’s murder. Witnesses told original case detectives that Galvin was seen talking to the clown on the afternoon of July 9. The man was interviewed by police in 1967 but released.
In November 2016, Norton re-interviewed the man and obtained a search warrant to collect a DNA sample. Back at the WSPCL, the DNA failed to match that recovered from Galvin and the man was cleared as a suspect.
In July 2018, the suspect DNA from Galvin’s clothing was submitted to Reston, Va.-based Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company. “Solve your toughest cases — FAST!” reads a tagline on a company web page touting a service called Snapshot, which includes tools such as genetic geneaology, which helps identify a suspect by matching their DNA to one or more family members.
The suspect’s profile was reformatted and entered into GEDmatch, the public genealogy website. Parabon genealogist CeCe Moore then conducted genealogy analysis of the results from GEDmatch and located ancestral links — two distant cousines — to the offender profile.
Additional ancestral research led to the creation of a family tree associated with the suspect and Wypych emerged as SPD’s main person of interest from that analysis.
It was determined that Wypych still had offspring living in the area, and in January, Norton contacted a relative of Wypych and received consent to collect a DNA sample from that person, which was then submitted to the WSPCL for comparison to the suspect profile.
Norton stressed on Tuesday that the Wypych family has been nothing but cooperative.
“The family of Frank Wypych has not done anything wrong and therefore I would consider them peripheral victims of this whole incident,” Norton said.
Around the same time in January, Rachel Forbes, a latent print examiner with SPD, now had a name to check on, and she dug into an old evidence file to find prints recovered from inside the elevator in which Galvin was murdered. She was able to match a palm print recovered from the elevator control panel, and lifted during initial crime scene processing, to those taken from Wypych in 1971 when he was arrested for larceny, SPD said.
With the family tree evidence and now the print match, Norton had what he needed to get a search warrant to exhume the remains of Wypych at a cemetery in King County.
On Feb. 26, SPD Homicide detectives, CSI detectives, WSPCL scientists, and the forensic anthropologist from the King County Medical Examiner’s Officer collected a DNA sample from Wypych’s remains, 32 years after he was buried, and nearly 52 years after the death of Susan Galvin.
The samples were submitted to Bode Technology, a private DNA testing and genealogical research lab in Lorton, Va., and last month scientists there extracted a DNA profile. The profile was submitted to the WSPCL on April 12 and it was confirmed that the DNA recovered from Galvin matched the DNA of Frank Wypych.
Privacy vs. police work
In a story last April about the genealogical technique used to identify DeAngelo, the alleged California serial killer, The Washington Post reported on how familial DNA searches were on the fringe of forensic science.
AncestryDNA boasts more than 10 million people in its database “to provide people with deeply meaningful insights about who they are and where they come from.” Other popular sites include MyHeritage (around 2 million) and 23andMe (around 9 million).
And while police and detectives are chomping at the bit to put the data and science to use to catch criminals, others, according to the Post, would rather not see widespread adoption of the technique, for fear of “turning us all into potential informants.”
“You allow that low-quality potential evidence to start being searched in these unregulated databases,” Stephen Mercer, a former public defender who helped pass a ban on familial search in Maryland, told the Post. “You’re casting a wide net of suspicion over many, many people.”
In 2015, Wired reported, in a story titled “Your relative’s DNA could turn you into a suspect,” that highly publicized success stories can obscure the fact that the science isn’t foolproof.
The searches look for DNA profiles that are similar to the perpetrator’s but by no means identical, Wired reported, calling it a scattershot approach that yields many fruitless leads, and for limited benefit.
“For the most part, law enforcement has used the website GEDmatch for all of these cases, and GEDmatch does not keep it a secret that they are cooperating with law enforcement,” Norton said Tuesday, referencing other recent cracked cold cases. “Now there are other genealogy websites that have not made it a secret that they are not cooperating with law enforcement so that’s someone else’s battle.”
Norton said the technique is not a slam dunk. Pieces have to fall into place regarding the suspect’s DNA profile, and there has to be a bare minimum of DNA sample. There is also a good deal of cost and time associated with the process.
“Hopefully things are going to get easier as technology advances like it always does, right?” he said.
A story in The New Republic after DeAngelo’s arrest in California stated that that case underscored how Americans may not realize how new technologies can be used against them.
“Do you realize, for example, that when you upload your DNA, you’re potentially becoming a genetic informant on the rest of your family?” Elizabeth Joh, a UC Davis law professor who studies the Fourth Amendment and technology, told the magazine.
It all has the potential to become a debate pitting the public’s value for privacy against the public’s desire to catch killers.
One lingering question
For the family of Susan Galvin, finding out today that there is finally a suspect tied to the death of the young woman in Seattle so many years ago only provides part of the answer.
Galvin was the oldest of eight children when she left Spokane in 1966. In a statement from her brother Larry Galvin, provided by SPD, the 53 years since have seen the passing of their mother, father and a sister, Arlene.
“The loss was felt mostly by our mother, who did her best to keep us near her. It would be hard for her to lose another child,” Larry Galvin wrote. “For her the question was not necessarily who, but why. We children were young and resilient. We found our own ways to cope; as the years passed, we scattered to the winds.”
While acknowledging that the “tenacity” of Detective Norton and the Seattle Police Dept. was “most appreciated,” Galvin thanked them for a “sense of closure.”
But while science and DNA data and police work have combined to provide one missing piece of the puzzle, technology will be hard pressed to solve the remaining mystery.
“52 years later we learn the who, but still have no clear understanding as to the why,” the victim’s brother wrote. “There will always be that lingering question.”