Colin Pitchfork was the first person convicted of his crimes, including rape and murder, using DNA evidence in 1988. DNA fingerprinting has put thousands of criminals behind bars throughout the next three decades.

As long as the perpetrator leaves biological evidence at the crime scene, DNA is a powerful tool to help investigators identify the person with incredible accuracy.

The same method can also eliminate individuals from the list of suspects and exonerate the mistakenly accused or convicted.

Many cold cases in many jurisdictions worldwide (from before the discovery of the method) have been solved thanks to DNA fingerprinting as well. 

In January 2022, Denver police solved a serial killer case for decades through DNA identification combined with the traditional genealogical method. Joe Michael Ervin, who committed suicide in 1981, was identified as the murderer responsible for the deaths of four women from 1978 to 1981.

Madeleine Furey-Livaudais, Dolores Barajas, Gwendolyn Harris, and Antoinette Parks; each suffered multiple stab wounds. Police confirmed the finding following the exhumation of Ervin’s body.


10 /10 Two Killings In Seven Month

On December 7, 1978, at around 6:15 p.m., Madeleine Furey-Livaudais was found dead at her home, apparently from multiple stab wounds. She was a 33-year-old ecologist and author.

About seven months later, in Denver, on August 10, 1980, Dolores Barajas was found lifeless on the street. Investigation revealed she was in the city to visit her family.

She also worked at Fairmont Hotels during the summer. The killer attacked her when she was walking to work. Barajas was supposed to move out of Colorado the next day. She was 53-year-old at the time of her death.

9 /10 Two More Killings In Two Months

Gwendolyn Harris was found dead in the streets of the Montebello neighborhood in Denver on December 21, 1980, at 10:45 a.m. She was 27-year-old, last seen alive the night before at the Polo Club Lounge.

Just a month later, the body of Antoinette Parks, a student at Gateway High School in Aurora, was found abandoned in a field in Adams County.

She was killed on January 24, 1981. At her death, she was only 17-year-old and six-to-seven months pregnant. The police investigated those four cases separately as there was no evidence to suggest a connection between them.

Wikimedia Commons

8 /10 A Separate Case And Arrest

Denver police had the chance to identify the killer in June 1981 when Joe Ervin was arrested for an unrelated case. Debra Sue Corr, an officer from the Aurora Police Department, pulled him over for a drunk driving offense.

When she was about to make an arrest, Ervin shot the officer multiple times to the head. She died three hours after the shooting at the age of 26.

A police Explorer Scout named Glen Spies, who witnessed the incident, stopped by to help the officer. He, too, was shot and injured. Joe Ervin escaped.

7 /10 Man Of Interest

Spies, the 19-year-old Explorer Scout, said he saw flashes of fire from the officer’s gun as the man shot her twice. At the time, Spies did not realize that he had been shot.

Only moments later, when he tried to turn and run that he felt a burning pain in his lower back. His left leg was rendered numb, and he fell into a shock.

The investigation into the incident intensified, partly because the killed rookie officer was the wife of a Denver policeman. Law enforcement from the two cities is now on a search for the same man.


6 /10 Description Of Suspect

At this point, the best information the police had about the suspect was the description given by the Spies. After the incident, he was taken to Presbyterian Hospital to receive treatment.

He was in serious condition but still able to describe the events and the suspect. The suspect broke free as Officer Corr tried to arrest and handcuff him.

Ervin managed to grab Corr’s gun and fired multiple shots at her in the struggle that ensued. Spies tried to intervene and ended up getting shot in the back.


5 /10 A Cage Car

The incident happened at around 1:00 a.m. on June 17, 1981. Preliminary investigation revealed the struggle started when Officer Corr called for a cage car on the radio, indicating that she wanted to make an arrest.

Ervin was on the run now, but the police had already learned his vehicle number plate and physical description from Spies.

The Aurora City Council awarded Glen Spies $10,000 for his heroism. The city council also agreed to pay for all his medical expenses related to shootings not covered by insurance.

4 /10 A Wanted Man

At the shooting, Ervin was already a suspect in a sexual assault case in Denver, and he had been arrested but then bailed.

Officials said Ervin was a wanted man for murder in Fort Worth, Texas. Still, on the run, the police arrested him after tracing the vehicle number plate to an Aurora apartment.

In an attempt to flee, he jumped from a third-story window in vain. The police immediately took him into custody and sent him to Aurora Community Hospital for treatment.

3 /10 Suicide

Under investigation for the killing of a police officer and the shooting of another, Joe Michael Ervin was now placed at the Adams County Jail in Brighton, Colorado.

Police later found out that he had a long list of criminal records, including an arrest for robbery. Ervin committed suicide by hanging in his jail cell on July 1, 1981, and he left a note admitting to having killed an officer.

Up until this point, authorities in Denver had no idea that Ervin also was responsible for the murders of four other women.

2 /10 DNA Evidence

A breakthrough came in 2013 when authorities found a link connecting two (of four) cases. The investigation continued to the point where all four were linked together by DNA evidence in 2018.

The genetic fingerprint did not point directly to Ervin but to a close relative of the killer based on a search in Texas’ databank of felons last year.

Investigators knew they were coming too close to identifying the murderer. Evidence from DNA identification was already at hand, and now they only had to narrow down the search a little further.

1 /10 Arlington, Texas

Genetic genealogy traced the DNA samples to the family tree of the killer. Police already knew Ervin as they had arrested him 40 years ago in Denver.

They suspected him as the serial killer and followed his footsteps to Arlington, Texas. Authorities were aware of his death in 1981, so they were not looking for anybody alive.

Instead, they exhumed his body and tested the sample for confirmation. In January 2022, they conclusively determined that Joe Michael Ervin was the serial killer they had been looking for. Case closed.

Continue Reading

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *