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Coast to Coast Offers Cold-Case Closure From White Plains

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Photos courtesy of Coast to Coast Genetic Genealogy Services

Coast to Coast Genetic Genealogy Services is a local startup cracking cold cases with DNA analysis and a dedication to justice.

The link between science and solving crime dates back centuries. But Coast to Coast Genetic Genealogy Services, based in White Plains, uses the latest DNA forensics to identify the victims and perpetrators of violent crime.

Having opened in mid-May of this year, this virtual, woman-owned business was cofounded by Cairenn Binder, Tracie Boyle, and Harmony Vollmer.

Cairenn Binder Coast to Coast Genetic Genealogy

Cairenn Binder

After assisting in the famed John Wayne Gacy case and other discoveries with the nonprofit DNA Doe Project, the founders decided to use their expertise to investigate cases through their own business. With backgrounds in healthcare, education, and laboratory research, this power team prepared to partner with law enforcement to not only solve crimes but also to educate on implementing genealogy in cold cases. We spoke with the principals of Coast to Coast recently, to learn more about their fascinating business.

What inspired the idea of Coast to Coast?

CAIRENN BINDER: As genetic genealogists with the nonprofit DNA Doe Project [DDP], Tracie, Harmony, and I have been giving names back to unidentified people for the better part of five years. Harmony and I have been team co-leaders on many cases, including identifying victims of John Wayne Gacy and the Green River Killer [Gary Leon Ridgway]. We love that role, but there are some things that we can’t do at DDP, including identifying child remains and investigating cases with violent offenders who committed homicide or sexual assault. Through Coast to Coast, that’s what our focus is.

Why did you decide to build this company together? 

CB: We all met at DDP and Harmony and I have been co team leaders on many cases including identifying the John Wayne Gacy and Green River Killer victim. She and I have been leading cases together for five years and Tracy has also been on teams with us many times. We found that we all worked well together and had similar interests in starting a business, so we decided to go in all together. 

What was the startup process like?

CB: The overhead was pretty low for our initial startup, but it’s hard to get agencies to trust us right away. We’ve been trying to find funding through connections or personally fund some initial cases in order to increase agencies’ confidence. There’s not a lot of money in the field of investigative genetic genealogy to begin with, so at this point, we haven’t worked with any investors. We have worked with some nonprofits, and, thankfully, we were already in touch with people in the true-crime community.

What services take up the majority of your business?

HARMONY VOLLMER: In addition to our focus on infant and child identifications, we’re hoping to provide training to agencies. We don’t think that just anybody should enter genealogy, but with proper training and ethical guidelines, it is possible for agencies to do some of this work on their own. Our first presentation was through White Plains Public Library, and educational opportunities like that are to share what we do with the public.

Harmony Vollmer Coast to Coast Genetic Genealogy

Harmony Vollmer

CB: Since my background was in education and I’m a healthcare educator by day, we’re also hoping that we can teach agencies to use these tools. We don’t think that just anybody should enter genealogy, but with proper training and ethical guidelines, it is possible for agencies to do some of this work on their own. Our first presentation was through White Plains Public Library, and educational opportunities like that are to share what we do with the public. In the early months of our business we’re focusing on casework rather than developing the education portion of it, and most of that work is done remotely on the West Coast and in the Midwest. 

Explain the investigative process.

HV: First, we make sure that the Doe (unidentified crime victim or suspect) has an STR profile, amplified regions from DNA, that does not have a match in databases. Then, the sample goes to the lab, where DNA is extracted and sequenced. The data gets turned into a bioinformatics file and is uploaded to either GEDmatch or Family Tree DNA. Hopefully, we get a list that shows genetic matches to the profile that we uploaded, and then we can construct their family trees and try to find where our victim or suspect would lie.

CB: Since our infant-remains policy states that we don’t take fetal remains, we are not interested in identifying women who have exercised their reproductive rights or suffered a miscarriage. Our infant cases are focused on homicides, and our goal is simply to hold the person who perpetrated the crime accountable.

Is the cold-case market profitable?

CB: It’s very hard to generate a profit only through investigations, which is why we made our business not only for solving cold cases but also for providing education. We are also looking into media and speaking fees, which could potentially generate more revenue.

What drew each of you to your niches in this profession?

CB: I was a teen mom, and it was really hard having a baby when I was young. From that experience, I feel more strongly that harming an infant and leaving it outside to die is a crime that demands justice for the baby.

HV: I was also a young mom, so child cases resonate with me, and I relate to young women who find themselves in vulnerable situations. All of the cases affect us emotionally because IDing victims is heavy and emotional. You get to know each person you investigate from going through their family history and reading through their town’s newspapers. It’s a bittersweet process because you can finally give a child their identity back, but you know that their family might be receiving devastating news.

“Our infant cases are focused on homicides, and our goal is simply to hold the person who perpetrated the crime accountable.”

–CAIRENN BINDER

TRACIE BOYLE: My dad was a detective in the town I grew up in, and one of my earliest memories is the murder of a young woman by her husband. I became interested in getting justice for victims of violent crimes. Although I originally wanted to be in the FBI as a criminal profiler, I feel like I am fulfilling my goal of helping law enforcement solve crimes by IDing victims.

Tracie Boyle Coast to Coast Genetic Genealogy

Tracie Boyle

How has being a women-owned business affected your work in this field?

CB: The whole field of genealogy was actually pioneered by women. Colleen Fitzpatrick and Margaret Press started DDP. Barbara Rae-Venter identified the Golden State Killer, and CeCe Moore’s genetic genealogy model was groundbreaking. However, in this business, when men work on the same cases as women, they often get more press and attention. My interactions with law enforcement have always been overwhelmingly positive, but that’s not every woman’s experience. I would say that the main challenge is getting credit to the right people.

What can the public do to help?

TB: We want to encourage more people from various ethnic backgrounds to upload their DNA to GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA. There are many regulations in place to protect people’s privacy, and organizations like ours are only trying to bring justice to those who deserve it. The best way to reach us would be our website: coasttocoastgg.com.

For the full interview, visit our website, at westchestermagazine.com/coasttocoast.

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