DNA links Oregon man to 1978 cold case murder of Shelley Connolly
The Alaska State Troopers have arrested a man suspected of murdering a teenager in 1978, linked through modern DNA testing.
Donald F. McQuade, 62, has been arrested for the murder of Shelley Connolly who was killed when she was 16 years old. McQuade has been charged with one count each for first- and second-degree murder and was taken into custody Friday, Aug. 30 in Gresham, Oregon.
Shelley Connolly’s body was found by tourists next to train tracks in an embankment near Beluga Point south of Anchorage on Jan. 7, 1978. Connolly’s family reported her missing after hearing reports about a murder in local media.
According to a probable cause affidavit filed in the case, an autopsy revealed Connolly had "multiple abrasions, lacerations and contusions on her face, neck and abdomen."
She also had internal injuries, including a lacerated liver. There was evidence of recent vaginal and anal intercourse. The official cause of death recorded was a combination of internal bleeding and hypothermia.
Connolly was last seen earlier the same evening inside Chilkoot Charlie's talking with four men. Crime Stoppers was previously searching for information leading to a man known as "Pinkie" who lived in the Kenai area at the time.
The case remained cold until DNA testing was available in 1997. In that year, the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory developed a DNA profile from evidence collected during the autopsy.
In a press conference Tuesday, Col. Barry Wilson said the DNA profile was uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) in 2003 but a match was not generated at the time. Earlier this year, the profile was submitted to Parabon NanoLabs to analyze through genetic genealogy.
With genetic genealogy, Cold Case Investigator Randy McPherron said investigators are able to use a profile uploaded to the CODIS system and match it to one found in databases like Ancestry.com.
According to the affidavit, troopers worked with genealogists to locate a relative of the suspect. The top match was a woman in Florida, likely a first cousin to the suspect. The genealogist traced the woman's family tree back to Pennsylvania. He then created family trees for other top matches and linked them to a common ancestor, John J. McQuade, who was born in Ireland in 1858.
Finally, a link was made to Alaska.
John C. McQuade was born in 1913. He had served in the military and was stationed in Alaska during WWII. He married a woman in King Cove, Alaska in 1943, and the couple had nine children, three of them were boys.
“Essentially, they find the suspect’s relatives,” McPherron said. “And then from there, using standard genealogy techniques, they can hopefully whittle it down to a group of individuals or a specific individual. In this particular case, we whittled it down to one of three brothers.”
All of the McQuade brothers would have been young adults at the time of the murder, but troopers learned Donald McQuade was in Alaska at the time of the murder. He had checked in with a probation officer four days earlier.
Three weeks after the murder, he told his probation officer he wanted to move in with one of his sisters in Soldotna.
Donald McQuade was not a suspect in the initial investigation and the DNA profile created in 1997 had only been examined against known suspects at the time.
According to the affidavit, McQuade left the state in the early 1980s and moved to Washington. He returned to Alaska about 10 years later and then moved to Oregon in the early 2000s.
Police worked with authorities in Oregon to get a sample of McQuade's DNA. Officers doing surveillance on him followed him around collecting his discarded cigarette butts.
Once the evidence arrived in Alaska, analysts in the crime lab determined the DNA on the cigarette butts is an exact match to the DNA found under Connolly's fingernails, on her body, and in stains on her jeans.
Donald McQuade's brother, Richard, told affiliate KOIN 6 that he believes his brother is innocent, saying, "I have felt, and I have talked to other family members, we have never noticed that type of behavior ever in Donald." He went on to say, "I can only hope that it turns out well and they're gonna give my brother and our family a big apology."
McPherron said the genetic genealogy process began in February. Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price said Connolly's family was informed about McQuade's arrest before the news was public.
Shelley Connolly's mother and brother were at the press conference Tuesday, still shocked by the discovery 41 years in the making.
"I was feeling disbelief, happiness that they found him, sad too. Forty-one years is a long time of grieving," Judy Connolly, Shelley's mother, said.
The investigation is ongoing. McQuade is currently in Oregon where he is awaiting a court appearance in Multnomah County. Wilson said McQuade will be brought to Alaska for trial.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information from the affidavit and to correct Connolly's first name in two points within the article.
Daniella Rivera and Elizabeth Roman contributed to this report.
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