A fresh new lead in a 20-year-old murder investigation in King County, Washington, has come from a Huntington Beach forensic genealogist who traced the killer's DNA back to The Mayflower passenger list.
That's not Mayflower as in the popular nationwide moving company of today but Mayflower as in the wooden boat that left England with the pilgrims who arrived near what would become Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the 1620s.
Sarah Yarborough, 16, left her home in the Seattle suburb of Federal Way the morning of Dec. 14, 1991, to take part in a dance team competition. Her body was found, sexually assaulted and strangled, that afternoon on the campus of Federal Way High School. Though descriptions of her presumed killer were received, he has never been found. But, according to a release from the King County Sheriff's Office, evidence recovered from the murder scene was used to create a DNA profile.
After Detective Jim Allen joined the sheriff's cold-case team last November, a scientist from the state's crime lab suggested he contact Colleen Fitzpatrick, whose background is in nuclear physics although she is now a forensic genealogist, meaning she uses DNA profiles to find relatives or track people down. Her freezer at Identifinders International in Huntington Beach even contains DNA from a cousin of Amelia Earhart's navigator just in case the pair's suspected remains are ever found.
Fitzpatrick determined that the murder suspect's DNA strongly matches a profile that was created for the family of Robert Fuller, who came to America in 1630 and is related to three passengers who were aboard the earlier arriving Mayflower: Edward Fuller, Edward's brother Samuel Fuller and Samuel's 12-year-old son. Fitzpatrick followed the Y chromosome--the male line of the family--so she believes the murder suspect may still have the last name Fuller.
"Our first thought was, 'What are we going to do with that?'" Allen told the Associated Press. "But maybe that'll be the extra tidbit that will generate that one phone call, that one tip we need to help solve the case."
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Allen did check the database and notes of previous investigators into the Yarborough killing, but found no one named Fuller fingered as a potential suspect. Still, having a name to go off of is huge for a cold case that can at least match Fuller with the suspect sketch above.
The killer is further described as a white male who was in his 20s at the time of the slaying, 5-foot-10 to 6 feet tall with a medium build and shoulder length dirty blond or light brown hair. He was last seen wearing a trench coat and dark pants.
It's fortunate that strong links to passengers aboard The Mayflower have been built and maintained over the centuries, and that today DNA matches have figured into the hunt for past family. Then again, according to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, tens of millions of people are now descended from the original 102 passengers and 25 crew members. And Fuller isn't exactly Wojciehowicz.
So, we'll take another stab in the dark: Anyone in Orange County know someone named Fuller who looked like the guy above 20 years ago? His family did eventually move from Massachusetts to Washington state, so it might not be a stretch that someone with ties landed down here, too. If you have any information that can help the King County Sheriff's Office, call 206.296.3311.