Blue Line

Vancouver police use DNA to identify child victims in ‘Babes in the Woods’ cold case

February 16, 2022  By Canadian Press

Feb. 15, 2022, Vancouver, B.C. – The child victims in Vancouver’s oldest unsolved murder case have been identified as two young brothers, nearly 70 years after their remains were found.

David and Derek D’Alton were six and seven when they were bludgeoned with a hatchet and left in Vancouver’s Stanley Park in a case known as the “Babes in the Woods”, police said at a news conference Tuesday.

Their bodies were discovered under a woman’s fur coat by a groundskeeper who was clearing brush near Beaver Lake in the park in 1953. It is believed the children were killed five years earlier.

“Although significant folklore has surrounded this case for years, we must not forget that these were real children who died a tragic and heartbreaking death,” Insp. Dale Weidman said.

The case, which police say is Vancouver’s oldest unsolved murder, has haunted investigators for decades and the breakthrough came after the department partnered with a U.S.-based forensic genetic genealogy company.

Redgrave Research Forensic Services compared DNA taken from each of the boys’ skulls with genetic information submitted by people to ancestry databases.

The researchers identified the grandparents of one of the boys and constructed a family tree. Police then located family members, checked school records, and confirmed specific details about the victims to be certain of their identities.

Members of the investigative team met with distant relatives of David and Derek last week and informed them of the findings, Weidman said.

No arrests have been made and Weidman said the person who killed the boys is most likely a close relative who died about 25 years ago.

“Because no charges can be laid, I can’t tell you the person’s name,” he said.

“At this stage in the investigation, it was never about seeing someone charged or arrested for these crimes. We always knew, especially through the passage of time, that was extremely unlikely. It was always about giving these boys a name and finally telling their story.”

Derek and David’s grandparents immigrated from Russia at the turn of the 20th century and the boys lived their short lives in Vancouver. They had a family member who lived near the entrance of Stanley Park at the time of their death, police said.

Det. Aida Rodriguez said the boys were likely impoverished and had at least one other sibling. Derek and David had different fathers and their mother used a different last name beginning in the 1950s, she said.

Investigators were able to piece together that information after a partial genetic match was found through the genealogy testing and they contacted a relative, who shared with investigators the names of the brothers.

The story told to the relative was that the boys had been removed from their home and placed in government care, Rodriguez said.

“Even though this family member did their best to talk about the boys and get the story, the only response they got from family was silence. The absence of the boys was never discussed,” Rodriguez said.

The family member felt it was important to find either the boys or their descendants and that’s why the relative uploaded genetic information to a heritage website, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said police will continue the investigation to gather as much information about the boys as possible. It appears unlikely they were ever in government care, for example, but that’s the kind of information they are working to confirm or deny, she said.

Weidman said the case is an example of how new investigative techniques and technology can be used to solve long-standing investigations.

“No matter how long it takes, there is always someone or something, even a microscopic piece of DNA taken from a 70-year-old bone fragment, that can lead to a break in a case. That’s what happened here,” Weidman said.

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