Trish Hurtubise was drawn into Shirley Ann Soosay’s story in a startling personal fashion when she discovered her own DNA loosely connected her with the murdered, unclaimed woman. (Contributed)

Trish Hurtubise was drawn into Shirley Ann Soosay’s story in a startling personal fashion when she discovered her own DNA loosely connected her with the murdered, unclaimed woman. (Contributed)

B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped, stabbed to death and then dumped in an almond orchard near Bakersfield, California.

For 40 years she remained unidentified – a Jane Doe.

Last week, it was confirmed publicly. She was given a name and a family, with a Princeton woman at the heart of solving a decades-old mystery that might have been cribbed from a television forensic series script.

Trish Hurtubise, 46, is a genealogist who has worked on at least 150 private cases, connecting adoptees with birth parents and siblings.

“I help people resolve the unknowns,” she told The Spotlight. “It’s a passion.”

Two years ago, Hurtubise was drawn into Soosay’s story in a startling personal fashion.

She discovered her own DNA loosely connected her with the murdered, unclaimed woman.

And so, she began working with the DNA Doe Project (DDP), a U.S.-based not-for-profit group dedicated to identifying Jane and John Does.

Related: Red Dress Day honours Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous people

The Kern County Sheriff-Coroner’s Department handed DDP the case in 2018, just a year after the organization was founded.

A blouse worn by the dead woman, preserved in a police evidence box, gave up just enough decomposed genetic material to produce a DNA sample that proved the victim was of Indigenous descent.

That data was uploaded to GEDmatch, an online database able to cross-reference DNA findings from various commercial providers like Ancestry.com and 23andMe. The submission eventually found several distance matches, including Hurtubise, which indicated she could be anything from a third to an eighth cousin.

The DDP search began centring its investigation around Cree Nation communities in Western Canada.

Hurtubise was so intrigued with the case she underwent the DDP’s training program, officially becoming one of the group’s 55 volunteers and just one of a few working from Canada.

Approximately 2,000 hours of research went into identifying Soosay. The process involved building “hundreds of family trees,” one for every remote DNA match in GEDmatch, and then connecting them to one great grandparent, said Hurtubise.

It also included combing through countless newspaper articles about missing Indigenous women, always looking for a clue.

Hurtubise is a member of Couchiching First Nation. “When you are going through these missing and murdered women, you read the stories and you read the outcomes. You go to bed very heavy, very heavy, like heartbroken heavy.”

Knowing the victim she was trying to help was a family member wasn’t the hardest part.

“It’s not just being related. It’s just about being a woman. It’s overwhelming sometimes. I guess knowing as much as I do about my family, and knowing I have extended cousins that are missing or have been murdered, it desensitizes the shock part. As a non-native you find out your cousin Lucy has been murdered and it hits you like waves. With me, it’s like, ‘Well, not again.’”

Related: Five years pass with no peace for families of North Okanagan-Shuswap missing women

When the DDP was able to narrow down the geographic area Soosay’s close relatives were likely to live – Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba – the group flooded Indigenous social media platforms in those provinces with a composite drawing, based on a postmortem photograph.

Her niece Violet Soosay came forward. “I was surprised at my feelings,” said Hurtubise. “We were thinking how good it would feel once we solved it, once we figured it out.

“But when it finally happened it was a feeling of grief, too. It was happiness that we did it, but then it was also knowing that someone was now finding out their loved one is gone.”

Gina Wrather was the DDP’s team lead on the investigation.

She said the outcome was the best possible result.

“She (Violet) explained that she had been looking for her aunt for 40 years. At that point, they had travelled all over Vancouver, all over Seattle, visited hospitals and visited cemeteries. It’s cases like this that make it worth it to do this work, to bring a resolution to a situation just like this.”

DNA evidence, generally, has been admissible in U.S. state courts since 1988, several years after Soosay was killed.

However, it was also DNA that identified and convicted her killer, when she was still nameless. Material from beneath her fingernails, again saved by police, was matched with a sample collected from Wilson Chouest.

Chouest was serving a life sentence for a string of abductions and rapes when his DNA linked him to Soosay’s murder and that of another woman in the same area. He was found guilty of those crimes in 2018.

His second murder victim remains unidentified and is also a project of the DDP.

Just days ago, Hurtubise accepted a new private investigation, an attempt to reunite a birth family.

She continues to actively volunteer for the DDP but is unable to comment on still open cases.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:andrea.demeer@similkameenspotlight.com


 
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Crime

 

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photograph and circulated on social media. Image DDP

Just Posted

(File photo)
Poverty reduction survey identifies 10 poverty themes

Poverty reduction plan will be finalized in July 2021

Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly says he has no intentions of leaving the Green Party. (House of Commons image)
Island Green MPs have “no intention” of leaving the party after ‘heartbreaking’ departure

Manly, May only remaining Green MPs after Jenica Atwin left for the Liberals over internal disputes

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of May 30-June 5. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
COVID-19 cases drop again almost everywhere on Vancouver Island

Nanaimo had four new cases last week, down from 22 the week before

Justine Keefer’s Cedar Elementary School Grade 6/7 class put together a student paper, as part of a school project. Pictured here Andrew Gregory, left, Felix Leduc, Addison Armstrong, Lucia Walker and Anise Dick. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Cedar Elementary School students create their own newspaper

Grade 6/7 class publishes Wolf Pack News as part of language arts and social studies

Évangeline Laforest and Oscar McClements’ invention La Méduse (the Jellyfish) removes oil from the ocean. The invention was one of 15 out of 700 inventions submitted to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Little Inventors contest. (Cole Schisler photo)
‘Little Inventors’ from Ladysmith showcased in national science challenge

Évangeline Laforest and Oscar McClements were one of 15 finalists in the Little Inventors Challenge

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Most Read