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Genetic genealogy lands 1993 Everett murder suspect

Sharon Lee, Melissa's mother, stands next to Sheriff Fortney on Wednesday. (KIRO Radio, Hanna Scott)

“I hope he rots in hell.”

That’s nearly all Sharon Lee could manage to say at a Snohomish County Sheriff’s press conference Wednesday morning announcing the arrest of a suspect in the murder of her 15-year-old daughter, Melissa, nearly 27 years ago.

Cold case investigators on Tuesday arrested 62-year-old Alan Edward Dean of Bothell for the 1993 murder of Melissa Lee.

Melissa Lee was home alone April 13, 1993. She planned to have a friend over for a sleepover, but that fell through. When Sharon called around 9:30 p.m., everything was OK. However, when Sharon got home just after midnight, the front door was ajar, there were signs of a struggle, and no sign of Melissa.

Her body was discovered the following day in a ravine on the north side of the Edgewater Creek Bridge along Mukilteo Boulevard in Everett. She had been strangled and had Ethyl Ether and Heptane chemicals in her system.

Detectives were lead to Dean with the help of CeCe Moore and Parabon Labs through the use of genetic genealogy, identifying a possible suspect. His relatives had uploaded their DNA to ancestry site GedMatch.com. The results are treated like a lead by investigators, who then watch the suspect and hope for a lucky break. In this case, it was Dean’s discarded cigarette.

Detectives grabbed the used butt, ran it against crime scene DNA, and got a match to Dean, a man whose name they recognized right away.

“His name came up early in the investigation in 1993. He was talked to by detectives, but they hit a road block and things went cold,” said Detective Brad Walvatne with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit.

Dean also had a concerning criminal history.

“Eight years previous, he was in Arizona and there was a similar circumstance involving the sexual assault of a minor,” Walvatne said.

Detectives confirmed Dean was living on Madison Street in Everett in 1993; his residence was about four miles from where Lee’s body was found. He worked dayshift at Boeing in Everett prior to the killing.

“We never gave up hope that we would find Melissa’s killer,” said Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. “The arrest yesterday shows how our detectives’ determination, combined with new advancements in DNA technology, continues to get us one step closer to justice for victims and their families, even decades later. We are also extremely thankful for the support and expertise from our partners at Parabon.”

Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell noted the arrest wasn’t the county’s “first rodeo” with genetic genealogy, pointing to two other cases solved using the new forensic tool, including the first ever conviction in a genetic genealogy trial in last year’s conviction of William Talbott for the 1987 murders of a young British Columbia couple visiting Seattle.

There are currently seven more cases that detectives are using genetic genealogy to try to solve in Snohomish County. This was genealogist Moore’s 118th case since Talbott, the first case she worked on, and she says there are other teams working on other cases in the fast growing industry. There is good reason for anyone who thought they got away with something all those years back to be worried.

“Anybody that does something like this, they should be concerned,” Walvatne said. “Science is an amazing thing and it’s getting better and better.”

Melissa’s mom, Sharon, is grateful.

“I’m just grateful I got to live long enough to see this happen,” she said.

While Dean’s DNA match is a strong piece of evidence, investigators are still gathering more to make the case as strong as possible and hoping anyone who knew or knows him can help.

Detectives are asking for people to come forward with information, specifically anyone who:

  • Currently knows Dean, previously knew Dean, or knew of his activities in or around 1993 (he would have been 35-years-old at the time of the murder)
  • Recognizes Dean from the attached photo of him around the time of the killing in 1993 and/or from the more recent photo of him
  • Dated, communicated with, or has any information regarding Dean around 1993 using a night talk line (he used a fake name of Mike or Michael)
  • Has information regarding Dean having access to Ethyl Ether and Heptane chemicals around the time the crimes were committed

If you or anyone you know has information related to this case or suspect, please call the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 425-388-3845.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter.

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