11 Cold Cases That Had Revolutionary Breakthroughs Decades Later

In the past few years, there's been an uptick in resolved cold cases thanks to advances in DNA technology and the introduction of genetic genealogy research.

Headlines of recently solved cold cases

As of September 2021, investigative genetic genealogy — which uses genetic information collected from direct-to-consumer companies like GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA to identify suspects and victims — has led to the successful identification of over 150 suspects, including high profile identifications like the Golden State Killer.

Historical records, including images and certificates, and fingerprint identification

So, here are some of the most notorious cold cases that have been solved decades later with advancements in technology:

Content warning: These cases contain mention of rape and murder.

1.Bear Brook murders: In 1985, a hunter found the bodies of a young girl and adult women inside a metal 55-gallon drum in Bear Brook State Park. Fifteen years later in 2000, another drum was found with the remains of two young girls inside. For decades, their identities remained a mystery.

A forest

2.Conviction of the Golden State Killer: The Golden State Killer spent decades undetected after an extended spree of terror in California resulted in over 106 victims in the 1970s and '80s. The elusive killer, also known as the Visalia Ransacker, East Area Rapist, and the Original Night Stalker, committed at least 13 murders, 60 home invasions, and 50 rapes.

Joseph James DeAngelo in court

3.The kidnapping of Melissa Highsmith: In 1971, Melissa Highsmith's mother had just moved to the Fort Worth area and placed an ad in a newspaper looking for a babysitter. A woman was hired and picked Melissa up — only to never return again.

A person circling an ad in the newspaper

4."Boy in the Box": In 1957, a young boy's severely beaten body was found inside a cardboard box in the woods in Philadelphia. Decades of efforts to find him went by, but the young victim remained unknown, giving him the name, "America's Unknown Child."

Headstone for

5."Times Square Killer" linked to 1968 death: In 1968, Diane Cusick, a 23-year-old dance instructor had just left her last class of the night — only to never return home. What began as a trip to the mall to buy a pair of shoes ended in her tragic death. She was found dead in the back seat of her car raped, beaten, and strangled. For 54 years, the case was cold until a break in the case in 2022.

Darlene Altman, Diane's daughter, hugs district attorney Anne Donnelly after Cottingham's arraignment

6.The Grim Sleeper: Between 1984 and 2007, the Grim Sleeper targeted and killed vulnerable Black women in southern Los Angeles. For over 30 years, the killer remained undetected, and was given the Grim Sleeper label for being supposedly inactive between murders in the '80s and murders in the 2000s that connected him through DNA evidence.

Grim Sleeper victims on a board

7."Lady of the Dunes": In the summer of 1974, a hiker found a decomposing corpse on a beach blanket in the dunes of Provincetown, Massachusetts. Police canvassed motels, reviewed missing person reports, and checked every authorized vehicle to drive on the dunes, but the case went cold and the labeled "Lady of the Dunes" became the oldest unidentified homicide victim in Massachusetts.

Special Agent Joe Bonavolonta, in charge of the FBI Boston Division, makes opening remarks at a press conference where law enforcement officials announced that they have finally identified the Lady of the Dunes

8.The "I-65"/"Days Inn" Killer: Between 1987 and 1990, four women who worked at hotels alongside the I-65 Midwest highway between Indiana and Kentucky were brutally attacked, robbed, and sexually assaulted. While the fourth victim was able to escape, three of the victims, Vicki Heath, Margaret "Peggy" Gill, and Jeanne Gilbert, did not survive their attacks. For three decades, the serial killer evaded authorities and died undetected.

Peggy, Jeanne, and Vicki, victims of the I-65 Killer featured on a screen at a press conference

9.The Boston Strangler: The Boston Strangler, aka Albert DeSalvo, killed 13 women between 1962 and 1964 in the Boston area. DeSalvo confessed, but there was no physical evidence, so he was never convicted for the murders. He was instead tried on charges for earlier, unrelated crimes of robbery and sexual offenses. DeSalvo was imprisoned for life, but up until recently, his confession remained heavily debated.

Boston Strangler victims (from L to R): Rachel Lazarus, Helen E. Blake, Ida Irga, Mrs. J. Delaney, Patricia Bissette, Daniela M. Saunders, Mary A. Sullivan, Mrs. Israel Goldberg.

10.Murders of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg: In November 1987, Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, a Canadian couple from British Columbia, left for Seattle to purchase parts for Cook's father's business. Unfortunately, they never returned and were found murdered. The case went cold for 30 years.

Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook with the van they drove to the United States, a bronze 1977 Ford Club wagon. The van was located in Whatcom County (Washington state), locked up and abandoned

11.Finally, from 1974 to 1991, Dennis Rader, who gave himself the nickname BTK, murdered at least 10 people across Kansas. For years, BTK taunted police, media, and civilians with letters that left clues about his identity and described details of the crimes only the killer would know. But BTK seemingly disappeared, and the case went cold for another 13 years. That is until 2004, when he began sending cryptic letters once again, which eventually led to his identification and 2005 arrest.

Mugshot of Dennis Rader