June 23, 2021 – Thunder Bay, Ont.
Lakehead University’s Paleo-DNA Laboratory is helping investigate one of Vancouver’s oldest unsolved murders.
Stephen Fratpietro, Technical Manager of Lakehead’s Paleo-DNA Lab, is working with Redgrave Research Forensics Services and the Vancouver Police Department to identify two boys found dead in Stanley Park in the early 1950s.
The case – known in popular culture as Babes in the Woods – dates back to 1953, when a groundskeeper discovered the boys’ skeletal remains near Beaver Lake. The children’s skulls had been bludgeoned by a hatchet found near their bodies. A picnic basket filled with petrified food was also found.
All of this was covered by a woman’s fur coat. It’s believed the children, aged seven and eight, were killed in the late 1940s and laid undiscovered for five or six years, hidden beneath thick brush in Stanley Park.
“Lakehead’s DNA lab was initially created on the premise of being able to acquire DNA from ancient and degraded material,” Fratpietro said. “Over the years we have optimized our methods to become very successful at this.”
A lot of laboratories can extract DNA, but it takes specific knowledge along with the proper facility to work with ancient or degraded material that has been heavily handled, such as in the Babes in the Woods case, he said.
Fratpietro can’t say too much about the case, only that he and his team successfully extracted DNA from the children’s bones.
He recently sent the samples for whole genome sequencing, which will allow Redgrave Research Forensic Services to compare the genealogical data with public DNA databases such as GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA.
Fratpietro said he hopes his work can help identify the boys, and maybe even determine who killed them.
“Knowing that we contributed to any finding would feel great. We definitely have the capability to do something like that at Lakehead,” he said.
On May 18 the Vancouver Police Department announced that they would be working with the Redgrave Research Forensic Services team to gain more insight into the cold case.
To report a tip, call the Vancouver Police Department’s Homicide Tip Line at (604) 717-2500.
For more about the Babes in the Woods mystery, visit bit.ly/3hBR2si.
This is the second mystery that Lakehead’s Paleo-DNA Lab has been asked to assist with this year.
At the start of May it was announced that Fratpietro helped identify the remains of Warrant Officer John Gregory, an engineer aboard HMS Erebus, the first member of the ill-fated Franklin expedition to be positively identified through DNA.
The results matched a DNA sample obtained from a direct descendant of Gregory.
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Lakehead University is a fully comprehensive university with approximately 9,700 full-time equivalent students and over 2,000 faculty and staff at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead has 10 faculties, including Business Administration, Education, Engineering, Graduate Studies, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Law, Natural Resources Management, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Science & Environmental Studies, and Social Sciences & Humanities. Lakehead University’s achievements have been recognized nationally and internationally, including being ranked, once again, among Canada’s Top 10 primarily undergraduate universities in Maclean’s 2021 University Rankings; as well as included in the top half of Times Higher Education's 2020 World Universities Rankings for the second consecutive year, and 99th among 1,115 universities from around the world in THE's 2021 Impact Rankings (which assesses institutions against the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals). Visit www.lakeheadu.ca.