2 cold case murders from 1980s solved with genetic genealogy: Police

Shannon Lloyd was killed in 1987 and Renee Cuevas in 1989.

July 26, 2022, 10:32 AM

Two decades-old cold case murders in California have been solved through the novel investigative tool of genetic genealogy, authorities announced.

The first victim was 23-year-old Shannon Rose Lloyd, who was was sexually assaulted and strangled to death in her Garden Grove bedroom in May 1987, Garden Grove Deputy Police Chief Amir El Farra said.

Renee Cuevas, 27, was killed two years later, he said.

PHOTO: Shannon Lloyd and Renee Cuevas are pictured in images released by the Calif. Garden Grove Police Dept. via Facebook. A collaboration between Orange County Sheriff's Dept., D.A. Spitzer and the IGG helped solved 3 cold case homicides.
Shannon Lloyd and Renee Cuevas are pictured in images released by the Garden Grove Police Department via Facebook. A collaborative effort between California's Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, the Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) unit and Orange County Sheriff's Department, helped solved three cold case homicides in the last twelve months.
Garden Grove Police Department/Facebook

In 2003, police determined the same man committed both crimes and his DNA was submitted to the law enforcement database CODIS. No suspect was identified, El Farra said.

Then last year, authorities turned to genetic genealogy, which uses an unknown suspect's DNA to trace his or her family tree, El Farra said.

Genetic genealogy made headlines in 2018 when it was used to find the Golden State Killer. Genetic genealogy takes an unknown suspect's DNA left at a crime scene and identifies it using family members who voluntarily submit DNA samples to a DNA database. Police can then create a much larger family tree than if they only used databases like CODIS.

Genetic genealogy identified Reuben Smith, who lived in Orange County in the 1980s, as a possible suspect, El Farra said.

In 1998, a decade after the Orange County murders, Smith was arrested in Las Vegas for sexual assault and attempting to kill a woman, police said.

The Las Vegas charges were later dismissed but a DNA sample was taken at the time of his arrest. That sample was used to match Smith's DNA to the DNA at the Lloyd and Cuevas murder scenes, authorities said.

Smith died by suicide in 1999, police said.

"The justice that every victim deserves was hidden away in DNA, but with advances in IGG [investigative genetic genealogy] technology combined with the relentless dedication of generations of detectives and the talented prosecutors and forensic scientists at the District Attorney’s Office, we now know who killed Renee and Shannon," Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement.