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DNA Matching Links Late French Horn Player To Serial Rapes

In the world of French-horn players., Elliott Higgins was a pioneering figure. As a young hornist in the 1970s, he helped launch the first U.S. French-horn soloist competition. He conducted the Albuquerque Philharmonic, and started an annual French-horn workshop that drew top talent. During summers, Higgins taught aspiring players at his family’s music camp in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. This month, investigators in Tuscaloosa, Al., said that DNA evidence, new genetic genealogy research and police work showed that the distinguished horn instructor, who died in 2014 at 73, was a serial rapist with a trail of crimes across the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. The evidence linked him to at least three unsolved violent sexual assaults of women that had vexed investigators in Alabama and Colorado for decades. Subsequent genetic testing of Higgins’s surviving relatives indicated that he was the attacker in the crimes where DNA evidence was collected with a probability of greater than 99.99 percent, police said.

His daughter, Amber Higgins, said she was in disbelief when an investigator told her of the findings. She was filled with rage, sadness and humiliation, and wanted to be helpful to law enforcement so that victims might have some closure. “We were duped by a master manipulator and liar,” said Steve Gross, a board member of the International Horn Competition of America, which Higgins co-founded. The Higgins’s story is the latest example of the use of genetic genealogy to solve cases that went cold long ago. The methodology matches DNA evidence from crimes with family histories pieced together from commercial genetic databases to identify a suspect. The earliest crime that connects DNA evidence to Higgins occurred in 1991 in Tuscaloosa. One summer night that year, a man approached a University of Alabama student, forced her into her car with a knife at her throat and raped her, said Capt. Jack Kennedy of the Tuscaloosa County Violent Crimes Unit. Despite the victim’s description of the man and DNA recovered from the scene, investigators couldn’t identify a suspect. After Higgins was identified through DNA matching, police corroborated that at the time of sexual assaults in 1991 and 2001, Higgins was in Tuscaloosa, where he was helping judge the horn competition he co-founded, held at the University of Alabama those years.

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