Discovery+ documentary series investigates one of the most elusive types of killers circulating among us.

Darwin’s Tree of Life (just think).

One-and-done killers have exposed massive shortcomings in the world of profiling. What makes these offenders so impossible to pin down, and what is the future of profiling in light of these previously overlooked murderers?

Unraveled: Once a Killer explores the phenomenon of One-and-Done killers and premiers on Friday, April 22 on discovery+.

The documentary explores two decades-old cases: the case of a young Canadian couple that embarked on a trip to Seattle and turned up dead, and a small-town schoolteacher murdered in her apartment. It isn’t until May 2018, that Washington state authorities arrest a man for a double murder case that was more than 30 years old, and one month later, police in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania make a similar arrest in an unsolved murder case from 1992.

What do these two arrests, thousands of miles apart from each other, have in common? Both killers in question had completely defied the profiles that were created to help identify them, enabling them to be overlooked by investigators for decades. Billy Jensen and Alexis Linkletter embark on an investigation into the use of new genetic genealogy that will finally help solve the formerly unsolvable, but the question remains whether we, as a society, are ready for this technology.

Alexis Linkletter and Billy Jensen discussed Unraveled with SCINQ.

Alexis Linkletter and Billy Jensen

How did the two of you first get involved with dealing with murder cases? 

BILLY JENSEN: I’ve been doing it since 1999 and initially what I wanted to do was I wanted to focus on unsolved crimes. You’re doing that over and over and over again. There are so many crimes that are unsolved and America I mean I think going back to 1980 I think we’re looking at 250,000 unsolved murders. There’s a lot that is out there and just trying to find the right stories to tell and trying to be as compassionate when you telling them is what drives me. About you Lex?

ALEXIS LINKLETTER: I would say that for me, I’ve just always been drawn to the human element. I’ve always really wanted to understand what drives the kind of cruelty that it takes to murder someone. That’s really where my initial draw to the genre began. it just grew from there, the compassionate storytelling, the aspect of getting justice for victims and you know, righting wrongs is really the biggest draw for me.

It’s obviously difficult for families to do interviews and having to recount a traumatic event. It must be hard for you as well. How do you handle that?

ALEXIS LINKLETTER: I probably cry during every interview with a family member of the victim. How do you deal with that? You don’t. You just try to empathize and take on and try to understand some of that pain and difficulty so that you can tell a compelling story and help them. They’re, they’re trying to get justice or they’re dealing with a loss. It’s not really something you can completely compartmentalize. It’s just part of it. It’s heavy and it’s sad but it’s worth it to do it.

BILLY JENSEN: This might be one of the few stories that we’ve done that we were talking to individuals where the crime had been solved and solved pretty recently. I think that that’s definitely a lot harder. I think with the, with the new technology and the things that we were we we go through with talking with the family members, they want to see this technology be used to catch a lot of other people as well. I think when you’re the parent of a murdered child, it’s the worst thing you can go through in the entire world and you don’t want anybody to go through it. You want to do anything you can to make sure that law enforcement is doing everything they can to take the bad guys off the streets. I think that’s one of the reasons why they’re willing to share their story because they’ve seen closure in their cases, but they know there’s a lot of cases that are out there that do not have an arrest.

Alexis Linkletter, Billy Jensen and Vince Mirack

Do you ever bring the emotional baggage home with you?

ALEXIS LINKLETTER: This job isn’t 9 to 5. When you make contact with people who are experiencing loss, you get calls day or night. You’re always on the job. It’s always with you. Yes, you absolutely take it home. 

BILLY JENSEN: I’m friends with so many victim’s family members on Facebook. You know, you can be on Facebook at two o’clock in the morning, and a lot of times they’ll reach out to you and they just want to talk or something. Like Alexis said, it’s 24/7. This is our entire lives. There are some true crime podcasts out there that might do it for five hours a week or something like that.

In Unraveled, you look at specific types of murderers, One and Done killers. What are they and how do they differ from run of the mill killers?

BILLY JENSEN: We’re looking at one and done killers that are sexual homicide killers. Typically, what would happen is that when you saw a sexual homicide that was perpetrated by a stranger, and the crime scene was particularly morose with signs of a lot of violence, they would often bring in a profiler. The profiler would say, “Oh, this is probably a serial killer.” With the cases that we looked at, that was the theory. “This has got to be a serial killer.” 

When the Golden State Killer was caught by using genetic genealogy, everybody thought, “Okay, we’re going to be seeing all of these serial killers being caught and being linked by crimes and things.” It turns out that a lot of the killers – the majority of people that have been caught with genetic genealogy – are people who had murdered once and then integrated right back into society. 

Maybe they had the thought that it wasn’t for them. It’s really one of the scariest types of killers. It’s somebody that has no connection to the victim, rapes and murders the victim and then seemingly disappears but disappears in plain sight.

Vince Mirack

ALEXIS LINKLETTER: People who kill once and never again. That’s a One-and-Done. They do it in a really predatory way with seemingly having an MO for this one kill and yet they never do it again. After they kill, they stay out of trouble so there’s no way to catch them without genetic genealogy. They have no criminal history, so they become impossible to catch. It’s a type of killer that profilers never anticipated, never thought existed. 

It seems like everything leading up and including the murders which are really brutal indicate the MO of a serial killer leading up to their first kill. But they don’t commit another murder after it. Why?

ALEXIS LINKLETTER: Just to theorize… what the perpetrator fantasized, it does not match reality. Either it was way harder to kill someone than they thought or they didn’t get the arousal they expected. The fantasy did not align with the reality of committing the act. Then they, sort of, freak out and don’t want to do it again out of self preservation. They get it out of their system. 

Christopher Erb and Alexis Linkletter

Is there any sort of estimation of how many are out there? How common are they?

ALEXIS LINKLETTER: We just started catching them less than five years ago, and we’re catching more and more every day, as genetic genealogists. I think there’s no way to know. What do you think, Billy?

BILLY JENSEN: There could be 1000s of them. People that always say, oh, serial killers can’t stop, you know. He’s either dead, or he’s in jail or something like that. But serial killers can stop. 

In that same way, you know, there’s nothing to say that somebody who has every mark of becoming a serial killer does that first murder, and then says, “This is not for me, I did not get what I imagined.” Like Alexis said, the fantasy did not meet the reality. They say, “I’m going to live a life outside of this and try not to think about this again.” Then they become integrated into society. 

That’s horrific to think about. There was no way to catch them. You know, with serial killers, it’s easier to catch them because you know what, you’re going to get 5, 10, 15 crime scenes. But with these guys, you’ve only got one crime scene. That was the only reason why they’re being caught is because they left DNA at the scene. The DNA had been run through; they had not been in the system because they stayed out of trouble. It’s only through genetic genealogy that they were able to be caught.

Billy Jensen and Harry Goodman

One of the cases Unraveled deals with is the recently solved Christy Mirac case which eventually pointed to Raymond “DJ Freeze” Rowe. What stuck out to you the most about it?

ALEXIS LINKLETTER: I would say what’s most interesting about him is that profilers would generally say, in the case of Christy Mirac, that they’re looking for a loner. They’re looking for the more the original sort of serial killer trope about the type of person they’re looking for. But Rowe loved being the center of attention. He was a DJ; he was just the complete opposite of the loner lurking in the shadows that the police were looking for.

Beyond that, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is a small tight knit community. There were billboards compelling people to call in with tips about Christie’s murder. Raymond Rowe continued to live there in this tiny town driving past that every day, driving by the apartment where he committed this crime every day to go to work. He just stayed right there and sort of pretended it never happened.

Why do profilers miss so badly on these sorts of cases? Does it sort of bring into question the effectiveness of profile?

BILLY JENSEN: We talk about profiling on the show and how there’s a bit of a blind spot there. I think profiling has become particularly prominent in the True Crime community because of Silence of the Lambs. It’s a job that True Crime people put on a pedestal. These are people that are going in and interviewing serial killers. 

I think profilers have a little bit of a blind spot or a myopic viewpoint with these type of murders, that if it’s a stranger murder that includes a sexual assault, this person had to have done it again. There is this blind spot. Nothing ever else really enters their calculations. They would say this is probably a repeat offender. He’s done this before. He has a history of this, this, and this but nothing in the case of that we looked at.

ALEXIS LINKLETTER:  I also think that the issue with profiling is that it’s subjective. It’s people’s opinions that are put through filters and their own experiences. There’s no way to test it. Even when profilers are kind of right about some things, they’re wrong about other things. It’s not a science. It’s like a therapist, you know what I mean? You can’t test it, you can’t prove it. Whereas genetic genealogy is the science. So I think profiling is sort of antiquated. 

It makes profilers seem one step up from psychics.

ALEXIS LINKLETTER: Right. Statistically, they’re right just as often as psychics. Psychics may be even more correct sometimes. 

Alexis Linkletter, Billy Jensen and Vince Mirack

That’s really interesting. It’s still obviously early days for forensic phenotyping. In theory, the practice seems pretty amazing. Can you discuss the reality of the technology? 

BILLY JENSEN: This company Parabon came up with the idea of doing the phenotyping, of getting a picture of what this person could look like, not knowing what age they were, but knowing what probable hair color they’d have, what skin tone they’ve had, that kind of thing. It gave a lot of hope to victims, families, and also some police departments. A lot of police departments actually gave in their stuff and sent in the DNA. They started phenotyping and then they started making these pictures. I would look at the pictures and I thought the pictures often looked very similar to each other. But it was good, because it got the story back in the news again, got people talking about it again, because it was an interesting new piece of technology. 

Genealogical DNA databases narrowed the field of suspects enough to lead to arrests. Can you discuss genetic genealogy? How effective are genealogical databases?

ALEXIS LINKLETTER: Well, they’re as effective as the number of people who upload their samples to them. So Gen Match was the one being used by law enforcement primarily. And then when there was a lot of press about all these, these killers were caught through their family’s DNA. Gen Match had to change the terms of their site. People would have to re-opt in order to have their sample publicly searchable and accessible by law enforcement. When that happened, it really took a toll on the database.

BILLY JENSEN: If ancestry or 23andme opened up their database to law enforcement, and law enforcement was on it, we would see probably a dozen arrests per week, maybe even more than that. We know that there’s, there’s a lot, a lot more in there in 23andme, there’s millions and millions of those, as opposed to just in Gen Match. 

One of the things that we tell people is that if you want to help solve a crime or something along those lines, that’s one way to do it. Get your DNA, sequenced by 23andme. Then you can take that raw data, that code, and then it just takes five minutes to upload it in the Gen Match. You’d be part of the process.

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