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Virginia authorities used DNA to create a sketch in a decades-old homicide. Then they got a phone call that unraveled the case

In a stunning turn of events, a decades-old cold case investigation took an unexpected twist when the suspect voluntarily reached out to authorities. Detectives in Virginia found themselves on the brink of solving the 1994 stabbing death of 37-year-old Robin Lawrence, but it was a phone call that sealed the case’s dramatic new direction.

The suspect in question, Stephan Smerk, had already been interviewed by detectives earlier that day regarding the cold case. However, Smerk’s unexpected call to Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis left everyone involved taken aback. Smerk expressed his desire to turn himself in.

The breakthrough in this long-dormant investigation came through advancements in DNA analysis. A DNA profile had been established in 1994 using evidence found at the crime scene. However, it wasn’t until decades later that technology caught up, enabling a DNA analysis company to match the profile to one of Smerk’s relatives. This innovative method relied on Parabon NanoLabs, a genetic genealogy company renowned for utilizing DNA evidence and traditional genealogy to identify potential relatives of suspects whose DNA may not be present in genetic databases.

Notably, Parabon NanoLabs possesses a unique specialization in generating digital composite sketches of suspects based on unidentifiable DNA evidence, effectively aiding authorities in their quest to pinpoint the perpetrator. In this case, the lab’s work helped investigators zero in on Stephan Smerk.

Upon their visit to Smerk’s residence in New York, detectives sought his cooperation. Remarkably, Smerk consented to providing a sample of his DNA, a gesture characterized by Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis as “highly unusual” in such circumstances.

However, the true surprise came when detectives were informed that Smerk had called, expressing his intent to surrender himself. Without hesitation, authorities instructed Smerk to proceed to his local police station to complete the process.

This twist of fate marks a significant milestone in the decades-old investigation. The breakthroughs in DNA technology, combined with the dedicated efforts of detectives and organizations like Parabon NanoLabs, have brought a measure of closure to a case that has lingered unresolved for far too long.

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