Read This Book

Read This Book: The Forever Witness by Edward Humes

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

For my final pick of 2022, I had to shout about my favorite/most interesting true crime read of the year! I think if you’re at all interested in true crime and how the genre will be shifting and changing with new technology in the coming years (and how it’s indeed already shifting!) then this is a must-read!

Content warning: Discussion of murder, violence, s*xual assault and other disturbing details about crime, as well as grief and PTSD

cover image The Forever Witness

The Forever Witness: How DNA and Genealogy Solved a Cold Case Double Murder by Edwards Humes

This is the fascinating double story of a horrific cold case, and how a scientific movement solved it and sent waves through the crime-solving community. Naturally, the book begins with the crime: Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook were young and in love when they decided to run an errand for Jay’s dad by driving to Seattle from Canada. They got a little lost along the way, but they seemed on track to arrive at their destination…but never did. Nearly a week later, their bodies were discovered miles away from each other with their car in yet another location. They’d both been brutally murdered by two different methods.

This case was rigorously investigated and explored, but the problem was that police had no suspects despite having plenty of physical evidence and DNA. And so the case sat for decades until a cold case detective decided to revive it, and was willing to try all sorts of new methods — including forensic genealogy — to try and find his perpetrator. That’s where Humes begins to really dig into the advent of forensic genealogy. He provides an interesting history in how DNA has been used to solve crimes and shows how it applies to this case.

I think this is a book that anyone who is interested in true crime ought to read, not only because Humes does a really great job of exploring the murders of Tanya and Jay, but also for the consideration of DNA and forensic genealogy and how it’s quickly changed the landscape of solving crimes, particularly cold cases. Everyone has likely heard of how this method was first used to crack the Golden State Killer case, but many might not realize that while it took months of research to find that killer using genealogy, finding Jay and Tanya’s murderer only took two hours. Humes provides an interesting and concise history of this methodology, exploring the ethical and legal ramifications, many of which are still playing out today. Forensic genealogy has the potential to do a lot of good, but, as in any crime case that goes to trial, it also has the potential to be picked apart and thrown out of court, and where does that leave the victims and survivors? There are no easy answers, but there can be a certain amount of closure in discovering the truth, even if justice proves to be a bit more elusive.

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Happy reading!

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