DNA profiling: privacy violations & collateral effects

Last year I was conducting research regarding DNA data banks, DNA databases and DNA profiling. I stumbled upon a story (The New York Times) about a young 13 years of age Italian woman named Yara Gambirasio.

Yara Gambirasio DNA

image credit: unita.it, 2011. photograph of Yara Gambirasio with parish priest Don Corinne Scotti at a church in the town of Brembate Sopra, province of Bergamo (date unknown).

Yara Gambirasio lived in northern Italy in a region called Lombardy. On a Friday afternoon on the 26th day of November, 2010 she was at home with her parents at their home in a town called Brembate di Sopra (near the city of Bergamo) in the province of Bergamo.

Brembate di Sopra BG Italy Lombardy

Yara left her house that afternoon to visit a nearby gym.  According to Newsweek her passion was gymnastics. That evening she failed to return home.  Evidently she left the nearby gym at approximately 6:00 PM.  When she hadn’t returned home by 7:30 PM (and after several attempts to reach her by cell phone) her parents (Fulvio & Maura) contacted the police and reported her missing.

It should also be noted that it was snowing that evening and more so that night.

Three (3) months later on 25th day of February, 2011 the body of Yara Gambirasio was found approximately 6 miles from her house. Her body was frozen and some parts decomposed. Apparently she was attacked with a very sharp cutting object and there were several cuts on her body. However, it was subsequently determined that she did not die from the lacerations or from loss of blood.

According the the thelocal.it (Italy’s News in English) she suffered a head injury during that attack and died from exposure to the cold weather after she lost consciousness.

Forensic scientists found male DNA material on some of the Yara’s underclothing.

According to Newsweek a Police Lieutenant Colonel named Michele La Russo of the Raggruppamento Opere Speciali (ROS), who was the Carabinieri officer leading the murder investigation, stated “Despite exposure to the wind, rain and snow those two DNA traces were excellent. And we were able to exclude saliva and sperm. So that left blood.”

Lieutenant Colonel Russo also said that Yara Gambirasio had not been raped (penetration) but he asserted that. “There are many other ways to sexually abuse a girl, no?”

 

DNA Profiling

To the catch the killer the police conducted one of the largest DNA dragnets in the world.

The New York Times (July 26, 2014) indicated that genetic samples were taken from nearly 22,000 people.

Newsweek (November 10, 2014) indicated that genetic samples were taken from 15,000 people (in addition to combing DNA data banks).

The Guardian (January 8, 2015) indicated that genetic samples were taken from thousands of people.

thelocal.it (August 5, 2013)  indicated that genetic samples were taken from 14,000 people.

thelocal.it (June 17, 2014) again indicated that genetic samples were taken from 14,000 people.

Based on the foregoing I cannot ascertain an accurate number of how many individuals had genetic samples taken.

It should be noted that, by all accounts that I’ve read, all the DNA samples were administered voluntarily (no one was compelled by legal order).  According to The New York Times a prosecutor in the case, Letizia Ruggeri, who admitted that a court order could be issued if someone refused to be tested, stated that,“but I never needed one [court order for DNA sample] because everyone submitted to the test voluntarily.”

I that should also be noted that, according to Pennsylvania State University, the only other DNA dragnet that I could find of this scale occurred in 1998 in Germany:

  1. In what has perhaps been the largest DNA dragnet to date, in 1998 police in northwestern Germany obtained “16,400 DNA samples before matching a local mechanic with DNA left at the scene of a rape and murder” (Richard Willing. USA Today September 16, 1998, Wednesday, FINAL EDITION: NEWS; Pg. 1A).  In this case, the perpetrator Ronny Rieken “was among the thousands of men in the region who voluntarily supplied samples for DNA testing” (http://www.scafo.org/library/140404.html).  Local police “used newspaper announcements to summon men from the suspected age group of 18 to 30 to have their mouths swabbed with cotton to collect saliva samples” (Id).

Police in Italy, according to The New York Times, initially focused the DNA testing on people “whose mobile phones had been used near where the Yara was abducted and killed.” Police indicated that there were approximately “120,000 phone owners intercepted in the area that night.

 

Big break in the case

Forensic scientists in Italy working to match DNA samples with the DNA found on Yara Gambirasio’s underclothing were analyzing the voluntary DNA samples of men who frequented a discoteca (nightclub) called Le Sabbie Mobili (Quick Sand) which is located near the field where Yara’s body was found.

The name of one of the young men was Damiano Guerinoni. Evidently, according Newsweek, his DNA was very similar to that of what was found on Yara’s underclothing.

It was ascertained that Damiano Guerinoni was, indisputably, a close relative of the killer.

It should also be noted that, according The Guardian, his mother, Aurora Zanni, worked for ten (10) years as maid or ‘domestic help’ for Yara’s family. Apparently Zanni worked twice a week at the family’s house throughout Yara’s childhood.

According to Newsweek Damiano Guerinoni’s father is one of eleven (11) brothers and sisters.

It appears that investigators obtained DNA and other information from the uncles and aunts of Damiano Guerinoni’s.

One of his uncles, Giuseppe Guerinoni, had died in year 1999 but investigators wanted a sample of his DNA.

In autumn of 2012 investigators contacted his widow, Laura Poli, and she supplied them with a box of documents which included paper driver’s license which contained an affixed postage stamp.

If Giuseppe Guerinoni licked the stamp himself the forensic investigators might be able to extract a DNA sample.

DNA was successfully obtained from the postage stampand, after comparison with the DNA found on Yara’s underclothing, it was determined to be an even closer match than that of his nephew Damiano.

The only problem now was the Giuseppe Guerinoni had died in year 1999 and Yara Gambirasio was killed in 2010.

 

Privacy Violations and Collateral Effects

Evidently the children of Giuseppe Guerinoni and his widow Laura Poli sumbitted DNA samples but were quickly ruled out as suspects.

At that point investigators ascertained that Giuseppe Guerinoni must have had a child out of wedlock (i.e., he committed adultry).  According the to thelocal.it, As Guerinoni died long before the murder happened, investigators believe that the killer could be his son from an illegitimate relationship in the 1960s or 1970s.

In order to ascertain the identity of this illegitimate child the investigators would first need to identify who the mother was.

Giuseppe Guerinoni’s widow (Laura Poli) was shocked that her husband may have had an affair and that he may have fathered a child out of wedlock.  When investigators asked her if she had any idea of who the other woman may have been she indicated that she did not and that she was unaware of her husband’s extra-marital activities.

Police tracked down a former colleague of her husband’s who indicated that, Yes, he [Giuseppe] was a ladies’ man and lots of young women travelled on his bus to and from work. One, at least, he got into trouble.

According to Newsweek the police in Italy tracked down 532 women who Giuseppe Guerinoni had known in his life and whom he may have had sexual relations with (who were still alive). Each of the 532 women provided a DNA sample.

The DNA of woman named Ester Arzuffi (in her late 60’s) matched the DNA that was found on the underclothing of Yara Gambirasio.  This indicated that she was:

(1) the mother of man who left his DNA on the underclothing of Yara Gambirasio

(2) the woman who Giuseppe Guerinoni had an extra-martial affair with, and fathered a child (illegitimate child) with, while he was married to his wife Laura Poli

Furthermore, according to Newsweek, it turns out that Ester Arzuffi has been married to a man named Giovanni Bossetti since year 1967. She was nineteen (19) years of age when they married.

She and her husband live in Brembate di Sopre (as did Yara Gambirasio).

They have (3) three children:

(a) twins whom were born in year 1970 – Massimo Giuseppe (son) and Laura Laetizia (daughter)

(b) son named Fabio

DNA testing determined that that her husband Giovanni Bossetti is not the father of the twins.

The father of Massimo Giuseppe (son) and Laura Laetizia (daughter) was Giuseppe Guerinoni.

Both the husband and the twins were apparently in the dark about this and never suspected anything.

According to Newsweek Ester Arzuffi denies that she ever had an affair with Giuseppe Guerinoni and she dismissed, as being inexplicable, the DNA results which indicated that her husband is not the father of her twins.

In addition, according to Newsweek, two (2) other men have came forward to the court (to a magistrate judge) in Italy indicating that they too had sexual affairs with Ester Arzuffi.

The full name of Ester Arzuffi’s son (the male twin) is Massimo Giuseppe Bossetti. It appears that he is in his mid 40’s, is married, has three (3) children and works as a carpenter.

Massimo Bossetti Yara Gambirasio

image credit: The Guardian, 2015. photograph of Massimo Giuseppe Bossetti (date unknown).

He, his wife and children live together in the town of Mapello which is adjacent to the town of Brembate di Sopra where Yara Gambirasio lived and was murdered.

In June of year 2014 Italian police set up a roadblock near their home and stopped Massimo while he was driving (his wife and children were in the car, as well) and breathalyzed him.

Apparently in Italy there may not need to be reasonable suspicion in order to be pulled over for things like drunk driving.

At any rate, police used the DNA on the breathalyzer to obtain his DNA.

According to Newsweek, the DNA on the breathalyzer and the DNA on Yara Gambirasio’s underclothing was a clear match. Apparently the DNA indicated 21 compatible markers. It appears that just 16 to 17 are typically considered as being sufficient.

Massimo Bossetti was arrested on the 16th day of June, 2014.  He has been in custody since.

He states that he is innocent. Moreover, according to Newsweek, his wife indicates that he is innocent and that she and their children were with him at their home the evening/night of the murder.

It appears that Massimo Bossetti is still in custody but that he has not been convicted of any crimes. Furthermore, it appears that there are many more twists and turns in this case and that mistakes may have been made in the investigation and errors with DNA testing.

I will likely publish followup reports on this story. For the time being please keep an eye on the upcoming comments attached to this report and feel free to post comments yourselves if you have pertinent, relevant or applicable information or data.

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