With the help of a DNA database, the Clearfield Police Department arrested a man Wednesday they believe committed multiple aggravated sexual assaults in Utah and Wyoming between 1991 and 2001.
Mark Douglas Burns, 69, of Ogden, has been charged with eight counts of aggravated sexual assault, six counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated burglary and one count of aggravated robbery — and police believe this is not the full extent of his offenses.
“Because of the grievous and brutal nature of these crimes, detectives believe there are more victims and do not believe Mr. Burns suddenly stopped committing such heinous crimes since 2001,” the department said in a news release announcing the arrest, noting that Burns was a long haul truck driver who visited multiple cities in the Western United States through his work.
The police department worked in collaboration with agencies in Utah and Wyoming, as well as with private organizations to solve the case. In May 2015, it worked with the TV show “Cold Justice Sex Crimes" and received several tips and linked other incidents using DNA evidence, according to the news release.
But police credit their real breakthrough to advancements in DNA technology and the work of a genetic genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter, who was able to discover a potential familial relationship of the suspect’s using previously gathered evidence. As a result of that work, officers were eventually able to identify and interview Burns, culminating in his arrest Wednesday after two decades of investigation.
Police say he committed each rape in a similar fashion — breaking into homes, blindfolding the victim with duct tape or ripped clothing, and then brutally raping the victim repeatedly — often while other people were in the home. He allegedly targeted women in apartments with sliding glass doors, and would take money and panties with him when he left.
His victims ranged in age from an 11-year-old girl to a 52-year-old woman. They lived in Clearfield, Ogden, Layton and Riverdale.
Clearfield called the assaults “incomprehensible, brutal, and methodical attacks on females” and noted that they caused “a tremendous amount of pain and grief with all victims and family members.”
The department is calling on surrounding jurisdictions and other states in the Western U.S. to check their cold case files or any rape kits that have not been entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System. Clearfield will continue to work with the Davis County Attorney’s Office in order to prosecute Burns and noted that both the Laramie and Rock Springs police departments in Wyoming will file criminal charges applicable to the offenses that occurred in their jurisdictions.
Police across the country have begun using the rapidly growing genealogy DNA databases — typically used to learn about connect with distant relatives — as a new investigative tool to solve crimes, even as some have raised questions about privacy and concerns about using a family member’s DNA to track down criminals.
Centerville, also in Davis County, used genealogical data to solve a November 2018 aggravated assault in which someone broke into a locked church and attacked an elderly woman who had been playing the organ and choked her until she passed out.
That case caused an uproar and led to new restrictions on this type of information after BuzzFeed News reported that GEDmatch had allowed the department to use its database even though its clear terms of service, which allowed police to use the site only if they were investigating a homicide or a sexual assault, did not apply.
Correction: Updated at 9:39 p.m. >> A previous version of this story misidentified the police department that used a genealogy database to solve an attack against an organist. It was Centerville.