How a face built from DNA might help solve teen's 31-year-old murder in Arlington

Teresa Branch’s red Pontiac Sunfire had been giving her trouble. Earlier on the morning on April 19, 1986, the 18-year-old’s father had recharged the battery. But that night, while driving with a friend, it would stall twice again.

Branch told her friend to stay with the car while she jogged back to her parent’s house for help. She never made it.

More than an hour later, a truckload of teens would spot the teen’s body in the parking lot of the Harmony Baptist Church at 1814 W. Arkansas Lane. She’d been raped and shot.

Years later, biological fluids recovered from the crime scene would yield a DNA profile — key evidence that investigators hoped would unlock the secret of who killed Branch. But comparisons to suspects over the years and entering the profile into a national DNA database in 2001 have led to no matches.

Now, Arlington police are hoping that a composite photograph of one of the possible suspects — generated without anyone ever seeing his face — may lead to an arrest in the case.

Parabon Nanolabs, a Virginia-based company, used analysis of a DNA sample from Branch’s case to predict the suspect’s physical appearance, including ancestry, hair and eye color.

Based on their analysis, the suspect is likely to be of Middle Eastern ancestry, light brown or fair skinned in complexion with brown or hazel eyes and black hair.

The company’s generated Snapshot composite of the suspect was released to the Star-Telegram on Wednesday by Arlington police. It shows what the suspect would have likely looked like at age 25.

“We continue to work our cold cases and look for ways to solve them,” said Arlington homicide Detective Ben Lopez said. “This was something we wanted to try on Branch’s case in hopes it would generate a lead.”

Claudio Branch, Teresa’s oldest brother, has spent much of his life trying to put his sister’s tragic death behind him. But the need for answers still resonates, he says, and he’s hoping that the latest effort will succeed.

“Solving this, finding out who did this — dead or alive — it actually doesn’t change very much. It really doesn’t change anything,” Claudio Branch said. “It just fills in a gap, knowing the final piece of the puzzle. It’s just like the final chapter of a book. Waiting to get that last chapter.”

Go here to keep reading this article from the Star-Telegram.

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