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Police chief, forensics lab details breakthrough discovery in 30-year Outer Banks cold case

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Posted at 9:07 PM, Oct 26, 2021

NAGS HEAD, N.C. - A News 3 investigation is detailing arrests in the death of a baby 30 years in the making.

Earlier this week, News 3 first told you about two North Carolina parents arrested decades after a baby’s remains were found near a trash can in the Outer Banks.

“It’s pretty sad,” Nags Head Police Chief Phil Webster told News 3.

Webster has been in law enforcement for about 30 years, roughly the same amount of time folks had been looking for answers in the case that went cold.

“When I became the chief of this department, I basically feel as though I have personal ownership of everything that’s preceded me,” Webster said.

That case being cold until now.

“We went back to sort of the beginning,” Webster said.

On April 4, 1991, a town sanitation worker found the baby boy's remains in a trash can rack on East Tides Drive.

After decades of chasing leads, investigators chose to send a rib bone from the remains to Othram, a private genetic testing lab based in Texas.

“It’s scary to be the custodian of what might be the last of the evidence, but it’s always rewarding in the end to give them an answer,” Othram CEO David Mittelman said in an exclusive interview with News 3.

Mittelman’s lab uses state-of-the-art methods to extract DNA and build leads for investigators.

“We take this evidence that’s, for one reason or another, been un-trackable and unusable, and we pull useful information from that crime scene DNA evidence that can be used to identify a suspect or a victim in a crime,” Mittelman said.

Othram was able to pull DNA from the rib bone to conduct a genealogical profile leading to a North Carolina family.

“We use a process called forensic grade genome sequencing,” Mittelman said. “We then take that DNA that is prepared, and we put it through a process in which we can read out a bunch of DNA letters. With enough of these markers, we can look for people that share lots of markers in common with the unknown, and that becomes a match to a distant relative.”

“We can look for people, for example, in public databases that have consented or agreed to participate in these kinds of investigations to help people close out a cold case or identify, like in this case, someone who has never been identified,” Mittelman added. “By providing a little bit of information, it was able to take them to a family group and investigators were able to do their work, talk to people, figure things out and later on, use their own tools to confirm the work we did and establish confirmatory evidence that the people they identified were in fact the parents of this child.”

Those parents, Scott Poole and Robin Byrum, arrested last week by Alexander County, N.C., authorities. Both have been charged with concealing the birth of a child. Authorities said additional charges may come depending on the investigation.

Police told News 3 both were living in the area at the time, and it's believed the boy was dead for about two months before being placed near the trash.

“It’s extremely rewarding to know that we can help close the loop on an investigation that runs decades,” Mittelman said.

Chief Webster said the original cause of death was blunt force trauma and asphyxiation. The circumstances leading up to the infant’s death, however, remain under investigation.

As this investigation continues, both Mittelman and Webster believe Othram’s type of testing will become more mainstream.

“I think it also sends a message to people who want to hide things or do bad or do ill - they want to hide things, that they should take notice, too,” Webster said.

All with the goal of cold cases getting quicker results.

“There is a huge backlog,” Mittelman said. “A silent mass disaster of cases that just cannot get solved using traditional methods. It’s our hope Othram will bring answers to as many of those cases as possible.”

Chief Webster specifically expressed gratitude to former Nags Head Police Chief Kevin Brinkley for previous work on the case.

Nags Head town officials said other agencies assisting with this investigation include the First Prosecutorial District Attorney’s Office, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Cold Case Unit, Alexander County Sheriff’s Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Related: Woman arrested in connection with baby’s 2003 homicide, Chesapeake Police say