Man Takes DNA Test and Accidentally Solves a Murder Cold Case

By: Lauren Wurth | Last updated: Oct 21, 2023

Some family secrets are perhaps best left undiscovered. That’s what the curious story of an Australian man would seem to suggest.

Preferring to keep his identity and real name anonymous, a man named Smith took a DNA test, and all he wanted to know was how his father became an orphan. Little did he know that an innocent search for his grandparent’s identity would lead him to uncover a dark secret.

It All Began With a DNA Test

Over the past decade, the wonders of DNA testing have become more and more apparent. Through this technology, people have stumbled upon the most startling revelations, ranging from family ancestry to even criminal history.


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After watching a TV program that promoted DNA testing, Smith, curious to shed light on the gray areas surrounding his paternal grandparents, purchased a self-testing tool. He had no idea what mysteries were about to unfold.


His Grandparents Were Murdered

It was 2022 when Smith took the DNA test at his home. The results revealed the identity of his grandparents and he found that the name he knew his father by (Matt Damon) wasn’t even his real name.


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His father’s actual name was William Leslie Arnold and he was a fugitive. He also discovered that in 1958, his father murdered his grandparents at the age of 16 and buried their corpses in the backyard of their U.S. home.

The Truth Doesn't Stay Hidden Forever

Smith’s father had kept his dark childhood secret from his son for decades. Perhaps, the secrecy was more in a bid to preserve his freedom than to hide his past.


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All Smith had known about his father’s childhood was that he grew up in an orphanage in Chicago. This piece of information turned out to be a lie. The father had spent a large part of his youth in prison.

Smith Wasn't the Only Family Member in Search of the Truth

Two years before Smith’s discovery, his uncle, who wasn’t at home when his father murdered his grandparents, submitted the DNA sample to one of the major DNA databases. This was done with the collaboration of law enforcement.


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The unspecified database could have been any of these – MyHeritage, 23AndMe, or AncestryDNA. Although private DNA databases do not accept crime scene samples, they make exceptions if a family member consents.

The Orphan From Chicago

After 2 years without any result, Mr. Smith’s inquiry arrived in the U.S. all the way from Australia. The lead investigator for the case, Nebraska’s Deputy U.S. Marshal, Matt Westover, said that he received an email from someone in search of his father’s identity.

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“I’m trying to find out more information about my father. He was an orphan from Chicago,” the email read. At this point, Westover knew that a breakthrough was around the corner.


Smith Thought He Was Speaking With His Uncle

After a match was found, Smith thought he was reaching out to his long-lost uncle when he sent the email. He would later find out that he had been speaking to a Nebraska law enforcement officer.

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It was during his interaction with Westover that details of his late father’s crime began to surface. Smith would eventually discover that he knew very little about the man who he thought was his father.


Growing Up With a Wanted Murderer

Police records showed that Smith’s father, the man he had lived with all his life, was in fact a convict. Mr. Arnold had been sentenced to a long prison sentence in Nebraska of which he had served 10 years, before escaping prison in the company of another inmate.

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While law enforcement later caught up with the other escapee, Mr. Arnold was never caught and remained a fugitive until he passed away in 2010 at the age of 69.


Smith's Father Miraculously Evaded the Law

Whether it was luck, a stroke of pure genius, or a combination of both, Mr. Arnold escaped the long arm of the law. He later got married to a second wife who became Smith’s mother.

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Mr. Arnold relocated to Australia after several months of hopping from one state to another. The new location, several thousand miles away, drastically reduced his chances of getting caught.


The Cops Had a Lot to Learn

After connecting with Smith, Nebraska law enforcement learned from him how his father managed to evade justice all these years. Smith had some information that helped them connect the dots of his father’s life, starting from the prison escape until he settled in Australia to start a family.

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His father had first moved to Cincinnati, then Miami, Los Angeles, and New Zealand before making his final stop in Australia.


Smith Describes His Father

Speaking on a BBC podcast, “The Gift,” Smith let us deeper into the life of his father who he says became a sales executive before his demise. “I would never have described my dad as violent at all. I knew him to be very intelligent and very supportive,” he said.

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“I described him to someone as overly supportive, too encouraging sometimes. So over decades I can understand how a person can change and I can attempt to understand how those events may have occurred in a perfect storm, so to speak,” he added.


No Room for Hurt

Smith hasn’t felt any hurt after finding out his father’s immoral secret past. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt angry about him or knowing the truth,” he said.

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He believed his father, who was described as a “model prisoner” before his escape, underwent a self-rehabilitation and turned his life around. “The person I knew was very different and the life I have now is directly because of his being my father and raising me and providing for me.” Who knew that a simple DNA kit could lead to such a whirlwind of a story?