Police crack cold case using ice cream spoon from Baskin-Robbins

Authorities retrieved a sexual assault suspect's DNA from an ice cream spoon. Pexels

Police in California say they’ve cracked a 22-year-old sex-assault cold case thanks to a DNA sample retrieved from a discarded ice cream spoon outside a Baskin-Robbins.

Gregory Paul Vien, 59, of Livermore, Calif., has been arrested on multiple felony sexual assault charges in connection with two rapes in 1997, according to a statement from Nancy O’Malley, the district attorney for Alameda County. He appeared in court on Wednesday.

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Vien is suspected of sexually assaulting a 41-year-old woman in Union City, Calif., in May 1997. He is also suspected of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old woman in Livermore in September 1997, O’Malley said.

Detectives managed to collect DNA from the women’s attackers shortly after they were raped in 1997. Investigators found that the two samples came from the same individual, according to police. Despite that information, they were unable to identify a suspect at the time.

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That changed in 2019, when a detective with the Livermore police department ran the old samples through a public genealogy database. The tests eventually pointed police toward Vien, so they started running surveillance on him.

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Detectives saw the suspect visit a Baskin-Robbins, and they waited for him to throw out his ice cream before swooping in to scoop up his discarded spoon. They tested the saliva on the spoon and found a DNA match with the 1997 crime scene samples, police said.

Vien was arrested on Nov. 5. He faces five felony charges, including three counts of sexual penetration by a foreign object and two counts of forcible oral copulation. He also faces several special allegations related to kidnapping and sexual assault, according to court records.

Police are also investigating whether Vien is connected to three similar unsolved sexual assaults that occurred in Livermore between 1995 and 1997.

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Detectives have started using publicly accessible genealogy websites to investigate hundreds of cold cases using DNA. The approach became particularly popular after it led to an arrest in the Golden State Killer cold case.

Vien was scheduled to enter a plea in court on Wednesday.

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