Cold case solved? Terre Haute Indiana man Frank Thies arrested on Rhode Island child molestation and sexual assault charges after DNA test

PROVIDENCE, RI– DNA evidence left behind 35 years ago and the use of forensic genealogy have led to the arrest of an Indiana man accused of sexually assaulting two Rhode Island girls in 1987, authorities announced Wednesday.

Frank Thies, 66, of Terre Haute, Indiana, was charged with sexual assault and harassment in Rhode Island on Thursday.

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The victims, ages 11 and 13, were sexually assaulted in April 1987 after their attacker forced them into the woods in rural Rhode Island, authorities said. One of the girls lived nearby in Exeter. Police recovered physical evidence they believed belonged to the perpetrator but were unable to provide any identification.

The case was reopened in 2005 following advances in genetic forensics, but no match has yet been found.

In 2019, detectives from the State Police Special Victims Unit worked with the Rhode Island Department of Health to re-examine the genetic evidence. They turned to genetic profiling, which involves searching DNA databases to find familial matches to a suspect’s DNA. From there, they determined that the suspect was likely one of three brothers from western New York who had served in the military.

Investigators then teamed up with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and determined that one of the brothers had attended the Naval Justice School in Newport the day before the attack. Indiana authorities have obtained a discarded DNA sample from the suspect, which police say matches evidence found 35 years ago.

Thies was arrested in Indiana on October 19 and extradited to Rhode Island. He has been charged with one count of first degree sexual abuse and two counts of first degree child abuse. He is being held without bail.

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It was unclear on Thursday whether Thies would be represented by a lawyer who could comment on the allegations.

Forensic genealogy received significant attention in 2018 after it was used to track down a California serial killer responsible for at least 13 murders and dozens of rapes in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, the new method has led to the identification of dozens of suspects in cold cases, although some critics have raised privacy concerns about the practice.

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