Donald McQuade, the suspect accused in the 1978 cold case murder of a teenager who was left in a ditch in Alaska, presented himself as a loving father, grandfather and husband on social media. However, for four decades, authorities say, he was harboring a dark and terrifying secret that a new crimefighting technique called genetic genealogy helped unravel.
They’ve now accused him in the cold case murder of a teenage girl in Alaska by the name of Shelley Connolly. Alaska Dispatch News says she was “beaten, sexually assaulted, dragged behind a car and then tossed down an embankment” in that state in 1978 and left to die. She had broken fingernails indicating she “had tried to crawl back to the road,” before her death, the newspaper reported.
Authorities said in a news conference that they used genetic genealogy to crack the case. Here’s how that works: Investigators find a suspect’s relatives using genetic DNA databases. Any matches from DNA left at a crime scene to relatives, even partial, can lead to the suspect’s broader family tree. In this case, authorities initially found a link between the crime scene DNA and a female second or third cousin once removed who lived in Florida. She wasn’t the killer; she was related to the killer, they believed.
Authorities then whittled down the possibilities of who might be the suspect in that woman’s family tree; in this case, that led them to three brothers, and they then used traditional investigative techniques to determine who was the most likely suspect. They then obtained DNA from the most likely suspect Donald McQuade – through a cigarette butt – and matched it to the crime scene DNA, authorities said.
This pioneering technique led to the apprehension of a man accused of being the Golden State Killer in California, and it’s also led to arrests in old murder cases throughout the United States.
Authorities say that McQuade was “never on the radar” until the genetic genealogy process was used.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. On Facebook, Donald McQuade Wrote About Family, Church & Grandkids
The picture that Donald McQuade painted of himself on social media creates a stark contrast to the man authorities say was capable of raping and murdering a teenager and then leaving her body behind in a ditch. According to KTUU-TV, Connolly told her mother that night in 1978 that she was going roller skating. Instead she went to a local bar and diner.
McQuade posted a throwback photo of himself on Facebook (above), writing, “I believe this was when I figured out Windows 95 !!! The next wk. It changed ,had to start all over!!!” His wife responded, “This pic was taken right before he told me I couldn’t make his hair stand up and by gosh I got it to stand up.. Its in this album if you wanna look lol..” He put an NRA filter over one version of it.
He posted photos at church and at school events. “The Graduate !!! Love that Granchild !!!” he wrote withe one photo of a little girl. In 2017, he wrote on Facebook, “Love for others and Peace to all!!” However, one man wrote in a comment thread in which McQuade described his family: “I’m glad that bridge you jumped off wasn’t high enough. I’ve been thinking about you for years and I was always hoping you were ok. We had some good times and I always thought about you.” It’s not clear what he meant.
On Facebook, McQuade wrote that he “Studied Lkfe at Whatcom Community College,” went to West High, lives in Portland, Oregon, and is from Anchorage, Alaska. His most recent post is a share of an old post that read, “I am the eggman KOO KOO KA CHOOO.” He wrote with another, “Palm Sunday. Be grateful.”
He also wrote about the Las Vegas mass shooting, saying, “Another sad day to wake up and see what transpired in LasVegas. Pray for those that are suffering and the Families of the Loved ones that were killed in such a cowardly act.” Generally though, he presented a picture of a devoted husband, father, and grandfather through his Facebook posts.
2. Shelley Connolly’s Body Was Found Down an Embankment
The social media presentation of Donald McQuade is chilling in its banality when you compare it to what authorities think he did.
Col. Barry Wilson said in a news conference that the murder of Shelley Connolly was a “case we feared would never be solved. A young woman by the name of Shelley Connelly was left on the side of the Seward Highway for dead.” That was in January 1978.
“This past Friday 62-year-old Donald F. McQuade was taken into custody in Gresham, Oregon” and charged with murder in the death of Shelley, he said.
A little over 41 years ago, said Wilson, a trooper was flagged down south of Anchorage. The deceased body of a teenage girl was found down an embankment by people who stopped to take photographs. At the autopsy, it was determined that the teen was sexually assaulted and murdered.
A short time later, 16-year-old Shelley Connolly was reported missing. The family’s fears were confirmed and the body found was identified as Shelley, he said. Eventually the case became cold. Over time, McQuade continued living his life, but forensic science also kept advancing. In 1997, a DNA profile was collected of an unknown male. In 2003, the unidentified suspect’s profile was uploaded into an offender database but there was not hit.
The DNA was eventually submitted to a company called Parabon NanoLabs. They utilized genetic genealogy.
The cold case unit identified Donald McQuade as a potential suspect. He was 21 years old at the time of Shelley’s murder. He matched the suspect DNA profile and lived in Alaska at the time Shelley was killed, according to Wilson.
He was taken into custody without incident on August 30, 2019. “The Alaska State Troopers made an arrest in connection to the 1978 murder and sexual assault of 16-year-old Shelley Connolly. On September 3, 2019, 62-year-old Donald F. McQuade of Gresham, OR, was taken into custody and charged with murder in the first degree and murder in the second degree,” the Alaska State Troopers reported in a news release.
Before the arrest, CrimeStoppers wrote on the case: “On January 7, 1978, Connolly`s body was found next to the train tracks just south of McHugh Creek at milepost 109 of the Seward Highway; she had been sexually assaulted and murdered. The last time she was seen alive was earlier that evening inside Chilkoot Charlies talking to four men. Detectives would like to locate a man known as ‘Pinkie’ who lived in the Kenai area at the time.”
3. McQuade’s Wife Praised His ‘Caring Heart’ Before the Arrest
McQuade’s wife gushed about her husband on Facebook before the arrest, writing, ” I just absolutely love ❤️ my husband’s love and caring heart ♥️♥️♥️♥️?????”
In 2017, she wrote, “Our Love ❤️ will forever grow, until death do us apart!! I Love ❤️ you!! Donald McQuade.” She added, “Yes I am very happy. Always!! I so Love ❤️ My husband with all my heart and soul. We will forever be one until death do us apart.”
Some of McQuade’s posts on Facebook now seem a bit ominous in restrospect. “Accidentally sent link to everyone about knive,s and swords from a site that has also Movie and Fantasy props.My son Loves Anime and Cosplay conventions.Must have hit To All ,sorry my bad!!” he wrote. His son wrote him: “Thanks again Donald McQuade, Dad for helping me make an awesome sword! Love ya!”
In 2014, he wrote that he was facing cancer: “Thank you all for your well wishes,I,m a wore out,the Doctor believes he cut all the cancer out.I,ll know more in 5 wks. with next radioactive tests. Again thak (sic) you all for good thoughts and well wishes.”
In 2012, he wrote in caps: ROMNEY SUCKS and OBAMA SUCKS.
4. Shelley Connolly Was Remembered as a Spunky Teen Who Would Be in Her 50s Today
A story from Alaska Dispatch News in 2015 captured the family’s grief over Connolly’s unsolved murder. The article described Shelley as a “loud, spunky teenager, born and raised in Alaska.”
She was described as close to her younger brother and a teenager who enjoyed fishing and camping. She was described in the article as petite and pretty but a high school dropout who was about to study cosmetology classes and was engaged to an older military man.
She would be in her 50s today. “A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her,” her mother told Alaska Dispatch News.
5. Donald McQuade Has a Criminal History
Despite his public persona, McQuade did not live a blemish free life after the murder.
McQuade lived for Alaska off and on during his life. Court records “show a number of minor charges over the years, as well as domestic violence and stalking charges, spread between Palmer, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula,” reported Alaska Public.org.
Online records show he’s also lived in Washington state as well as Oregon.