San Diego, CA–On October 5, 2003, at about 1:25 p.m., Sheriff’s deputies responded to an apartment complex in the 1600 block of Hilton Head Court in Rancho San Diego for a report of body parts found in a dumpster by a worker.
Deputies and fire personnel arrived and confirmed two human legs were found in the dumpster. The Sheriff’s Homicide Unit responded and assumed responsibility for the investigation. No other body parts were located at the scene.
The Medical Examiner’s Office identified the legs as belonging to an adult female. The preliminary cause of death was undetermined. The manner of death was a homicide. The Medical Examiner’s Office and the Homicide Unit exhausted all traditional avenues of identifying the woman without success.
In June 2020, the Homicide Unit’s Cold Case Team, in coordination with the Medical Examiner’s Office and the Sheriff’s Crime Lab, selected the case to be worked using investigative genetic genealogy. This was the first time the Homicide Unit attempted to identify a murder victim, or “Jane Doe” case, utilizing investigative genetic genealogy.
In December 2020, the Cold Case Team identified the woman’s adult son. Through DNA, the unidentified woman was positively identified as Laurie Diane Potter. The Cold Case Team began an intensive investigation into her life. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department provided additional support and resources, which was critical for this portion of the investigation.
Investigators learned that in 2003, Laurie was 54-years-old, a resident of Temecula, and married to Jack Dennis Potter. The investigation revealed substantial and convincing evidence that Jack murdered Laurie.
On May 12, the San Diego Regional Fugitive Task Force arrested 68-year-old Jack Potter at his home in the 11200 block of 5th Street in Rancho Cucamonga. He was transported to the San Diego Central Jail and booked into custody for one count of murder. He will appear in court on May 20.
The Sheriff’s Homicide Unit only utilizes investigative genetic genealogy when all other methods have been exhausted. This technique combines the science of DNA with the art of genealogy. In this case, the goal was to find relatives whose own DNA profile matched those of an unidentified victim of homicide. Once the victim’s profile was developed, it was uploaded into commercial genealogy sites that allow law enforcement agencies to participate.
The Cold Case Team then formed family histories in the form of “trees”, which led detectives to other potential relatives of the woman. When speaking with relatives, detectives identify themselves, tell the person what they are investigating, explain the process, and ask for their assistance. This process eventually led investigators to closer relatives and ended with contacting Laurie’s son. He provided a DNA sample and she was identified.
This is the first time an agency in the San Diego region has used investigative genetic genealogy to identify a victim of a homicide and subsequently arrest a person for their murder.
The investigation into the murder of Laurie Potter is ongoing. The Cold Case Team would like to speak with anybody who knew Laurie or Jack in the mid-80s thru the present.