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Gresham Police and the Alaska murder mystery

January 5, 2024

Who killed Shelley Connolly?

A graphic illustration titled Cold Cases with a large wooden stamp on a wooden desk that reads "Case Solved" with stamped case files next to it. The Gresham Police Department badges are set in the right-hand corner.Since 1978, Alaska State Troopers (AST) have been trying to solve the murder of 16-year-old Shelley Connolly. Shelley was discovered in a roadside pullout on the Seward Highway, south of Anchorage. Despite multiple suspects and an extensive investigation, the case went cold.

Over time, as DNA technology advanced, there was hope that the case could be solved. It was reopened periodically, and eventually evidence was entered into the nationwide DNA database. With no match found, efforts to bring justice were stalled.

DNA and genetic genealogy

In 2019, with revolutionary technology available, the AST Cold Case Unit connected a suspect to the case using genetic genealogy. This technology involves comparing a DNA profile to known profiles in genealogical databases to find people who share the same genetic information.

As the case evolved, investigators learned the suspect was living in Gresham. With the help of the Gresham Police Department, what had been a cold case was heating up.

Two Gresham brothers, one cigarette butt

The DNA profile pointed to one of two brothers living in Gresham, and Gresham Police worked to connect evidence that could link the suspect to the crime. Detectives collected a discarded cigarette butt, which the department sent to the Alaska State Laboratory for analysis.

Through DNA testing, investigators were able to match DNA samples from two places on Connolly’s body to Donald McQuade’s DNA. In August 2019, Alaska investigators traveled to Oregon and worked alongside Gresham Police detectives, including current detective Tim Snider, to arrest McQuade.

An Anchorage jury found 67-year-old Donald McQuade guilty in 2023 of multiple counts for the 1978 murder of 16-year-old Shelley Connolly. McQuade will be sentenced by the court this spring. He will spend 20 years to life in prison.

The Gresham Police Department is grateful to have provided essential investigative support that helped bring justice for the family and an end to another cold case.