Library Employee’s Courtesy Leads to Murder Case Resolution


A simple phone call, a little bit of digging, a quick scan followed by an email, then on to the next task. Daniel Titus didn’t give the matter a second thought, until he found out five years later his efforts played a small part in solving a decades-old murder case 1,200 miles away.

Pickler Memorial Library has more than 2.3 million items in its collection, among which are volume upon volume of old newspapers transferred to microfilm and microfiche. It is not uncommon for these historical documents to play a role in genealogical research. That’s what Titus thought he was dealing with in 2019 when he received a phone call asking to check an old obituary from the Kirksville Daily Express sometime in 1979.

“It was no big deal for us. We do stuff like that infrequently, but it’s not uncommon,” he said. “I just had to do a little sleuthing on a reel. I was able to find the obituary about the woman in question on our vast microfilm collection, and I emailed it on. I received a very grateful reply, and that was the last we heard about it until last week.”
As the library stacks maintenance supervisor, Titus is responsible for the accurate location of materials, as well as space management of inventory. What he didn’t know at the time was this one bit of information he was passing along was the final piece of a puzzle law enforcement was using to clear one man’s name and help confirm the identity of a murderer.

In 1996, Angie Dodge was raped and murdered in Idaho Falls, Idaho. A controversial conviction followed the next year, and in 2007, the Idaho Innocence Project took on the case. By cross referencing DNA evidence with profiles submitted to genetic databases used by people looking to identify relatives or discover their ancestry, investigators were able to clear the previously convicted person and narrow the list of potential new suspects. They had a DNA match, but the name did not align with the prime suspect, Brian Dripps. Through tracing the family tree, they learned Dripps had taken his adoptive father’s last name. The obituary Titus located identified his biological grandmother and listed his mother as having the last name Dripps. Through that confirmation, they were able to make an arrest, and Dripps confessed to the crime. It is widely believed to be the first instance in the country where genetic genealogy has been used to exonerate a defendant.

Titus was completely unaware of the role his efforts played in the matter until another out-of-the-blue correspondence came in early February when a producer from “Dateline” reached out in the wake of the exonerated man’s recent passing. This was the first time Titus learned of the repercussions from his routine customer service provided five years earlier. For his part, he is humble about the role he played, and more than anything, surprised.

“Any one of us working here would have done the same, I just happened to be the one to answer the phone that day. I just never expected to get a message about it five years later and for it to have had such a major impact,” he said. “I had a hard time believing that a simple search through old newspapers would lead to this. It just shows the importance of access to public information, the importance of libraries and why smalltown news matters.”