Even though police have the DNA of the man they believe murdered Taylor Van Diest, they can't trace him because he doesn't show up in any genetic database. But what if his father or brother did?

Samples found at the scene of the 18-year-old's murder on Halloween match just one other RCMP file -- an unsolved sex assault at a Kelowna escort service in 2005. Because the man was never caught, police haven't been able to match a name to the DNA.

That leaves investigators with just a six-year-old description of a man with bushy sideburns to guide their quest to find the man responsible for the random killing that has put a small B.C. town on edge for the last month. Mounties are now circulating a composite drawing based on that description in the hope that someone, somewhere, will recognize their suspect.

But if this were California or the U.K., police would have one more tool that could help them track down the killer, by checking to see if any of their family members are in the criminal system.

A technique known as familial DNA searching -- not currently permitted in Canada -- allows investigators to search for close, partial matches in genetic data banks. That means that police can identify criminals who might be the unnamed suspect's brother, father or sister.

It might sound far-fetched, but research shows that crime often runs in families. One study conducted in the States showed that 30 per cent of men in the prison system have brothers who are also incarcerated.

And the technique has been used to solve some pretty high-profile, grisly cases. Perhaps most famously, Los Angeles police tracked down their suspect in the famed "Grim Sleeper" murders by identifying his son.

Lonnie Franklin Jr. was arrested last year on suspicion that he killed at least 10 people over 25 years. The DNA samples found at the murder scenes didn't match anything in California's offenders database, but the genetic sequence on the killer's Y sex chromosome was so close to another man's, the offender could only be the father or son of the serial killer.

It turns out that Franklin's son had recently been arrested. Police were able to take a swab from a cup used by the elder Franklin, and his DNA turned out to be a perfect match for the killer.

Familial DNA searching was also used in England to catch a rapist two decades after he raped at least six women and stole their stiletto shoes.

In the U.S., the technique is employed in California, Virginia, Texas and Colorado, and several other states are looking into adopting it. A Democratic congressman from California introduced a bill earlier this month that would allow the FBI to use familial DNA to investigate cold cases.

Canada "consulting" on investigative technique

So, why isn't familial DNA searching allowed in Canada, where it might help police find violent criminals like the man who left Taylor Van Diest for dead by the railroad tracks in Armstrong?

Mounties won't comment on the technique, except to say that it "is not legislatively permitted because of privacy." However, according to a government report, RCMP representatives have lobbied for the right to use familial DNA searches.

Some privacy advocates have argued that the method would turn convicts into "genetic informants" against their own relatives, and that it would unfairly target minorities, who tend to be disproportionately represented in the criminal system.

In a speech last year, Assistant Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier said that she won't support introducing the technique and needs to see more evidence that familial DNA searching can actually catch criminals.

"Are we comfortable with the deliberate targeting of presumed innocent people, whose DNA has never been subject to inclusion in the DNA databank -- a process that includes a judicial decision at the end of trial that leads to a conviction?" Bernier said.

But B.C.'s civil liberties watchdog isn't necessarily opposed to the idea. The BC Civil Liberties Association has said that it likely wouldn't protest the use of familial DNA searching as long as it's limited to investigating serious crimes like rape and murder and the information in the genetic database is tightly controlled.

The Canadian Department of Justice has said that it isn't ready to approve the technique, but the government is "actively consulting" with the provinces, police and privacy advocates on the subject.

In June 2010, a senate committee recommended that more research should be done before the technique is approved. That group suggested that justice officials "craft a provision that would balance the need to protect society, the need to protect privacy rights and the need to preserve the presumption of innocence."

But an official told the committee that "kinship analysis, while undoubtedly a hot topic, is unlikely to result in many matches because it can be highly demanding of police resources."