The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) last summer exhumed the remains of five people from Twin Cities cemeteries – three men and two women. Their identities were unknown at the time of burial and DNA testing was not available.
BCA scientists obtained DNA profiles from each of them. Unfortunately, none of those profiles matched DNA in state and federal missing person databases.
|June 11, 1976
|Mississippi River near Lilydale
|July 20, 1977
|Mississippi River near Childs/Warner roads
|February 7, 1985
|Abandon building at Kellogg & Wall in St. Paul
|April 18, 1985
|Mississippi River east of the Ford Dam
“This result further demonstrates the need for families of missing people to provide DNA samples for comparison with unidentified remains,” BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said. “A process that takes less than a minute to complete can answer a lifetime’s worth of questions.”
DNA collection opportunities planned
The BCA has scheduled a series of DNA collection opportunities across Minnesota over the next two weeks where families who haven’t already done so may provide information about their missing relative and a DNA sample. The resulting DNA profile will be entered into missing person databases for comparison with unidentified remains. The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center will also have staff on hand to provide family support as needed.
“The disappearance of a family member is extremely difficult because the loss is accompanied by so many unanswered questions,” BCA Deputy Superintendent Catherine Knutson said. “While a match like this is not the result families hope for, it is information that may help them move forward.”
Steps for families to take
Close family members of missing persons (parents, siblings, children) who have not already provided a DNA sample are encouraged to meet with BCA personnel on one of the dates listed below.
|Saturday, July 15
|10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
BCA Headquarters - 1430 Maryland Ave. E., St. Paul
|Tuesday, July 18
|4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Duluth Police Department - 2030 N. Arlington Ave.
|Wednesday, July 19
|4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
BCA Bemidji Regional Office - 3700 Norris Court NW
|Thursday, July 27
|4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Blue Earth County Justice Center - 401 Carver Rd., Mankato (update from original location)
BCA personnel will guide family members through the necessary steps. Families should bring with them any available information about their missing relative including:
- Date of birth
- Dental records
- Items which may contain the missing person’s DNA (baby teeth, toothbrush, hairbrush, etc.)
- Exact or approximate date and location they went missing
Once a consent form is signed, the BCA will collect a DNA sample using a cheek squab. BCA scientists will then enter the profile obtained from that sample into the Minnesota and FBI missing persons databases for comparison with DNA profiles of unidentified persons in Minnesota and across the nation.
“DNA is the scientific link to a person’s identity,” Knutson said. “We cannot give these people back their names without family participation.”
Identification effort successes to date
Since the BCA’s larger unidentified remains effort began in 2013, five people have been identified through DNA matches to family members.
- Pearline Walton of Minneapolis
- Cassandra Rhines of Minneapolis
- Michelle Busha of Bay City, Texas
- Todd Wagener, last known alive in Pima County, Arizona
- Mary Lynn Shondel (Andersen) of Gillette, Wyoming
A National Institute of Justice grant covered the costs of the recent exhumations and the planned collection, testing and entry of missing person family member DNA into state and federal missing person databases.
Facts about the BCA’s Unidentified Remains Effort
Many of these people were discovered decades ago when DNA testing was not available. Oftentimes, when attempts to identify remains were unsuccessful, they would be kept at a medical examiner’s office or interred as an unknown person. Forensic testing capabilities now available allow BCA scientists to derive DNA from old or poor condition remains. The BCA needs family member DNA samples to compare with DNA collected from unidentified remains.
- At least 100 sets of human remains have been located in Minnesota thus far, but more are believed to exist.
- In some cases, specific details regarding how the remains were recovered is unclear.
Facts about Unidentified Remains – the National Picture
- According to National Institute of Justice, 40,000 sets of unidentified remains are held in medical examiners offices across the nation.
- Only about 15 percent of unidentified remains have been entered into the FBI’s National Missing Persons DNA Database.
- Without the DNA from the missing person or their family members, these individuals may never be identified.
Facts about Minnesota Missing Persons
- 225 Minnesotans have been missing more than a year.
- At any given time there are more than 550 missing Minnesotans.
- More than 11,000 people are reported missing in Minnesota each year.
- Public information about missing and unidentified persons (gender, age, race, circumstances if known) is kept in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NAMUS, and is available at www.namus.gov.
What happens to the DNA?
- Unidentified remains DNA – DNA obtained from the remains is entered into the FBI’s National Missing Persons DNA Database where it is compared with family member samples from within Minnesota and across the nation.
- Family member DNA – Profiles derived from DNA provided by family members of missing people are entered into the same database for comparison. If an immediate match is not made, the data is available to match against future entries.
How is DNA collected?
- Unidentified remains DNA – The BCA uses state of the art Nuclear and Mitochondrial DNA testing capabilities to extract DNA from the remains.
- Family member DNA – The process takes seconds and is a simple swab of the inside of their cheek. DNA collected from family members are only used for comparison to the DNA from unidentified remains and are not checked against any state or federal law enforcement databases.
About the Minnesota Department Public Safety
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) comprises 11 divisions where 2,100 employees operate programs in the areas of law enforcement, crime victim assistance, traffic safety, alcohol and gambling, emergency communications, fire safety, pipeline safety, driver licensing, vehicle registration and emergency management. DPS activity is anchored by three core principles: education, enforcement and prevention.
About the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
The BCA provides investigative and specialized law enforcement services to prevent and solve crimes in partnership with law enforcement, public safety and criminal justice agencies. Services include forensic laboratory analysis, criminal histories, investigations and criminal justice training.