The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has identified the remains of a Minneapolis woman who disappeared 20 years ago, opening up the investigation in a decades-old homicide case.
Pearline Walton was last seen in the Twin Cities in 1993. Officials identified her body as part of a statewide push to identify missing persons.
On any given day, there are 450 to 500 active missing persons cases in Minnesota. Many went missing before DNA testing was available, said BCA Laboratory Director Catherine Knutson.
Now that technology has improved, the BCA is urging families to provide DNA samples to help identify more remains.
"Like Pearline, these people deserve to be named and returned to their families," Knutson said Thursday. "This story shows just what one simple cheek swab can do."
Since May, the BCA has received DNA samples from nearly 40 families of missing persons, and testing for about one-third of them is underway. Walton is the first match identified in the program, and officials are hopeful many more will come with help from families that provide DNA for testing.
"We can get DNA from these remains now, but they will lead nowhere if we don't have anything to compare it to," Knutson said.
A grant from the National Institute of Justice funded the BCA push, which began last spring. Knutson said she hopes the BCA will receive an extension on the grant when it ends in March.
A deer hunter found Walton's body in November 1993 near Dresser, a village in Polk County, Wis.
Identifying the body as Walton's could provide information about how she died, said Polk County Sheriff Pete Johnson. "You want to find that closure for the family," he said. "If it was your child, you'd certainly want it."
There aren't any suspects at this time, Johnson added, but police have "people we want to talk to."
In mid-2013, Walton's sister saw a news story about missing persons and DNA identification. She then contacted the BCA, which tested her and another family member's DNA to see if it matched with that of the body found by the deer hunter.
Tests indicated a strong biological relationship between the unidentified remains and DNA from Walton's family members. After further testing, BCA officials determined the remains were Walton's.
The case has been active for 20 years, Johnson said, and police will continue treating Walton's death as a homicide.
"For us, this is just the beginning of our case," Johnson said.