Crime, Law and Justice

Minneapolis woman’s remains identified after 23 years; investigators seek help in cold case

Gail Marlene Johnson
The circumstances around Johnson’s death, including how she died, are considered suspicious and remain unknown. Authorities say Gail Johnson was 5 ft. 7 in., weighed 135 lbs. and had light brown hair.
Courtesy of Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

It was exactly 23 years ago — Sept. 15, 2000 — when two teenagers on a walk in Long Lake Regional Park found an unidentified woman’s body in a wooded and marshy area.

Investigators with the New Brighton Department of Public Safety said they believe she had been there up to two months. 

At the time, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) forensic scientists obtained DNA from the remains but it did not match to anyone in the missing persons or convicted offender databases. Despite exhaustive investigative efforts over the years, who she was and how she died remained unknown. 

This past summer, investigators learned that the woman was named Gail Marlene Johnson, a Minneapolis resident who was 40 years old at the time of her death.

The discovery came through a partnership with Astrea Forensics, which specializes in obtaining DNA profiles from severely degraded remains. Using the genetic genealogy profile, the DNA Doe Project then searched public databases, ultimately identifying a likely genetic connection to Johnson’s family.

New Brighton investigators obtained a DNA sample from a family member in Minnesota and BCA forensic scientists confirmed the family connection.

New Brighton Public Safety Director Tony Paetznick said in a statement that the department never gave up on identifying the woman. “Identifying her provides an important new clue as we continue our work to determine the circumstances of her death,” Paetznick wrote.

The circumstances around Johnson’s death, including how she died, are considered suspicious and remain unknown.

Authorities say Gail Johnson was 5 ft. 7 in., weighed 135 lbs. and had light brown hair. Johnson drove a black or gray 1989 Ford Mustang, had been a sex worker and was known to spend time along Lake Street in Minneapolis. 

The New Brighton Department of Public Safety urges anyone who knew or had contact with Gail Johnson to contact the police department by calling 651-288-4141, emailing gail@newbrightonmn.gov, or filling out an online form.  

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