The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension launched a program in May aimed at identifying missing persons. On Thursday, they announced their first match.
Over the years, investigators have collected unidentified remains, many of which were found and stored when DNA testing technology was in its infancy. After applying new technology to cold cases and encouraging family members of missing persons to come forward, the BCA made its first match and outlined the lead in a 1993 homicide investigation in Wisconsin.
Pearline Roberta Walton was last seen in the Twin Cities in 1993. Her case has remained open since that year, and the BCA is asking anyone who knew Walton or came in contact with her around the time she went missing to contact 715-485-8366.
"It's been restless," said Wilmeta Walton, Pearline's oldest sister.
Since June of 1993, Wilmeta Walton has prayed the younger sister she knew as Berta would come home.
"It's come to my mind I might end up dying from a broken heart," she said.
For the past 20 years, she hoped to see her again, but on Sept. 29, she and her family learned the unthinkable.
"She was found Nov. 20, 1993 by a deer hunter in a field next to a fence," Wilmeta Walton said.
Pearline Walton's body was discovered in Osceola Township, just east of Dresser, Wis. -- but her family didn't know until they brought DNA samples to the BCA for testing.
"This story shows what one simple cheek swab can do," Catherine Knutson said. "It can be the first step to providing answers and the dignity of returning their names to them."
The Walton family says they do feel relieved and are glad to know investigators put so much effort into the cold case, but the identification is just the beginning of their grieving process.
"We won't have no closure until we find the person that did this," Wilmeta Walton said.
No arrests have been made in the case so far, but the Polk County Sheriff's Office is conducting a thorough investigation. Anyone with information is urged to call 715-485-8300.
MISSING A LOVED ONE?
A May news release detailed the project's potential to provide closure for many families whose loved ones vanished without explanation.
1. Start by contacting Minnesota Missing & Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse manager Kris Rush firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 651-793-1118. Be sure to have the missing person's name and date of birth. You will be guided through the necessary steps, including:
2. Confirm that a missing person report is on file with the local law enforcement agency, and that the information was entered into the FBI's NCIC missing person file.
3. Provide a DNA sample and sign a consent form.
4. If available, provide dental records, photos and any items which may contain the missing person's DNA.