DNA Helps Identify Victim in 1980 Homicide in MN

Victim of 1980 Homicide in MN Identified Through DNA

A murder victim has been identified as a result of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s (DPS/BCA) effort to learn the identities of Minnesota’s unidentified human remains.

Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA tests have identified the teen as Michelle Yvette Busha, 18, of Bay City, Texas.

Busha’s body was discovered on May 30, 1980.

She had been assaulted and murdered, her body dumped in a ravine off I-90 east of Blue Earth in Faribault County.

Robert Leroy Nelson, a Minnesota State Patrol trooper at the time, confessed to the crime nine years later.

Nelson is serving a life sentence in Texas for this and other crimes.

Investigators were unable to determine the victim’s identity, and her body was interred at Riverside Cemetery in Blue Earth.

New efforts to identify Jane Doe lead to a match

On August 12, 2014, as part of the BCA’s unidentified human remains effort, Jane Doe’s body was exhumed.

Since that time, the BCA has coordinated a series of scientific processes meant to help investigators determine her identity.

• The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created a new sketch based on a new scull scan and x-rays from the original autopsy.

• The Smithsonian conducted isotope analysis on a bone and tooth to try to obtain information about her whereabouts at different points in her life.

• BCA forensic scientists obtained a complete mitochondrial DNA profile, and a partial nuclear DNA profile.

The DNA profiles led to her identity.

Busha was reported missing in Texas on May 9, 1980.

In 2007, DNA provided by two of her family members was entered into the CODIS missing person DNA database.

The mitochondrial and nuclear DNA linked her to her family members.

“Advances in forensic science led us to information we couldn’t obtain in 1980. Key to our success was Michelle’s family’s decision to provide DNA samples. Without that information in the system, we would not know who she is today,” said BCA Forensic Science Services Director Catherine Knutson.

“Solving the crime was important to our community, but equally important was learning Ms. Busha’s identity. Our department and our community have sought this information for decades,” said Faribault County Sheriff Michael Gormley.

“The BCA is committed to supporting local agencies in their efforts to bring resolution to unsolved cases and to try to provide some answers to families with missing loved ones,” said BCA Superintendent Wade Setter.

Busha was identified as the result of a cooperative effort led by the BCA with assistance from the Faribault County Sheriff’s Office, the Ramsey County and Olmstead County medical examiner’s offices, the Matagorda County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office, and local community advocates.

The next step in the process is to return Busha’s remains to her family.

They have asked for privacy at this time.

Steps to be Taken by Families with Missing Relatives

Start by contacting Minnesota Missing & Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse manager

Kris Rush kris.rush@state.mn.us or 651-793-1118. Be sure to have the missing person’s name and date of birth.

The BCA will guide you through the necessary steps, including:

• Ensuring 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.

• Making arrangements for a DNA sample (cheek swab) and signed a consent form.

• Coordinating the collection of dental records, photos and any items which may contain the missing person’s DNA (toothbrush).
Facts about the BCA’s Unidentified Remains Effort

• Human remains collected from medical examiners offices across Minnesota are being examined as part of this effort. Dozens of sets of human remains have been located thus far.

• 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% of unidentified remains have been entered into the FBI’s missing person database.
• Without the DNA from the missing person or their family members, these individuals may never be identified.
Facts about Minnesota Missing Persons

• Currently there are 190 Minnesotans who have been missing more than a year. At any given time there are more than 400 missing Minnesotans.

• More than 11,000 people are reported missing in Minnesota each year.

• Public information about missing and unidentified persons is available. Start with the Minnesota Missing and Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse at https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/bca/bca-divisions/administrative/Pages/missing-unidentified-persons.aspx and www.namus.gov.

Facts about DNA

• Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – each cell contains significantly more mtDNA than nuclear DNA. This makes it very useful in cold cases where samples are old or degraded. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from a person’s mother, and will be the same for all family members with the same maternal lineage.

• Nuclear DNA – each cell contains a small amount of nuclear DNA. However, this DNA is inherited from both parents and is unique to an individual, with the exception of identical twins. This type of DNA testing is more widely used in forensic laboratories across the country.

Facts about isotope analysis

• Isotopes can be analyzed to determine where a person spent a significant amount of time during specific timeframes in their life. Water consumed in different parts of the U.S. provide different isotope results.

• Tooth analysis – possible locations during the years when their adult teeth formed

• Bone analysis – possible locations during adolescence 

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