Authorities may be one step closer to solving the identity of a woman murdered near Blue Earth 34 years ago.
The body of the victim, known as Blue Earth's 'Jane Doe,' was exhumed from its grave in Riverside Cemetery in Blue Earth last Tuesday morning.
The exhumation was completed by members of the Faribault County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). It was performed under the authorization of a court order issued by Faribault County District Judge Douglas Richardson.
Jane Doe's body was originally discovered on May 30, 1980, in rural Blue Earth in a drainage ditch along Interstate 90 between the Blue Earth and Frost exits.
The murderer, Robert Leroy Nelson, was an on-duty Minnesota Highway Patrol trooper who lured the apparent hitchhiker and confessed to the crime nine years later.
He was convicted and is serving his time in a prison in Texas where he was already in jail for other crimes.
Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Scott Adams has been on this mysterious case since 2006 and has been working on getting the exhumation performed for the past month.
"With new modern technology involving DNA testing, we thought this was the time to exhume her body," Adams says. "We want to establish an accurate record of her DNA profile to potentially match her to any of her family members that may be in our system through their DNA."
After the casket was raised, it was taken to a building at Riverside Cemetery where the body still inside black bags was removed. It was taken to the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office in Rochester.
"We basically reassembled her body on a table," Adams says. "It was mainly a skeleton."
From there, technicians took DNA samples and also did a full Cat Scan and 3-D Imaging.
"They are going to be able to make a 3-D plastic mold of what Jane would have looked like when she was alive," Adams says. "We have been using an artist's sketch for years for identification purposes."
The chief deputy also points out there is new technology for mitochondrial DNA (for the mother's side of the family) and nuclear DNA (for the father's side). There will also be an Isotopic analysis performed, at no cost, which could determine in what regions of the world the woman had lived.
The court order gave the Sheriff's Office the right to exhume the body and run tests, but, they have to put her back within 60 days.
Adams says they will use the same grave vault, but a brand new casket is being donated. The one which was removed was a county one, made of fiberboard, he explains.
They will place the same headstone over the grave after the body is reburied.
"The only cost to do all of this is going to be $1,000 for the expense of the forensic anthropologist," Adams says, "And that is paid by the BCA."
Everyone else involved has donated their services, Adams adds. That includes Patton Funeral Home, G & S Drainage and Excavation and the Riverside Cemetery maintenance and grounds crew.
"Even the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office has volunteered to do this work at no charge for this case," Adams says.
Blue Earth resident Deb Anderson has been involved in this case for 13 years, urging that an exhumation and more DNA testing be done to help learn Jane Doe's identity.
"I never thought I'd see the day it would actually happen," Anderson says. "I am just thrilled."
The Sheriff's Office invited Anderson to be present at the exhumation and she gladly accepted.
"This is the right thing to do," she says. "If you had a missing loved one, wouldn't you want others to do whatever they could to learn their identity so you would know what happened?"
Anderson has no connection to the case other than wanting to finally learn the woman's identity, and then let her family know that Jane Doe has been resting in peace in Blue Earth, Minnesota.
It is the intention of the Faribault County Sheriff's Office and the Minnesota BCA to keep the public informed of any new developments as the case evolves, according to Adams.
"We ask anyone who may have any information about Jane Doe or other parts of this case to please contact the Sheriff's Office," Adams says. The phone number is (507) 526-5148.