A 35-year investigation now over
It was a horrible, awful, gruesome crime. The kind of thing that can haunt a person for 35 years.
A badly decomposed, unclothed body of a woman was found in a drainage ditch just off the new Interstate 90 freeway, a few miles east of Blue Earth.
She had been tortured, her fingernails pulled out by a pliers, and then strangled to death by the draw string in her own hooded sweatshirt. Her body was dumped in a drainage ditch a couple of miles away. Her clothes tossed somewhere else.
It was utterly shocking. Even more so that something like this could possibly happen in quiet, rural Faribault County.
Jerry Kabe remembers every detail like it was yesterday. He was the Faribault County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy and crime investigator, serving from 1963 through 1991.
But, that May 30, 1980 day is one he will never forget. He would spend the next 11 years trying to find out both who committed this murder, as well as the identity of the victim.
He would follow up on hundreds, even thousands of tips both for the possible killer and the victim.
There were 200 missing young women listed from Michigan alone, Kabe says. Luckily then county sheriff Roger Fletcher gave him pretty free rein to do as much investigation on the case as needed.
In 1983, Kabe thought he had a good lead on a suspect. It was serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, in prison in Montague, Texas.
He was confessing to killing hundreds of women, most of them hitchhikers, by strangulation and sometimes decapitation.
He confessed to killing a young female hitchhiker along I-90 in Olmsted County, Minnesota, in 1977.
Kabe traveled to Texas and interviewed him in person. Lucas told him that if the victim didn’t have 20 or 30 stab wounds, then she was not one of his.
Henry Lee Lucas died in prison in 2001.
In August of 1989, Kabe made another trip to Texas, this time to interview a former Minnesota State Highway patrolman, Robert Leroy Nelson, who was in prison for several crimes committed in that state.
Nelson wanted to confess to the murder of Jane Doe in Faribault County.
Kabe says he knew this was his man, because Nelson knew things that had not been released to the public like the missing fingernails.
Then Nelson agreed to be hypnotized, as well as submit to a polygraph test and also to allow law enforcement to use sodium pentathol truth serum.
Under hypnosis Nelson told the entire story of the crime. Seeing the girl get out of a van on I-90 and start hitchhiking. Picking her up and driving her into Blue Earth and then out into the country again.
And the murder. Every detail. But, despite the confession, Kabe says it was still a long, hard fight to get an indictment and then a conviction on this self-proclaimed monster.
Kabe still has all his notes from that investigation. He says he has thought about the details and the unknown victim often, at least two or three times every week.
But, he could never find out who she was. And he wondered if she would ever be identified.
There were not any wonderful forensic science techniques or DNA testing back in 1980, he says. And, the name of Michelle Busha never came up in all of his research and tracking down names of hundreds of missing young women.
Now Kabe, along with everyone else who has ever been involved in this case in one way or another, is expressing relief that Jane Doe’s true identity has now been found out.
He is very glad the case is finally resolved, Kabe said. That there is now a name and a face to put with this victim.
He, like several others, says it now has turned Jane Doe into a real person.
It’s not that she wasn’t a real person before, but the only images of her were grim. Her body was barely recognizable as human when it was found; they were not even sure it was a man or woman.
The other images are from her exhumation, after having been buried at Riverside Cemetery in Blue Earth for the past three and a half decades.
Now we have a picture that shows us a smiling, beautiful young girl, and woman, who’s life was horribly cut too short in 1980.
In many ways, the photo makes this story much more sad than it already has been.
Now we know who she was, that she has a family who lost her 35 years ago and never knew what happened to her.
We say a little prayer for our Jane Doe who now we know as Michelle and for her family.
May she now rest in peace back home with her family.