MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - DNA tests have solved a 35-year-old mystery, identifying a hitchhiker that a former Minnesota state trooper later confessed to strangling as a missing Texas teenage girl, officials said on Tuesday.
Michelle Busha, who was 18 when she disappeared, had been buried in a Minnesota cemetery as a Jane Doe who was exhumed in August under a state effort to identify dozens of anonymous remains, officials told a news conference.
"This is a case of not 'Who done it?' but 'Who was she?'" Faribault County Sheriff Michael Gormley said, adding that learning her identity was as important as solving her murder.
The Bay City, Texas, teenager's remains will be returned in a few days to her family, who have asked for privacy, Gormley said.
Busha was reported missing by her family in May 1980, a few weeks before the then-unidentified woman was found strangled with a cord in a ravine near an interstate highway in southern Minnesota.
Robert Leroy Nelson, who was sentenced to life in a Texas prison in 1988 on an aggravated sexual assault conviction, confessed in 1989 that he had killed a hitchhiker he had seen while he was on patrol as a Minnesota state trooper.
Nelson, now 68, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in Busha's killing and remains imprisoned in Texas, where he was denied parole most recently in January, electronic records show.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension used a series of processes to build a DNA profile that matched one her family provided to a national missing persons database, said Catherine Knutson, the bureau's forensic science services director.
"Although we now have some answers, after 35 years of waiting, I am certain this is not the conclusion they were hoping for," Knutson said.
(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Eric Walsh)