After DNA evidence this month helped identify remains found 49 years ago in a burned-out Mille Lacs County home as a missing University of Minnesota student, authorities are hoping the new clue can piece together her fate.
Gloria F. Rieken, 18, last walked out of her Minneapolis apartment for school in early November 1970 but never arrived. Soon after, human remains were discovered by a neighbor in the charred home about 8½ miles northeast of Milaca, Sheriff Don Lorge said at a news conference Wednesday in St. Paul. At the time, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office reported that while the victim did not die in the fire, they could not determine a cause of death. The remains were eventually buried without anyone knowing who the victim was, or what happened.
It wasn't until this month that the Rieken was positively identified after her family members came forward in 2013 to provide DNA samples for comparison to unidentified remains. Last year, authorities exhumed the woman found in the abandoned home and found that the DNA matched Rieken's family.
Lorge, newly elected as sheriff and who took on this case two years ago as an investigator, said that learning the young woman's identity last week "gave us our first break in this case in nearly a half-century. Now we can try to piece together how she came to be in Mille Lacs County, and hopefully, how she died."
The Rieken family played a crucial role in identifying the college freshman. Inspired by a television report about DNA being used to locate missing loved ones, family members decided in 2013 to provide samples from Rieken's parents to authorities, said brother Rich Rieken, and the database search was on.
The DNA came up a match with remains from the fire, and the search was over.
"This is not the ending any family would hope for, but it is information," said Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Superintendent Drew Evans. "After a half-century of waiting and wondering, the Riekens can at last bring Gloria home to rest."
Rich Rieken was 2 years old when his big sister vanished.
"Just seems like out of the blue last week," he said as he took a long pause to gather himself in front of news reporters and cameras. "They had a match."
Now the brother and the rest of the family from Hayfield in southern Minnesota are "looking forward to [investigators] having some time, [and] hopefully, they can take the extra step to the finish line to find out what happened to Gloria. Hope is still there."
The BCA's deputy superintendent of forensic science services, Catherine Knutson, said that "without her family's decision to come forward, we would never have been able to identify Gloria Rieken. Once again, this speaks to the importance of family members of missing people coming forward to provide DNA samples."
Rich Rieken described Gloria as an excellent artist who loved to draw. She also loved the music of Bob Dylan, and she campaigned door-to-door for Hubert Humphrey for president. He said she took the favorite son's defeat for president in 1968 very hard.
Gloria Rieken was the oldest of six siblings in her family at the time of her disappearance. Their mother, Frederika, was told of the breakthrough. Their father missed hearing the news by two weeks or so. Peter Rieken died on Jan. 19.
"We always wondered what happened to Gloria," Rich Rieken said, adding that hope faded as time passed. "Now we have the answer to that. She had no way of coming home."
Anyone with information about Gloria Rieken is urged to contact the Mille Lacs County Sheriff's Office at 320-983-8250 or the BCA at 651-793-7000.