Queena Walton remembers her Aunt “Berta” as the fun auntie. Sadly, those happy memories have made it even harder to accept that the remains of a person found in a Wisconsin field 20 years ago are in fact those of her missing aunt Pearline Roberta Walton, of Minneapolis.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) announced Thursday that Pearline Walton’s remains were identified with the help of DNA analysis. It’s the first identification made as part of a large-scale effort to name the dozens of people whose remains have been left unidentified in medical examiners’ offices across the state for years.
The discovery has breathed new life into the cold case of Pearline Walton’s murder, possibly helping to get her family one step closer to finding out what happened to her.
“That was my second mom,” said Queena Walton, 30, who was just a child when her aunt went missing. “She took me everywhere with her. She was a very fun person to be around.”
Walton was last seen in the Twin Cities in the summer of 1993. She was 22 years old. She hadn’t been reported missing because it wasn’t uncommon for her to disappear for a year or two, Queena Walton said.
“I thought she was out here running around doing her thing. I didn’t think she was dead,” said her sister Wilmeta Walton, 48, who even after hearing the DNA results is finding it hard to believe that her sister has passed away.
The remains of Pearline Walton were identified using a DNA sample her family provided earlier this year. Her relatives, including her daughter Minnie, 21, who was only a baby when her mother died, were the first to come forward to provide family DNA samples after hearing about the BCA’s project on the news.
“I think [Minnie’s] taking it pretty hard because this is what she’s waited for her whole life … a chance to meet her mom and she’s meeting her like this,” Queena Walton said.
The Minneapolis woman’s remains were found by a deer hunter in a field near a county road in Dresser, Wis., in November 1993.
Over the last two decades, investigators used facial reconstruction of the remains on posters as well as dental comparisons with missing people, to no avail. Her newly found identity is a big step in the open investigation, public safety officials said.
“This puts us from first gear into second,” said Polk County Sheriff Pete Johnson.
In May, the BCA began the project to identify the dozens of nameless human skeletons that had sat in medical examiners’ offices across Minnesota. Using advanced DNA techniques, the BCA has been working at comparing DNA from relatives of people that have gone missing to DNA from at least 100 remains found in Minnesota from the 1970s to the 1990s.
While forensic scientists first started using DNA to test remains around the year 2000, within the past few years DNA extraction and testing capabilities have become more sensitive so that scientists nowadays can derive DNA from old remains even if they are in poor condition.
The BCA has asked that family members of long-missing Minnesotans step forward so that investigators can take a swab from the inside of their cheeks to be able to do the DNA comparisons.
◄More than 11,000 people are reported missing in Minnesota each year, with most located soon after being reported. ►
Queena Walton said her aunt didn’t deserve to be killed and that her family won’t rest until the murderer is brought to justice.
“I will never have any closure or anything, not until somebody is brought forward,” she said.
Anyone with information about Pearline Walton’s death is asked to contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 715-485-8366.
If someone is a family member of a missing person and wants to be tested, they can contact Minnesota Missing and Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse manager Kris Rush at 651-793-1118.