Missing UofM student’s remains identified in Mille Lacs County after 49 years
In early November, 1970 an 18-year-old University of Minnesota student left her Minneapolis apartment and allegedly headed to school. She had not been seen or heard from since. For 49 years, her family has often wondered what happened to Gloria Rieken? While it is not the answer the family may have been hoping for, they now have some kind of answer as to where she is. Due to advances in DNA technology,the remains of a once unidentified ‘Jane Doe’ found in the rural Milaca area have been positively identified as Gloria Rieken.
“My mom and dad and siblings always wondered what happened to Gloria,” Rich Rieken, Gloria’s brother, said at a press conference held at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension offices on Wednesday, Feb. 13. “Now we have the answer to that.”
Knowing where she is only part of the puzzle, Mille Lacs County Sheriff Don Lorge said. “This is an ongoing investigation.”
Lorge explained what he could about the time line of the mystery. The case originated as a result of a structure fire of an abandoned home at the end of a dead end road on Nov. 9, 1970. Since the home had been abandoned, the fire department allowed it to burn to the ground.
On Nov. 10, the next day, a curious neighbor walking around the ruins discovered what he believed to be human remains in the debris. The Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office was called in. The remains were sent to the Hennepin County Medical Examiners Office where it was determined the remains were female, but her identity was unknown. They were able to determine the fire did not kill her, but they were unable to determine what did, according to Lorge. At that time, there were no missing persons reports filed, and the case went cold.
Fast forward. Lorge, who was an investigator with the sheriff’s office before becoming sheriff, was investigating certain cold cases; the Jane Doe was one of them. “I knew there have been many advances in DNA technology. The remains of an unidentified young female had been buried in the Milo Township Cemetery in 1970,” Lorge said. “I had the body exhumed on Aug. 23, 2018 and sent it to Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office for examination. Medical examiners were able to pull DNR from the remains.”
Taking a few steps back, in 2013 Rich Rieken said he had heard on a news story about advances in DNA technology and a database of DNA of unidentified Minnesotans. Rich said his mom and dad agreed to the DNA sampling. The information was entered into the state database where a search at that time came up negative.
Fast forward again to 2019. Lorge received a phone call on Feb. 5, from Kris Rush, manager of the Minnesota Missing Persons Clearinghouse, stating the database had a positive match on the Jane Doe from the fire of 1970 and the remains were able to be positively identified. Lorge and a BCA agent drove to southern Minnesota through a snowstorm to tell the family what they had discovered.
Rich said during the press conference, he got the phone call from the BCA that they had some information on the case of Gloria and wanted to tell the family in person. He thought since it was snowing, they could tell him over the phone, but law enforcement insisted on telling the family in person.
“Then it seemed out of the blue, they got a match,” Rich said.
Trying hard to hold back the tears, Rich said he was only 2 years old at the time his sister went missing. He really didn’t remember much. His family told stories that his missing sister had a passion for art and music, and Bob Dylan was her favorite singer. She door-knocked for the campaigns of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, and she was devastated when they didn’t win. “She was a young, active college girl, looking forward to her future and starting her own life. Then she was gone,” he said.
The family now knows where Gloria is, but the answer to the question of what happened to her is still a mystery.
Gloria Rieken was the oldest of six children of Peter and Fredrika Rieken and grew up in Hayfield, in southern Minnesota. Rich Rieken said his siblings and mother still hope to find out what happened to her after her disappearance in 1970. Their father/husband, Peter, passed away on Jan. 19 – just a short time before the family found out about Gloria’s remains.
This is a turning point in a difficult case according to Lorge. “We are asking the public’s help for any information they may provide to help determine what may have happened to Gloria,” Lorge said.
He continued stating even small bits of information may be helpful pieces to the puzzle to determine how Gloria got to rural Milaca nearly 50 years ago. “All we have is a paper trail at this point,” he said.
The case has a renewed energy. While Lorge will not be the lead investigator on the case as his newly acquired sheriff duties require his expertise elsewhere, “I will be keeping a close watch over the case,” Lorge said. He has assigned the case to an investigator.
Lorge stated he was fortunate to work side-by-side with Dr. Janis Amatuzio of Midwest Medical Examiners on certain cases many years ago. “She always said, ‘At this point, we have a deceased individual. Our job now is to speak for the dead.’ So it is up to us to find out what lead her to Mille Lacs County and how did she die?”
BCA Deputy Superintendent of Forensic Science Services Catherine Knutson said the state crime lab still encourages relatives to provide evidence such as DNA samples that could help solve other cases.
According to National Institute of Justice, 40,000 sets of unidentified remains are held in medical examiners offices across the nation. Only about 15 percent of unidentified remains have been entered into the FBI’s missing person database. Without the DNA from the missing person or their family members, these individuals may never be identified.
Currently there are 240 Minnesotans who have been missing more than a year. At any given time, there are more than 500 missing Minnesotans. More than 10,000 people are reported missing in Minnesota each year.
Public information about missing and unidentified persons is available. Start with the Minnesota Missing and Unidentified Persons Clearinghouse and www.namus.gov.
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, (877) 996-6222 or via email at email@example.com. Tips can be anonymous.