Victim in 1993 cold case identified
Gary King | Leader editor
POLK COUNTY/ST. PAUL, Minn. - New DNA technology played a key role in connecting a name to human remains discovered 20 years ago by a deer hunter walking through a farm field about three miles east of Dresser.
Pearline Roberta Walton was 22 years old when she was last seen alive in the Twin Cities area on June 27, 1993. Members of her family never lost hope of locating her or finding out what happened to her. This summer, a sister of Walton’s saw a news report about missing persons and new DNA identification techniques. She contacted the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and made arrangements to have her and other family members' DNA tested to see if they could find a match.
“The results of that testing gave a strong indication of a biological relationship with the DNA profile that had been entered for our unidentified person,” said Polk County Sheriff Pete Johnson. “The BCA then requested additional tests by other family members. Those tests resulted in a confirmation and positive identification."
Only a few months prior to that testing, the missing woman’s DNA was entered into the national database (Combined DNA Identification System) after advances in DNA technology made it possible to develop DNA profiles with much smaller amounts of cellular material.
DNA was gathered from a long bone and from the inside of a tooth. Both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA profiles were entered into the database by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Forensic Science Laboratory.
Meeting with family
Upon the confirmation of the identification, members of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Sheriff Johnson and Investigator Roger Olson of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, were able to meet with 11 members of Pearline Walton’s family and share some information with them about Pearline and the circumstances of her remains being recovered and the 20-year investigation into her death.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, among the surviving family members is Pearline's daughter, now 21, who was a baby when her mother died. Pearline's older sister, Wilmeta Walton, 48, told the Star-Tribune that she always thought her sister was out there somewhere "running around doing her thing." Queena Walton, 30, said she was just a child when her aunt went missing. "She took me everywhere with her - she was just a very fun person to be around."
A press conference this afternoon, Nov. 7, with Minnesota BCA officials and Sheriff Johnson, focused on the identification as being the first made in the Minnesota BCA’s unidentified remains project.
It came during the course of the agency's effort to learn the identities of dozens of sets of unidentified human remains in Minnesota. The BCA in May reached out to Minnesotans whose loved ones were missing. Walton’s family was the first to come forward to provide DNA.
Dr. Leslie Eisenberg, recognized as one of the foremost anthropologists in the country, reached out to the Polk County Sheriff’s Department and offered to volunteer her assistance and expertise to this case. The remains were transported to her office in Madison where she is conducting tests using technologies that weren’t available in 1993. her analysis and final report are not completed.
20-year investigation continues
Over the last 20 years, many efforts to identify the remains were used, including a facial reconstruction by experts at the Minnesota BCA, dental record comparisons with unidentified remains nationwide, database information from the National Missing and unidentified Persons System and National Crime Information Center and a case analysis by the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program.
None produced an identity.
In the days following the discovery of the remains on Saturday, Nov. 20, 1993, then-Polk County Sheriff Craig Benware announced that the body was significantly decomposed, noting that testing at the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office in St. Paul had produced basic clues - the remains were that of a woman at last 20 years old and at least five-feet tall and of African-American or mixed-race. He said the victim had a white T-shirt, blue shirt and red or pink sneakers.
The remains were found by Tom McCourt, who was deer hunting on property owned by Lynn Buss.
The Wisconsin State Crime Lab spent most of Sunday, Nov. 21 at the scene.
The sheriff’s department said at the time they were using all resources available to them and were hopeful the mystery could be solved.
Today, Sheriff Pete Johnson has a name to go with the homicide investigation.
“This case has remained open since 1993 and will remain open until we are satisfied that a final, legal resolution has been obtained,” Johnson said.
“While this is a huge breakthrough in our investigation, it really only means that we now know where to look for more information and can move into that next phase. Hopefully, there will be people that knew Ms. Walton back then who will come forward and have some information about her and that period of time. BCA has advised us that they will continue to help in any way they can."
Anyone with information about Pearline Walton’s activities in 1993 at or near the time of her last being seen, or about the circumstances of her death, is asked to call the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Polk County Investigator Roger Olson may be contacted at 715-485-8366.