Local 15-year death investigation rekindled by reconstruction of victim’s face


The New Brighton Department of Public Safety has sent out these new facial reconstruction images of a woman found dead 15 years ago in Long Lake Park. She remains unidentified. (courtesy New Brighton Department of Public Safety)

Police ask for help identifying woman 

A woman who was found dead in New Brighton 15 years ago has never been identified, but now the image of her face has reemerged through facial reconstruction technologies, and though it’s only a likeness, police are hoping it will lead to new information in the cold case. 

The investigation of the woman’s death began in the fall of 2000, when her body was found by two hikers just off a little-used path in Long Lake Regional Park. Police believe the corpse had been lying there for at least two months by the time it was found Sept. 15.

The New Brighton Department of Public Safety requested assistance from the FBI last year, specifically to have them reassemble characteristics of the woman’s face using facial reconstruction. The image was released to the public last week.

 

An uphill battle

An autopsy performed by the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the victim was likely a white female, 35 to 45 years of age, 5-foot-4 to 5-foot-6 in height, with brown or reddish colored hair.

“It’s been a challenging 15 years since this body was found,” New Brighton police chief Bob Jacobson said in regards to the investigation. “For us, these cases never go away.”

Jacobson said the case is now on its second investigator, detective Mike Lochen, since the original investigator, Gary Sykes, retired in 2013.  

“I think this case always kind of haunted him a little bit,” Jacobson said. “Now it’s been passed on to another detective who will investigate it as long as he’s with us or until we identify who she is and what happened to her.”

But according to Jacobson, they hope to identify the woman, not just for leads, but also for the woman herself.

“First of all we’d just like to put her to rest appropriately, with a name and identification,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do — to recognize who she is.” 

Jacobson said he hopes that her family can be made aware of what happened and where her life likely ended.

 

After identification 

If investigators identify the victim, “it’s still going to be a difficult case,” Jacobson said. 

If they learn the victim’s name, investigators will try to backtrack as best they can and attempt to contact her family, friends and people who might have known her.

“As difficult as it might be, we’d try to put together a timeline of where and when she was last seen,” Jacobson said. 

He added that more often than not, victims know their assailants, and if police find out who knew her, they would be that much further along in the investigation.

“But,” he said, “it could also be one of those unusual ones where the suspect was a stranger to her, which would obviously make it even more difficult. It’s still an uphill battle to say the least.”

 

What police know

According to police reports, the naked body was found on the ground in the woods, without clothes or belongings nearby. 

“The body was very badly decomposed by then,” Jacobson said.  “It was very difficult to tell a lot about what she even looked like.”

The coroner’s examination also revealed a healed fracture to the right middle finger as well as osteoarthritis of the back. 

It showed that the victim had dental work done, including root canals on three teeth, and all four wisdom teeth had at some point been removed. 

She also had a left upper tooth missing, which would have been visible when she smiled. Some facial characteristics, police said they can’t know, like eye color and skin complexion.

There was no obvious physical evidence in the vicinity that helped investigators determine who she was and how she got there. The body, Jacobson said, could have been in the park for as long as three months.

“We have very strong suspicions that she was a victim of violence, of murder,” Jacobson said. “And we think that there are people out there that may know who she is and what may have happened.”

 

‘Commitment’ to the victim

Jacobson said he hopes the facial reconstruction sparks new data for the investigation and that this case is shifted back into the public’s eye. 

“At the time, we had hoped that we could fairly quickly determine who she was, but that didn’t happen,” he said. “But we do have a commitment to this victim, and we’ll continue to work on this case.”

According to Jacobson, that work has entailed looking at possible missing person reports and seeing if there are any DNA or dental matches. 

“We’ve tried to find a match for 15 years,” he said. “On occasion we’ll still have people who call and let us know that they have a loved one who’s been missing for a significant period of time, wondering whether or not this woman might be their missing sister or family member. Then we’ll go through the process of determining whether she is or not, and of course, so far, we’ve not come up with a match.”

Jacobson said the department contacted the FBI in 2015, not only asking for help drawing up the woman’s facial image, but also to take another look at their investigation of the incident thus far.

The FBI took time and resources to carefully come up with the likeness of the victim, he said. 

“We needed a spark to put out there,” Jacobson said. “It will hopefully reignite someone’s memory or remind people that if they have some knowledge of who she is, we’re still investigating it. We’re hoping that someone will find it within themselves to come forward to help us and do the right thing,” he added. 

 

Facial reconstruction 

Jacobson has worked with the New Brighton Department of Public Safety for 32 years and was the director when the body was discovered. He said facial reconstruction is seldom required in typical investigations and was provided at no cost to the department by the FBI.

“It’s a rarity,” he said. “Of course, we only need it in cases where there’s an unidentified victim and this is the only victim of homicide that has gone unidentified in New Brighton, that I can think of,” he added. “To my recollection, this is the only time we’ve used the facial reconstruction technology to try to find out who a victim is.”

The New Brighton Department of Public Safety is asking those with information to call 651-288-4100 or email Lochen at mike.lochen@newbrightonmn.gov.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815. Follow him at twitter.com/JPooleNews.

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