Remains of missing UMN student identified by DNA evidence after 49 years

Investigators hope to learn more about what happened to the University freshman last seen in 1970.

Gloria Rieken, a University of Minnesota freshman when she went missing, has been DNA matched to the remains of a woman found in Mille Lacs County in November 1970.

Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

Gloria Rieken, a University of Minnesota freshman when she went missing, has been DNA matched to the remains of a woman found in Mille Lacs County in November 1970.

Mohamed Ibrahim

With the help of DNA evidence, authorities identified the remains of an unknown woman found in Mille Lacs County nearly 49 years ago as a University of Minnesota student who went missing at around the same time.

University freshman Gloria Rieken, 18, disappeared in early November 1970 when she left her Minneapolis apartment but never showed up to class. Rieken, whose identity wasn’t known at the time, was found in an abandoned and burned home in rural Mille Lacs County by a neighbor who was going through the debris, Mille Lacs County Sheriff Don Lorge said at a press conference Wednesday.

Sheriff Lorge reached out to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in the summer of 2018 about exhuming the remains, which were interred at Milo Cemetery in Mille Lacs County. On Feb. 5, Kris Rush, manager of the Minnesota Missing Persons Clearinghouse, called Lorge to inform him they had found a match.

“Learning her identity gave us our first break in the case in nearly half a century,” Lorge said. “Now we can try to piece together how she came to Mille Lacs County and hopefully how she died.”

The BCA, along with the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office, credits Rieken’s family for the breakthrough in the case. The family came forward in 2013 and provided DNA samples to the agency. 

“Their decision to come forward to provide DNA is a key reason as to why we’re here today,” said Catherine Knutson, BCA deputy superintendent of forensic science services. “Without them, the identification of their longtime missing sister and daughter would not have been possible.”

Gloria Rieken was the oldest of Peter and Frederika’s six children, her brother Rich Rieken said. She was a gifted artist and did door-to-door campaigning for Hubert H. Humphrey when he ran for president in 1968, he said.

“She went to college aspiring to do well, looking forward to her future and starting her own life,” Rich Rieken said at a press conference. “Then she was gone.”

Sheriff Lorge and a BCA agent went to Rich Rieken’s home in-person to deliver an update on Gloria Rieken’s case when they’d identified her remains earlier this month. Although it’s been almost 50 years since his older sister disappeared, Rich Rieken said he still wants closure for his family about what happened to Gloria.

“I realize it might be a lot to ask after all these years, but the hope is still there,” Rich Rieken said .

Investigators encourage anyone with information about Gloria Rieken to contact the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office or the BCA.