ST. PAUL, Minn. — The body of a woman found in a drainage ditch 35 years ago has been identified as that of an 18-year-old Texas hitchhiker who was assaulted and killed by a former Minnesota state trooper, state authorities said Tuesday.
Michelle Yvette Busha’s remains were identified over the weekend through DNA testing. Her body was found on May 30, 1980, and had been buried anonymously at a cemetery in the southern Minnesota city of Blue Earth for the past three decades.
Robert Leroy Nelson, a state trooper at the time, had confessed to killing a woman nine years later, but investigators had been unable to determine her identity.
“This was a case of not whodunit, but who was she,” said Faribault County Sheriff Michael Gormley. Busha’s remains were exhumed in August and DNA was collected as part of a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension effort to identify dozens of unidentified human remains in the state. BCA Forensic Science Services Director Catherine Knutson said investigators built a DNA profile, and entered that information into a national database for missing persons in mid-February.
The results matched DNA samples submitted by members of Busha’s family in 2007.
“Michelle’s family has experienced a terrible loss, but they now have answers about what has happened to their daughter,” Gormley said, adding that her family was surprised to learn she was in Minnesota.
Jerry Kabe, former chief deputy sheriff in Faribault County and a former lead investigator on the case, said Nelson was being questioned in the sexual assault of a child in Texas, when he admitted to killing an unidentified woman in Minnesota. Nelson was convicted in both cases and remains in prison, authorities said.
Kabe said Nelson told investigators he was watching traffic when a dark van let a young woman out. He followed her, put her in his car, and sexually assaulted, handcuffed and tortured her. He then strangled the woman with a cord, and left her body in a ravine near Interstate 90, east of Blue Earth.
Busha’s family reported her missing in Texas on May 9, 1980. The body was found weeks later. Kabe, who is now 75 and “semi-retired” said he has thought about the case every day, and it feels better to have answers. “A murder like that doesn’t leave your mind. You live with it,” he said.
Busha’s remains will be taken to her family in the next few days. Her family members have requested privacy. (AP)