ST. PAUL — For nearly five decades, Gloria Frieda Rieken’s family didn’t know where she had gone.

The 18-year-old Hayfield woman and University of Minnesota freshman was last seen early November 1970. She woke up, left her Minneapolis apartment to walk to class and was never heard from again.

“She went to college aspiring to do well, looking forward to her future and starting her own life. Then she was gone,” Rich Rieken says of his eldest sibling.

Now, she has been found. On Wednesday, law enforcement officials from around the state and three of her siblings announced that Gloria’s remains have been identified after 49 years. Her body was found in a rural Mille Lacs County home that burned in November 1970, but never identified.

“It’s good to have the answers,” Rich Rieken said. “My mom and dad and siblings always wondered what happened to Gloria. Even my brother said he never knew if she were alive. Did he ever see her in life sometime? Had she been around and didn’t know it? Now we have the answer to that.”

“She had no way of coming home,” Rieken said.

Investigators with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office announced that using DNA submitted by the Rieken family in 2013, law enforcement was able to match it to DNA recently taken from the body of the woman found dead in the house fire.

“The news that we are announcing today is not the hope that the family had hoped for — we wanted to see Gloria come home safely, as we do all Minnesotans who are missing,” BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said. “However, it does give the family answers so that we can bring Gloria home to rest.”

Cold case brought up

On Nov. 10, 1970, a neighbor discovered the remains of an unidentified woman inside an abandoned and burned home in the 20000 block of Keystone Road in Mille Lacs County.

At the time, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that while the fire did not cause the woman’s death, they could not determine what did or who she was. She was eventually interred at Milo Cemetery in Mille Lacs County.

A few years ago, working as an investigator for the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office, Don Lorge was given the information as a cold case. He reached out to the BCA to speak about advances in technology. On Aug. 23, 2018, the body that had been buried in Milo Cemetery was exhumed to collect DNA.

Years before this happened, Rieken’s youngest brother Rich saw a news report of BCA efforts to have families with missing loved ones submit DNA samples to put into a database. Rich Rieken took his mother and father to give samples.

“The family of Gloria Rieken made a critical decision in 2013,” BCA Deputy Superintendent of Forensic Science Services Cathy Knutson said Wednesday. “Their decision to come forward to provide DNA is a key reason as to why we are here today. Without them, the identification of their long-time missing sister and daughter would not have been possible.”

Positive ID

On Feb. 5, the BCA was able to make a positive identification. It was Gloria. By that time, Lorge was in his second month as Mille Lacs County Sheriff.

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

Last week, Rich Rieken received a call.

“Out of the blue, they had a match,” Rieken said after taking a long pause to gather himself. “I got a call from the BCA office and the agent called and asked who I was, if I knew Gloria and they said they had an update on Gloria’s case.”

Through a snowstorm, a BCA agent and Lorge drove to southeastern Minnesota to deliver the news that Gloria had been found. The youngest of the six children, Rich was 2 years old at the time of his sister’s disappearance. The family lived in Hayfield at the time Gloria disappeared.

Rieken recalled his sister’s passion for art — she liked to draw Peanuts cartoons — and music — her favorite artist was Bob Dylan. She did door-to-door campaigning for Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale and was devastated when they lost, Rieken said.

The cause of her death and how she ended up in that rural Mille Lacs County home is still under investigation. Investigators are asking the public to come forward with any information about Rieken’s disappearance.