BLUE EARTH, Minn. — A murder victim left in a Minnesota ravine 35 years ago has been identified as an 18-year-old woman from Texas, ending another woman's long quest to put a name to the victim's remains.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced Tuesday that Michelle Yvette Busha, 18, of Bay City, Texas, is the woman whose body was found in the ravine on May 30, 1980.
Busha had been assaulted and strangled with a cord from her jacket hood before her body was dumped off I-90 east of Blue Earth, said Drew Evans, an assistant superintendent for the BCA.
Robert Leroy Nelson, who was working as a Minnesota State Patrol trooper when Busha was killed, confessed to killing her in 1989 after picking her up on I-90 near the Bricelyn, Minn., exit. He did not provide a name for the victim and investigators were unable to identify her then. Nelson is in prison in Texas where he is serving concurrent 15-year sentences for child molestation in Texas and the murder.
A DNA sample taken from Busha's remains after they were exhumed in August 2014 provided the information needed to match the body to Busha. She was reported missing on May 9, 1980, in Texas and two of her family members provided DNA samples to a missing person database in 2007.
The effort to exhume Busha's body so a more modern DNA test could be completed was the work of several local residents, led by Deb Anderson of Blue Earth, who had been striving since 2003 to identify Busha.
Anderson spoke to Busha's sister Monday after she was told about the DNA match.
"They just found out," Anderson told the Mankato (Minn.) Free Press. "They were grateful, but it's been a pretty emotional deal. I never thought I'd see it happen."
Still unclear is whether there is a connection to Nelson being in prison in Texas and his victim being from there. When Nelson confessed to Busha's murder, he told Faribault County investigators she had been hitchhiking on I-90 just west of the Bricelyn, Minn., exit on May 26, 1980.
Nelson said he was on patrol as a trooper at the time and asked her to get into his squad car at about 9:30 p.m. He drove her to a rural area, forced her to have sex and strangled her with a drawstring from her "outer clothing," the criminal complaint, filed in August 1989, said.
Faribault County Sheriff Michael Gormley said Busha's family had made no connection between Busha and Nelson's murder confession and the remains in Blue Earth before being notified about the DNA match.
"They did not know where she was at," Gormley said during a news conference. "They were surprised that she was up here. It was a very good ending for the family to at least know that they have found her."
Arrangements are being made to have Busha's remains, which have been buried in an unnamed grave site in Blue Earth, returned to her family, Gormley said.
Many things had to come together before Busha's body was exhumed, which ultimately led to her identification, Anderson said.
"It was just the right thing to do,” she said. “I know I would want to know what happened to my child. We have to do it for strangers if they're going to do it for us. I'm still absorbing it all. It's a sad end to a beautiful life and we just have to go forward from here."
Nienaber writes for the Mankato (Minn.) Free Press.