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New Brighton 'Jane Doe' ID brings some closure to woman who found remains as a teen

Gail Marlene Johnson was never reported missing, but investigative genetic genealogy connected her DNA to remains found in Long Lake Regional Park in Sep. 2000.

NEW BRIGHTON, Minn — She was known for 23 years as the New Brighton Jane Doe.

Now she's been identified as Gail Marlene Johnson from Minneapolis who was 40 years old when she died.

It was a random day off from school in September 2000 when Jen Leach and her future husband Nathan walked down a random path at Long Lake Regional Park in New Brighton and found something shocking.

"Soon as we saw her, Nathan said, 'Oh my gosh, it's a body,'" Jen said.

Jen and Nathan expected to soon learn more about the woman whose unclothed, decomposed body appeared to be dumped in a marshy area of the park.

"Six months goes by, a year goes by and she's still not identified. A year then ten years past," Jen said. "We just felt so bad that no one, in essence, was looking for her."

Police twice made models of the woman's face -- in hopes someone might recognize her -- but they might never have learned her identity if not for the development of investigative genetic genealogy and a nonprofit called The DNA Doe Project.

Using a DNA profile extracted by a lab, the volunteers sorted through ancestry databases and public records, narrowing down to Gail Marlene Johnson, who was 40 years old, had several prostitution charges, and stopped showing up in court in July 2000 -- two months before her remains were found.

"She was not a reported missing person," said Sgt. Mitch Singer of the New Brighton Department of Public Safety.

Johnson still has a living sibling in Minnesota.

"The sibling said they always wondered what happened to her if she was in prison or passed away and didn't get a notification. Just didn't know. So it really gave them some closure," Singer said.

The news also gave closure to Jen, whose husband Nathan passed away two years ago. They never stopped thinking about the case and went back to the park every year to pay respects.

"It's like, 'Oh, now we know who she is.' Then you kind of want to go, 'OK, what happened to her?' Someone knows something out there," Jen said.

The medical examiner was not able to determine a cause of death although police have long suspected Johnson was murdered. 

They are now asking for anyone who knew her in any capacity to reach out to the New Brighton Department of Public Safety.

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