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Remains found in 2003 identified as Ramsey County man missing since 1970

He was buried for three decades before his remains were found.
A high school photo of Donald Rindahl.

A high school photo of Donald Rindahl.

Authorities have identified the remains of a 22-year-old man who was last seen in the early 1970s but his body wasn't found until 2003.

The remains belong to Donald Rindahl, a Ramsey County man who told his family he was headed to California in 1970 and was never heard from again. 

His skeletal remains were discovered during an excavation effort by a landowner in 2003 near Highway 47 and County Road 5 in rural Bradford Township, Isanti County Chief Deputy Lisa Lovering said during a news conference on Wednesday. 

Investigators believe he was buried there in late 1970 or early 1971. But it's still unknown what led to his death and if anyone is responsible.

"Based off of the information from the family, as well as the scene in 2003, it is believed that Donald was a victim of homicide, but his death has been classified as undetermined," Lovering said, noting there may still be people alive who know what happened to him and investigators are hoping they'll come forward with information. 

Investigators have identified the remains in the cold case after extensive DNA analysis.

At the time the remains were discovered, the medical examiner concluded they believed to a white man in his 20s who had been buried for anywhere between three and 28 years, Lovering said. 

In an effort to ID the remains, investigators entered the DNA profile into the missing person database and build a facial reconstruction of the person. They also compared DNA samples from people whose relatives were missing. 

There were no matches. 

After investigators couldn't extract a DNA sample from the remains in 2019 or 2020 to be used for analysis by consultant Barbara Rae-Venter (she solved the Golden State killer case). But then in 2021, she referred the sheriff's office to Othram, a lab in Texas that uses new DNA technology.

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In October 2021, the Texas lab built a DNA profile and within a day investigators had identified a distant relative. Rae-Venter then built a family tree and in November, gave investigators the name of someone who was believed to have been associated with the remains that were found. 

Lovering located two of Rindahl's siblings. One sibling confirmed Rindahl had been missing since 1970 and family members were told before he disappeared that the FBI had been looking for him in connection to a drug investigation.

The siblings' DNA samples confirmed the remains belonged to Rindahl. Lovering said his family is in disbelief and shock.

Rindahl had told his family he was headed to California. It's unclear if he ever made it there and Lovering says there is speculation and rumor about his disappearance, but nothing substantiated. 

There are still a lot of unanswered questions, Lovering said. She noted back in the 1970s, people didn't file missing person reports for adults, and nothing was filed on his disappearance. Investigators also don't have any information from the FBI as no one has found records of that. 

"Oftentimes law enforcement is the voice for the vulnerable or victims that cannot speak. This was very true in this case. We were able to return a loved one home to their family who did not know his whereabouts for 51 years," Lovering said. 

Rindahl's family has requested privacy. 

The sheriff's office is still investigating to determine what caused Rindahl's death. Anyone with information about Rindahl is asked to contact the Isanti County Sheriff's Office at 763-689-2141 or CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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