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Remains found near Gooseberry Falls ID'd as woman missing for 30 years

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Investigators say human remains found in Gooseberry Falls State Park just over a year ago belong to a Minneapolis woman who had been missing for 30 years.

Cassandra Rhines, who was 19 when she disappeared in 1985, is believed to have been killed, and her body then left in the park, officials announced at a news conference Wednesday.

“[She] was last heard from in June 1985, when she called a friend to confirm her attendance at her Goddaughter’s birthday party in Minneapolis the next day,” Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson said in a news release. “She never showed, and was never heard from again.”

An off-duty Lake County Sheriff's Office employee discovered a human skull in a rarely-traveled area of the park back on May 6, 2014. Subsequent searches of the area turned up additional bones.

The medical examiner's office and a forensic anthropologist determined the victim had been killed, likely around the same time she disappeared.

Officials were able to identify the remains as Rhines through DNA her family members had provided.

Now, investigators are hoping the public can provide more information about her life leading up to when she went missing.

At the time of her disappearance, investigators believe Rhines may have been involved in prostitution and may have been working as an exotic dancer.

Officials believe she may have been living with a man (pictured with Rhines at right) in the Whittier Park area of Minneapolis. Investigators believe he may have information about what happened when she disappeared and hope the public will be able to identify him.

"Investigators need the public's help to better understand who Cassandra Rhines knew and who may have sought to harm her," Drew Evans of the BCA said in a news release. "The clearer picture we have of the time when she disappeared, the better chance we have of finding out who killed her."

Anyone with information about Rhines is asked to call the Lake County Sheriff's Office at 218-834-8385 or the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension at 651-793-7000.

DNA testing

In August 2014, scientists with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) matched DNA from the remains found in the park to that of Rhines' family members who had provided DNA in 2013 as part of the BCA's unidentified remains effort.

Additional testing conducted since that time confirmed the identity of the remains, the Duluth News Tribune notes.

This is why the BCA continues to ask family members of those with missing loved ones to submit DNA samples (it just takes a swab from the inside of their cheek) to help them identify remains and close missing persons cases.

As DNA testing capabilities have advanced, forensic scientists have been able to identify the remains of people who have been missing for decades, even if they're in poor condition.

In March, the BCA's unidentified human remains effort used DNA from family members to identify the body of a woman who was killed by a state trooper 35 years after she went missing.

There are about 198 Minnesotans who have been missing more than a year, the BCA said in the news release, and there are about 50-60 unidentified cases in the state, officials noted in March.

There are roughly 40,000 sets of unidentified remains held in medical examiners offices across the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

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