Woman found dead on shore of Lake Michigan in 1997 is identified

After more than a quarter of a century, authorities have identified the remains of a young woman whose body washed up on the shore of Lake Michigan.

On Monday, Michigan State Police announced that 26-year-old Dorothy Lynn (Thyng) Ricker, of Chicago, accidentally drowned before her unclothed body was discovered on October 27, 1997. Police said the only identifying item on the woman when her body was discovered was a single earring, the only lead police had for years.

In September 2020, detectives with the MSP Cadillac Post and the MSP Missing Persons Coordination Unit reexamined the case and exhumed Ricker's remains for advanced DNA testing, police said. In July 2021 a possible match to the Thyng family in Acton, Maine, was found and authorities obtained DNA samples from a possible brother and daughter of the victim who resided in Chicago, police said.

Due to the "degraded" state of the bone samples, further DNA testing was needed for positive identification, according to MPS. But in December 2022, the DNA Diagnostics Center and Intermountain Forensics were able to confirm the remains belonged to Ricker, who had last been seen in Wisconsin on October 2, 1997, police said.

"At that time, Mrs. Ricker was sitting on a Lake Michigan beach park bench," police said. "The officers briefly talked to her. She mentioned she was from Chicago and was 'enjoying the lakefront and the sun.'"

In addition to genetic genealogy, members of the DNA Doe Project also combed through old newspapers and public records to search for the family's name.

"Newspaper articles placed Dorothy in the area where her body was found," DNA Doe Project team leader Gwen Knapp said in a statement. "The family had placed a headstone for Dorothy that confirmed a presumed death date several weeks before her body was found in Michigan."

"Combined with the genetics, these clues gave us the confidence that we had identified Dorothy Lynn Ricker," Knapp added."The team is so happy to be able to give Dorothy her name back and hope the family can have some closure."

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