At the request of her brother, the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department has ordered the exhumation of the body of a 25-year-old Minnesota woman whose murdered body was found on the side of the road in Elk Lake nearly 35 years ago.

Following examination by the Ramsey County medical examiner’s office, the remains of Mary K. Schlais was returned to their resting place in Minnesota the same day.

The victim’s brother asked that the body be tested for DNA, a technology not available until the 1990s. According to reports, it could take weeks to find DNA evidence, and the search may ultimately prove to be fruitless.

Technology

 

Gone are the days of dusting for fingerprints and narrowing down where Colonel Mustard is. During the mid-1990s, the use of DNA became a sharp weapon for investigators. A study published by the Justice Institute, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice during Attorney General Janet Reno’s tenure, legitimizes DNA testing as approaching “certainty.”

The report states that the technology “has made it possible to offer strong support for concluding that DNA from a suspect and from the crime scene are from the same person.”  Before that finding, law enforcement officers could only “exclude a suspect, but evidence for inclusion was weaker.”

The study even explores the future of DNA testing, offering the possibility of creating criminal DNA databases and developing portable tools to collect and analyze genes at a crime scene.

Eerie day

Mary K. Schlais was found murdered Feb. 15, 1974. A man driving an orange compact car was seen by a neighbor pushing the her body from the vehicle onto a township road, about 13 miles east of Menomonie near Elk Lake, around 1:30 p.m. that day.

When the police arrived after being notified, the man and orange car were gone. The witness was unable to provide a license plate number, but was able to give a description of the man and the vehicle. Schlais’ body, still warm, had been stabbed more than 12 times.

Police believe Mary was picked up by someone in the Minneapolis area while hitchhiking. Over the years, leads in the case have not matured to any substance.

Folklore

In the years since the investigation, a different type of fact finding has taken place.  Two paranormal researchers have featured the area of the Schlais’ murder in “The Wisconsin Road Guide to Haunted Locations.”

Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk, the authors and investigators who hold advanced degrees in psychology and religion, also feature other Dunn County alleged haunting locations, such as the Caryville Church and even the Mabel Tainter Theater. 

In the book, the two men report encountering while fishing a “glowing, white woman” resembling the description of Schlais. Another elderly resident in the summer of 1994 confessed to conversing with an apparition calling herself “Mary” at the same time every day.

Whether Schlais’ ghost is imagined or not, the memory of a life cut too short years ago clearly haunts the area. Like a puzzle with a missing piece, both her family and law officers seek to solve the mystery. Perhaps DNA testing will provide the piece needed for the murdered woman — and her family — to find peace at last.