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She's coming home: Remains a match with lost woman

After 30-plus years of not knowing, the Andersen family finally knows their daughter and sister, Mary, is dead.

The Frazee family found out a week ago that Mary, who has been gone since 1981, was murdered two years later in Gillette, Wyo., where she had been staying at the time. She was 23 when her family last saw her.

 “I want people to know she was a person. She’s not just a statistic anymore. She’s coming home,” her sister, Wendy Ketter, said.

Mary and her husband went to Wyoming in 1981, and she last had contact with her family in 1982. The family finally got a hold of Mary’s husband, and he admitted that she was missing.

When the Wyoming authorities found Mary died in a gravel pit in 1983, they had no identification and after taking tissue samples and creating a file on her, they buried her Aug. 28, 1983. Since her contact with family was fairly sporadic, the family didn’t file a missing person’s report until a couple years later.

Becker County Deputy John Seiling said in a news release that since the missing person report was filed after the body had been found in Wyoming, the connection wasn’t made sooner.

With Mary registered as missing through the Becker County Sheriff’s Department, Ketter said they held on to hope that the family would see Mary again.

She and Crystal Andersen spent countless hours scouring missing persons’ websites, hoping to find anything on a Jane Doe that would turn out to be Mary.

Andersen is Mary’s daughter, but was adopted and raised by Ketter and Mary’s parents, Eileen and Wilfred Andersen. She last saw Mary when she was 2 years old.

 “We spent hours and would lose sleep,” Andersen said of searching websites. “It’s very frustrating.”

The family realized later that Mary hadn’t been placed in the system, so they submitted DNA and made sure the file was up to date and active.

Then last Wednesday, Ketter said Becker County Investigator Dan Skoog showed up on her doorstep. At first she questioned who was in trouble, but when she saw a man from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension with Skoog, she knew right away it had to do with her sister.

“I was happy they came and told us rather than a phone call,” Andersen said. 

Ketter said that though Skoog isn’t a part of the investigation that’s being done through Wyoming law enforcement, he delivered the news and offered any comfort he could, which Ketter and Andersen agreed was important.

Seiling said it was an independent investigator working for a Canadian agency that specializes in missing persons made the connection between the Jane Doe in Wyoming and Mary Andersen.

DNA samples that Ketter and Crystal, Eileen and Wilfred Andersen had submitted matched those of the Wyoming woman.

Mary’s death has been ruled a homicide and the Wyoming police are still working on the case. Andersen said that the Gillette area was known for its oil boom in the early 1980s when Mary went missing and that there were other homicides in that area around the time. Several people were interviewed but to no avail.

There are no leads in the case at this time, but Ketter and Andersen remain hopeful that Mary’s killer will be brought to justice. Ketter said the person who killed Mary will have justice on earth or before God.

Now that they have answers on Mary, it comes with a lot of mixed emotions.

Andersen said she feels sadness and anger, but also happiness.

“I’m happy she’s coming home. She’ll have a name and not a plot number,” she said.

She said the family knew by this time that Mary had died because she would have contacted them by now. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t hold onto a little glimmer of hope either.

Mary’s body is being cremated and sent back to Frazee, where the family plans to have a funeral. An account has been set up at Frazee Community Bank to pay for the expenses.

“Thank you to everyone that has been so kind and for the thoughts and prayers,” Andersen said.

Ketter and Andersen said it’s been fun to talk to people who remember Mary growing up and sharing stories.

Though it’s not the ending the family had hoped for, it’s nice to have closure, too.

“Thirty-one years – it’s been a fight,” Ketter said.