As state wants DNA from families of the missing, retired cop remembers the first to come forward

“This thing has haunted me,” Kurtz says. “I think of her almost every day.”

The ‘thing’ Kurtz is talking about is the 1988 disappearance of 19-year-old Susan Swedell from a Lake Elmo gas station, which remains unsolved to this day.

Thousands of other Minnesotans have gone missing, before and since. But the case was a first for state officials in a big way.

Back when Kurtz—who as a deputy responded to the initial missing person call at the Swedell family home—took a fresh look at the case in 2002, he remembers talking to Swedell’s mother, again. They’d just had a news conference announcing a $25,000 reward for any information on the young woman.

“That same day I took her mom and sister over to Regions Hospital (and) did a blood draw,” Kurtz remembers.

Then they drove to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension headquarters in St. Paul. Kurtz remembers telling a technician he had a DNA sample from the family of a long-time missing person.

But the BCA, at that point, wasn’t used to accepting such evidence; there was no “DNA database” for family members of the missing.

“They didn’t have anything. The technician had to get his boss. … He said, ‘not sure what you want to do with this. Is this a case we’re working?’ ” Kurtz said.

Kurtz told the tech he’d like the state to keep that blood, in case it was needed in the future. You never knew what might happen to the family.

The boss evidently agreed: BCA officials confirmed that the Swedell family’s DNA was the first “Missing Person Relative” sample in state history they ever took into their custody.

“They said ‘we’ll do it,’ no arguments at all,” Kurtz said.

Ever since, the state has been upping its efforts to get more “samples” from family. Earlier this month, they made a highly publicized push for more family to come forward, noting they’d just dug up five unidentified bodies from graveyards in the East Metro, to add to the 100 or so they already have in their care.


But Kurtz wants more. For…

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