Woman who drowned in Lake Michigan in 1997 identified after 25 years

Almost a quarter of a century ago, a 26-year-old woman's body washed up on the shore of Lake Michigan in Manistee County. Now authorities have finally been able to identify who the woman was.

Michigan State Police said Dorothy Lynn (Thyng) Ricker died by an accidental drowning in 1997. Her body was found naked and on the shore in Manistee County on Oct. 27, 1997.

According to MSP, troopers found the woman wearing a single earring. That was the only identifying item the woman had and, for years, police sought leads about who the woman was. The cause of death was determined to be drowning and was ruled an accident.

In 2020, after 23 years, detectives from the MSP Cadiallace Post and the MSP Missing Persons Coordination Unit reexamined the case and exhumed her remains. During that exhumation, fresh samples were taken and submitted to Astrea Forensics under the DNA Doe Project for Forensic Genetic Genealogy (FGG). 

RELATED: Body found floating in Saginaw River 50 years ago identified as Texas man

A year later, a possible match was identifed and sent to MSP for vetting. The The possible connection linked the unidentified human remains to the Thyng family in Acton, Maine. Ultimately, authorities were able to locate a possible brother and daughter of Ricker. Her daughter was living in Chicago and a sample from her daughter was obtained.

Unfortunately, the woman's remains were deteriorated and required another sample to be taken from the bones. 

In December 2022, the woman positively identified as Ricker, who had last been seen in Wisconsin on Oct. 2, 1997. 

On Oct. 7, 1997, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran an article about Ricker who was reported missing. At that time, boaters in St. Francis reported a body in the lake but it disappeared into the water before police could find it. That article said Ricker was upset with family members who tried to get help for her mental health.

The article continues and says around 8 a.m. on Oct. Thursday, Oct. 2, 1997, Ricker ran out of gas and was given a ride by a Waukesha County Sheriff's Deputy. The deputy also gave her $10 for gas. Later that same day was when she was spotted sitting on a Lake Michigan beach in St. Francis, just south of Milwaukee. Police in St. Francis briefly talked to her and she told police she was "enjoying the lakefront and the sun."

At that time, she was not yet reported missing and police said nothing appeared abnormal. The next day, her abandoned vehicle was found nearby and it came back to a "missing/endangered person" entered by the Chicago Police Department.

MSP said it was grateful to close the case and bring some closure to the family.