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Published July 20 2012

New DNA evidence could be break in 1994 slaying of Moorhead woman

MOORHEAD – The sister of a Moorhead woman whose 1994 disappearance and murder remains unsolved hopes new DNA evidence recently discovered by a forensic specialist will help bring her killer to justice.

Renae Lynn Nelson, 22, disappeared Oct. 28, 1994. She was last seen at about 3 p.m. that day, walking near Eighth Street and Eighth Avenue South in Moorhead.

Nelson’s body was discovered April 6, 1995, near the Red River just west of Comstock. Authorities ruled her death a homicide.

Lt. Bryan Green of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, who was the detective on the case for 15 years, said investigators believe Nelson was strangled to death, though an official cause of death was never determined because her body was so deteriorated.

In February, the sheriff’s office resubmitted evidence to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which received grant funding to hire a forensic specialist to work on selected cold cases.

Tests using improved technology revealed DNA of unknown origin, including hair on Nelson’s clothing, Green said.

“It’s just unbelievable what they can do now,” he said.

Authorities and Nelson’s family are hopeful the DNA will lead to her killer.

“I just hope they figure out who did it and bring justice to whoever did it,” said Nelson’s older sister, Racheal Storms, 49, of Sabin. “He needs to pay for it.”

Green said the top suspect in the case remains Floyd “Todd” Tapson, whose name came to the attention of local authorities when he was arrested in October 1998 in Billings, Mont., in connection with the abduction of a 22-year-old woman who, like Nelson, was developmentally disabled. Tapson pleaded guilty in 2003 to kidnapping and attempted murder and is serving a 75-year prison sentence.

Tapson had lived in the Hillsboro, N.D., and Ada, areas from 1992 to 1995. Authorities also consider him a suspect in the 1996 disappearance of 19-year-old Kristi Nikle in the Grand Forks, N.D., area.

Storms said she was surprised when she first heard about the newfound DNA in a phone call Thursday night from her husband, Gary, a reserve deputy for the sheriff’s office.

“Hopefully they’ll find an answer to it after all these years,” she said.

Storms said she thinks about her sister every day and has a picture of her hanging on the wall in her home. Their father, Marlyn Nelson, is still alive, but their mother, Diane Kukert, died in April 2010.

“She always wanted to find out who did it so he can serve his time for what he did,” Storms said.

Green urged anyone with new information about the case to call the sheriff’s office at (218) 299-5151.