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Kyle Potter, Published July 10 2013

Potential evidence found in 1994 slaying of Moorhead woman

MOORHEAD – Almost 20 years after the body of a Moorhead woman was found washed up along the Red River, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office may have new evidence that could help identify her killer.

Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension discovered foreign hairs while re-examining the 1994 murder of Renae Nelson. That potential evidence has been sent off for further DNA analysis.

Nelson was 22 years old when she went missing in Moorhead in October 1994. Her body was found the following April on the banks of the Red River near Comstock, Minn., about 30 minutes south of Moorhead. Nelson’s death was ruled a homicide.

Lt. Bryan Green with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office said they’ve had a suspect in Nelson’s murder for almost 10 years, but not enough evidence for a prosecutor to charge.

Floyd Tapson 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 had lived in the Hillsboro, N.D., and Ada, Minn., areas from 1992 to 1995.

He pleaded guilty in 2003 to kidnapping and attempted murder in the Billings incident and is serving a 75-year prison sentence.

Advances in technology helped unearth the new possible evidence, but it may not directly identify a suspect as normal DNA would. Because the hair had decayed so much, BCA specialists will analyze it for mitochondrial DNA, which can be compared for a match with an individual’s mother or siblings.

Mitochondrial DNA has helped restart – and close – many previously cold murder cases across the nation.

“That sounds good,” Marlyn Nelson, Renae’s father, said of the potential evidence. “It’s been a long time.”

Nelson said his daughter had just reached the age to be on her own when she disappeared in 1994. She was last seen Oct. 28, 1994, walking near Eighth Street and Eighth Avenue South in Moorhead.

“It’d be a relief to know what did transpire,” he said.

Green said it may be another six to seven months before that analysis comes back.

He encouraged the public to contact Clay County with any information about Nelson’s death.

“Somebody in Fargo-Moorhead has got to know something,” he said.

There is a $2,500 reward for information that leads to an arrest or conviction. Call the Clay County Sheriff’s Office at (218) 299-5151.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502