Cold case: Investigators ID woman found dead at New Brighton park in 2000

Gail Marlene Johnson (right) has been identified as the woman found dead 23 years ago in New Brighton. (Supplied)

After 23 years, investigators now know the identity of a woman found dead 23 years ago at a park in New Brighton, Minnesota.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced Friday that the body that was discovered on Sept. 15, 2000, at Long Lake Regional Park was 40-year-old Gail Marlene Johnson.

Johnson's body was found by teenagers in a wooded and marshy area at the park. At the time, officers said the body had been found in tall grass at the park. Friday, police said it may have been there for as long as two months before being discovered.

After the body was found, police tested the DNA, but found no match in any DNA database at the time. The case sat cold for years, as investigators struggled to make an identification. This past summer, however, authorities worked with Astrea Forensics to put together a DNA profile for the victim. Using the profile, investigators were ultimately able to make a genetic connection to Johnson's family.

Despite the identification, the cause of Johnson's death is still unclear. The medical examiner was unable to determine how Johnson died due to the body's decomposition. However, authorities say the circumstances of the death are still considered "suspicious."

"It’s been 23 years, and we never gave up on finding out who this woman was and what happened to her," New Brighton Public Safety Director Tony Paetznick said. "Identifying her provides an important new clue as we continue our work to determine the circumstances of her death."

Police say Johnson was 5-foot-7-inches tall and about 135 pounds with light brown hair. She was a sex worker, known to spend time along Lake Street in Minneapolis. Her last known interaction with law enforcement was on July 11, 2000. Authorities also say she was known to drive a black or gray 1989 Mustang.

Anyone with information that could help investigators looking into Johnson's death is asked to contact the New Brighton Department of Public Safety by calling 651-288-4141, or by submitting a tip through their website form or emailing