FitzgeraldChris_051320

Chris Fitzgerald

BARRON — A 60-year-old woman and her 26-year-old son were arrested Thursday on suspicion of killing a man in Minnesota 2014. His body was located in Barron County in 2017.

Connie Lou Herbst of New Prague, Minn., and her son, Austin James Herbst, of Elko New Market, Minn., were arrested for second-degree murder in the death of 63-year-old Gary Herbst of New Prague, Minn. They were taken into custody without incident and were booked into the Scott County (Minn.) jail.

Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said the body was discovered in December 2017 in a wooded area about two miles south of the city of Barron, in the town of Maple Grove. The deceased male had been shot in the head. However, the agency was unable to identify the man until the DNA Doe Project began working on the case in February. In June, the group identified him as Herbst, who was reported missing in 2014.

“These arrests in this cold case were the result of tremendous multi-agency teamwork, spanning across state lines,” said Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen in a press release.

Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said Gary and Connie Lou Herbst were still married at the time he went missing. Fitzgerald praised his staff for their continuous work to solve the cold case.

“The dedication our department had on this case, to bring it to closure, is what we do every day,” Fitzgerald said Thursday. “I’m just proud of our team. It was unbelievable work to solve this case; it was a great team effort.”

The DNA Doe Project identified two separate cases in Barron County this year. Fitzgerald praised the non-profit organization for getting the case rolling.

“If it wasn’t for the DNA Doe Project, the bones would still be in our evidence room,” he said.

Fitzgerald said that based on the investigation, they are “100% certain” Gary Herbst was killed in Minnesota, and that is why the suspects are being held in that state. It is unclear why or when the body was transported to Barron County. There is no evidence the Barron County Sheriff’s Department ever had any contact with Herbst.

“I believe it is random; I don’t think there is a tie to Barron County,” Fitzgerald said. “I believe they used to pass through the area on their way to another location.”

In January, the genealogists solved a four-decade-old cold case, when they identified a male body that was located in the woods on private land in Rice Lake on Sept. 21, 1982. DNA showed the person was 21-year-old Kraig King of White Bear Lake, Minn. In 1982, loggers found a pile of clothes roughly 100 yards from a tree line near Highway 25, about four miles north of Ridgeland. The case had been in their evidence room since 1982.

The DNA Doe Project was able to go through the genealogy of the unidentified person’s DNA, and traced it to his family.

According to the DNA Doe Project website, the organization “uses genetic genealogy to identify John and Jane Does. We have become a go-to organization for law enforcement agencies and medical examiners across the country, helping them solve their most intractable cases. We have had amazing success even with cases where the DNA was highly degraded or of low quantity.”

To learn more, visit dnadoeproject.org.