Pearline Roberta Walton's death is being treated as a homicide, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Investigators hope that identifying the body will provide new leads in what has become a very cold case.
"This puts us from first gear into second," said Pete Johnston, the sheriff in Polk County in Wisconsin.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said Walton was the first person identified through a new state effort to match missing people with unidentified bodies. Investigators said Walton's family contributed a DNA sample several months ago.
Walton's family said they last saw her in the summer of 1993. They did not report her missing at the time because she often vanished for months.
"I thought she was out here running around doing her thing. I didn't think she was dead," Wilmeta Walton said of her younger sister.
The body was discovered in November 1993 in Dresser, Wis., a rural village near the Minnesota border and about 30 miles northeast of Minneapolis.
Pearline left behind a daughter, Minnie, now 21. Her cousin, Queena, said Minnie always hoped her mother would return.
Queena Walton, 30, described her aunt as her "second mom."
"She took me everywhere with her," she said. "She was a very fun person to be around."