On Jan. 1, Mary Andersen turned 50. Her family wasn't able to help her celebrate though. They haven't seen her in 26 years and have no idea where she is, or worse, if she's even alive.
"She was always going," Wendy Ketter, Frazee, said. She added that her sister was always coming and going from the area, but she always called their parents, Wilfred and Eileen Andersen, to check in from time to time.
"She had her problems, but everybody does," she said. "She'd always call to talk to Mom and Dad."
The last time the family heard from Andersen, it was 1982 and she was living in Wyoming. Since the family's contact with Andersen was sporadic, it wasn't until a couple years later they filed a missing person's report with the Becker County Sheriff's Office.
A few times since then, Ketter and/or her mother have had to either identify a body or send in dental records to see if the deceased women were Andersen. None of them were.
Then in June, Ketter, who admits she watches a lot of Cold Case and Missing Persons type shows on television, said she was watching a show and a picture of a Jane Doe came on the screen. She felt it was possibly her sister.
She had seen the picture on the show before and thought maybe it was a sign that she should find out more details on the Jane Doe. Too shook up, her daughter called the Orange County, Calif., police department to inquire.
"They treated her like, 'no, it couldn't be her,'" she said.
Later, Ketter said she was watching Unsolved Mysteries, and the same Jane Doe flashed on the screen once again.
"There's got to be some reason she keeps coming up," she said was her thought. So she took a turn at contacting Orange County officials.
She talked to an assistant coroner, Tiffany Williams, and she said the coroner would need prints, blood type, DNA, dental records, something to prove the Jane Doe was her missing sister.
Ketter said she told the woman to contact the Becker County Sheriff's Department because all of Andersen's information was on file there. Williams called back a couple days later to say the sheriff's department had no idea what she was talking about -- there were no files or records.
She said when she went to talk to the Becker County Sheriff's Department about what was going on, she was told the Jane Doe wasn't her sister because Andersen had been spotted in 1992 in Pennsylvania, in 1994 in Illinois and in 1997 in Florida. That was the first Ketter had heard of the sightings.
It was later proved none of those spottings were Andersen.
So Ketter's mother spoke to a relative of the officer she filed the missing person report with and got his phone number in Florida. Ketter called him in Florida and asked for the dental records, and any other information he had about her sister. At first, she said, he seemed upset to get the phone call, but eventually agreed to get her the dental records that were in a file at his house.
Ketter said she never got an explanation as to why the file was never entered into the system and why it was at his house.
The case has been handed over to an investigator at the Becker County Sheriff's Department.
"There's actually been quite a bit of things taking place," Sheriff Tim Gordon said. "We have more tools available than when she went missing."
First of all, her dental records have been fully charted with the State of Minnesota and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he said.
"So any missing persons that has been recorded or any deceased in he country that has been entered, they get cross referenced, and as new people show up, those dental records are compared to what's in the data base," he added. "And they'll be there forever now."
A second tool is DNA. Even some cold cases are being solved thanks to the wonders of DNA testing. That is also at the state and federal levels.
Ketter, her parents and Andersen's daughter all submitted DNA to the Becker County Sheriff's Department within the last couple months.
"If there's a DNA search done anywhere in the nation, it should come up with a hit through the data base, and at that time, they would get back to us," Gordon said.
Ketter said since making contact with the sheriff's department and having the case made active again, she's gotten several apologizes from authorities who didn't think the case was important. She also found out the Jane Doe on the television she kept seeing was not her sister.
"It was a relief, but I was so sure it was finally over," she said of being torn between knowing it wasn't her sister found dead and yet not having some closure.
"I felt bad that the unnamed victim and the photograph of Wendy's sister likeness was eerily similar. The dental records, however, proved that conclusively it was not her. That was kind of a rollercoaster for the family," Gordon said.
"These files stay open. We're constantly checking them as we find different remains."
The sheriff's office also works with the Hamline University anthropology department to catalog any bone fragments found.
As for what the family can do, Ketter said she checks the Internet regularly to search for her sister. And to get the word out that the family is looking for her.
"Maybe she's out there and thought we don't care (enough to look for her)," she said.
She said she used to pray for her sister to return home, but one day realized maybe she was praying for the wrong thing. Now, she said, she prays, "just bring her home."
Every year on Jan. 1, the family would light candles and pray for her return, Ketter said. For years, her mother continued to buy Christmas presents for Andersen and put them under the tree as well.
"She's somebody to somebody," Ketter said.
When she was playing with her grandchild the other night, Ketter said she just had to stop and cry.
"She's got two grandkids she doesn't even know about," she said of her sister.
"It's not forgotten, it's just one of these things that the leads at the time were pretty well dogged, and now with the new technology, it's opened up new doors for us," Gordon said of the new search. "Which is why it's very important to keep these files open.
"Now it's a wait and see game," he continued. "We rely on these databases right now. It's amazing because cases are being solved every day by them throughout the country. You just never know, when somebody runs a test somewhere, there it is."
Although it's part of the job for authorities to find missing people like Andersen, it also has to be a personal matter as well.
"I can't imagine going through that," Gordon said. "Even though we're professional, you gotta put a personal touch of them. How would we feel...
"Cost is not an issue here. There is no price on an answer like this."
A friend has told Ketter she should write a book about the experiences with her sister and the pursuit of finding her, but she said she can only write notes here and there.
"How do you write a book with no ending," she said.
If anyone has any information on Mary Andersen, please contact Wendy Ketter or the Becker County Sheriff Department.