WRIGHT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Twenty-seven years after her body was found in a ditch in Ottawa County, the woman who was known to detectives only as Matilda has been identified.

Thanks to genealogical testing, the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office said the woman was identified as Shelly Rae Kephart, also known as Shelly Rae Christian. She was 29 years old in 1993 when she went missing from Minnesota. 

After a kinship analysis that compared DNA samples taken from Kephart’s family to DNA from Matilda, the FBI Crime Laboratory confirmed a match.

In November 1994, rabbit hunters discovered the remains in a ditch near 32nd Avenue and Arthur Street in Wright Township. Her death was ruled a homicide.

“It’s sad and heartbreaking to find out… she was murdered,” Christian’s sister, Shanna, told news 8.

Shanna, who lives in Minnesota, said she’s never stopped searching for her sister.

“You always maybe hold out just a little tiny hope that maybe something happened and they’re alive, but deep down in my heart, I’ve known since 1994 that she had passed,” Shanna said.

Shanna, who lives in Minnesota, said she last saw her sister in November 1993 and doesn’t know what brought her to West Michigan.

After going so long without any answers, Shanna takes comfort in knowing she will finally be able to give her sister a proper burial.

“My goal in all of this was just to bring her home and lay her to rest,” Shanna said. “I wanted her to have an identity…(and) a place for her to be.”

The team of cold case detectives at the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office have also spent the last 27 years searching for her identify.

“I’m relieved that were able to provide closure to the family,” Captain Jake Sparks said. “(And) I’m relieved that we don’t have to call her Matilda anymore, we can call her by name.”

The team of detectives see this as a major break in case as the search for Christian’s killer continues.

“The main challenge of not having a name is not being able to trace back her steps,” Det. Sara Fillman said. “…and it’s difficult to go out and question people about someone who has no name.”

Anyone with information or who knew Shelly Rae Kephart, also known as Shelly Rae Christian, is asked to call the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office or Silent Observer at 1.877.88.SILENT.