WINNIPEG - For more than 20 years police believed it was a woman who had met an unfortunate end in a central Manitoba hay field.
The 1990 case file grew by the boxfuls as officers searched from coast to coast trying to match a weather-worn skull and a few bones found near Faulkner to a missing female.
"We just were not making headway in locating this woman," RCMP Sgt. Line Karpish said Friday.
In 2011, cold-case detectives took stock of what they had and re-evaulated their approach.
"Basically, we decided, let's get back to the body," Karpish said.
They exhumed the remains from the Ashern, Man., cemetery where they were buried and — using science not available to officers back in 1990 — they learned something that left investigators gobsmacked.
"To everyone's shock and amazement, it turned out to be a male rather than a female," Karpish said.
Investigators had spent two decades searching for a woman who didn't exist.
With that piece of information and with DNA in hand, police had an identification confirmed within 10 months.
They now believe the bones belonged to 20-year-old Patrick Lawrence Rosner, who was reported missing in Winnipeg in 1989.
They're treating his death as suspicious.
"At this juncture, you can imagine, our investigators are going back to square one," Karpish said.
The last confirmed sighting of Rosner was when he left work on the afternoon of June 23, 1989.
He had a stable job at Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg. He had parents who loved him and a girlfriend he was crazy about. He had dinner plans on the weekend.
"For him to completely disappear, his parents knew there was something wrong."
Over the years, there were several reported sightings, some coming from south of the border.
The initial missing-person report from Winnipeg police suggested Rosner may have been seen heading back from a restaurant in Headingley, Man., in the company of another man with well-tanned skin, dark hair and wearing a black leather jacket. But Karpish said RCMP are now focusing on Rosner's departure from work as the "only firm thing" they know.
"Right now, we want to function on facts."
Karpish said it's suspicious that his remains ended up in Faulkner, 200 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. He had no family ties in the area and no apparent reason to go there.
The investigators who first believed the remains were female can't be faulted, she said. It was a different time.
"There was no blood. You are dealing with human remains exposed to the elements for 15 months," she said. "Back in 1989, DNA was in it infancy as a tool to police — very early in its infancy. In fact, it wasn't available in 1989.
"We have a whole lot more technology now to do our work."
Still, she said, it's been a tough two decades for Rosner's loved ones.
"Now that we have this closure — to some degree — for the family, now we need to find out what happened to him," Karpish said.
"Justice is another issue and we are going to work hard to bring this matter to a close, whichever direction it takes us."
— By Tim Cook in Edmonton