In 1999, seven years after she went missing, nursing home employees found Ms. Kopta wandering the streets of Puerto Rico. She refused to discuss her private life or background with the nursing home staff, Chief Kohlhepp said, so they crafted a sparse narrative on her origins: A cruise ship from Europe had dropped her off on one of the beaches.
At the time, her husband and relatives were beginning to believe that maybe she was dead.
“It was hard on all of us because we — my mother, my sister and myself — we worried about her constantly,” Ms. Smith said.
Last year, likely because of her dementia, Ms. Kopta “leaked enough details about her identity that they were able to connect enough dots to contact us,” Chief Kohlhepp said.
Workers at the nursing home, the name of which was not shared by the authorities, took a DNA swab of the woman in their care and sent it to investigators. DNA samples were then collected from Ms. Smith and Ms. Kopta’s nephew.
The samples were sent to a lab, where a familial test concluded that the woman in Puerto Rico was indeed Ms. Kopta, the police said. Even before the results came back, investigators had believed for months that the older woman in a photo from Puerto Rico was Ms. Kopta, her long brown hair from the ’90s now trimmed and graying.
Ms. Smith said she was planning to visit her sister in Puerto Rico soon, even if the dementia means Ms. Kopta won’t remember her.
Mr. Kopta told The Associated Press that he was content just knowing what had happened to his wife.
“After 30 years, you try to forget about it,” he said. “Now, I can forget about it. We know what happened, and she is taken care of now.”