Police in Spain believe they have found the body of an American woman who went missing on one of the country’s most popular pilgrimage routes.

Officials are confident that DNA testing on Monday will confirm that remains discovered in north-west Spain on Friday are those of Denise Thiem, the American who disappeared last April while walking the Camino de Santiago route.

Denise Thiem, who went missing in April
Denise Thiem, who went missing in April Photograph: Facebook

A man, Miguel Ángel Muñoz Blas, 39, has been arrested and over Thiem’s murder. He is also being questioned about the attempted kidnapping of two other women on the Camino.

Thiem, 40, disappeared near Astorga in the province of León and, despite interviewing hundreds of people along the famous route, police found no clues of her whereabouts. The suspect now in custody was among those questioned at the time.

Muñoz attracted police attention a few days after Thiem’s disappearance when he changed about $1,000 (£650) into euro in a local bank. He was later identified from the bank’s CCTV footage but then disappeared from his shack in Castrillo de los Polvazares in León. According to police, when he was questioned on Friday the suspect led them straight to the shack where Thiem’s suspected remains were found. Police say her DNA has also been found on a saw belonging to Muñoz.

Thiem’s family on Saturday thanked the Spanish police for their “professionalism, skill and dedication” and went on to thank “the Spanish people for their many prayers and heartfelt expressions of hope and concern during this long and painful ordeal of not knowing what happened to Denise”.

The family added in a statement that they hoped the body could be identified quickly so that “their beloved Denise can be returned to the United States without delay so that they and her friends can honour her life and conduct a proper and reverent burial”.

The Camino has been a pilgrimage route since the early middle ages, but until the 1980s only a few hundred people completed the 33-day trek from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. Now, some 200,000 undertake all or sections of the journey each year. It is popular with Japanese people and, since the release of the film The Way in 2010 made by Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez, a growing number of Americans are walking the Camino.

This article titled “Body of American pilgrim missing in Spain found by police” was written by Stephen Burgen in Barcelona, for The Guardian on Sunday 13th September 2015 12.46 UTC

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