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Vanished Minnesotans: 147 Missing Persons


June 6, 2014

This week’s renewed search for a Maple Grove girl [Amy Sue Pagnac] who disappeared 25 years ago and the discovery of the bones of a missing man in Lakeville last month made me wonder how many Minnesotans are currently considered missing persons. Minnesota’s state clearinghouse only displays about 70 faces. I found a more comprehensive list at the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a web site that collects information from medical examiners and law enforcement around the country. It has two main categories of data: missing persons, and unidentified remains. There’s a smaller third group, called “unclaimed persons,” in which people are identified, but no one has come forward to take possession of the remains.

The Minnesota missing persons list includes 147 names, dating back to June 14, 1963, the day Martin Franzel, then 77, took his usual early morning walk in Minneapolis and vanished without a trace. The most recent addition is Cody Christie, 20, who was last seen leaving a relative’s home in Hinckley on foot on May 12 of this year. The youngest were 2-year-old Aaron Anderson, last seen playing in his yard in Pine City on April 7, 1989, and 2-year-old Kyle Jansen, whose footprints were found leading down to the bank of the Maple River in Mankato on Dec. 22, 1991.

I look at each one of these faces and imagine the circles of grief in the families and friends left behind. Remarkably, this kind of national clearinghouse has only been around for nine years or so, but it’s already contributing to a phenomenon of the modern age: advances in communication and forensic science mean it’s harder than ever to remain a missing person in America.

James Eli Shiffer, the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor, digs into data and documents to uncover the news. Reach him at 612-673-4116, james.shiffer@startribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @jameselishiffer.

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Related reports on this site

Minnesota Missing Person Linkage Analysis (June 22, 2011)


http://www.charleyproject.org/images/e/edberg_nathan3.jpg

Missing Person Joshua Guimond (Nov. 7, 2009)

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August 1, 2016 update: Related interest

WJON Cold Cases: 1974 Reker Murders Still a Mystery

By Dan DeBaun
AM 1240 WJON
August 1, 2016

ST. CLOUD — It’s been nearly 42 years since Susanne and Mary Reker went missing in St. Cloud. They were found nearly a month later murdered in Quarry Park, both were stabbed multiple times.

Authorities still haven’t determined who murdered the girls, but signs indicate they’re getting closer with the suspects they’re looking into. They could be a few witness accounts away from a breakthrough in the case.

Someone just needs to step forward with the last crucial bits of information they need.

“Somebody knows something that they’re either hiding on purpose or are just afraid to say what they knew at the time,” Stearns County Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold says.

“There are people out there who have never come forward that know what happened, know who did it and are not telling what they know. People who have never come forward before,” Rita Reker, the mother of the two girls, says.

It was Labor Day: September 2, 1974, when Mary (15 years old) and Susanne (12 years old) left home around 11:00 a.m. to go shopping at the nearby Zayre Discount Store (now home to Save-a-Lot Grocery and Liquor). Rita recalls it being a beautiful summer day after a big family reunion the day before.

“I didn’t want them to go very badly but they needed some school supplies. They were going to be back quickly.”

Photo: Tri County Crime Stoppers
Photo: Tri County Crime Stoppers (left: Susanne, right: Mary)

They were last seen at the store at 1:30 p.m. When they didn’t come home for dinner, their parents contacted police. It started a search for the girls that lasted 26 days.

“I remember fixing supper that evening and we generally ate around 5 o’clock and when they weren’t there we knew something was wrong.”

The search quickly became nationwide in scope. Old WJON files say bulletins and photographs of the girls were sent to all major cities in five upper midwest states and to every state crime bureau. Mary was wearing green wire rim glasses, a green army fatigue shirt with “Reker” on the front pockets and blue jeans. Susanne was wearing gold wire rimmed glasses, a white cotton short jacket and blue corduroy jeans.

The search for the sisters concluded at a rock quarry. (Stearns History Museum; Myron Hall Collection)
The search for the sisters concluded at a rock quarry.
(Stearns History Museum; Myron Hall Collection)

On September 28th, two teenagers who were walking on the edge of a rock quarry on the western outskirts of town, found Susanne in the tall grass nearby at about 2:00 p.m. She was stabbed 13 times.

Mary was found unclothed 40 feet below the surface of the water. She had been stabbed six times and her clothes had been thrown into the quarry after her. Her body was recovered by divers at about 6:00 p.m.

The murders shook the community. To this day: Rita still can’t comprehend why such a horrible thing happened to her daughters.

“Mary had planned to become a teacher when she got older and Susanne planned to become a doctor and she was a violinist. They had hopes and dreams for themselves and somebody just chose to kill them.”

What Are Authorities Looking For?

After talking with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, Rita and looking through old WJON files, here’s the common threads we’ve found for who may be responsible:

  • Both the Sheriff’s Office and Rita believe the suspect is a man who’s likely from the St. Cloud area.
  • Rita thinks the man had an accomplice. The Sheriff’s Office can’t confirm this, but Bechtold says they aren’t ruling out the possibility.
  • Profilers in the case believe the person was young at the time of the murder.
  • Bechtold confirmed that the suspect(s) they are looking at are still alive.
  • Bechtold says it’s possible they haven’t heard from a key witness because they felt what they saw “wasn’t important”. The Sheriff’s Department urges anyone who saw something to contact them.

Perhaps the most mysterious part of the case is a page from Mary’s diary that investigators found. It seems to show that she had reason to fear for her life. It reads:

“Should I die, I ask that my stuffed animals be given to [my sister] and if I am murdered, see that justice wins over. I have a few reasons to fear for my life. What I ask is important.”

Bechtold confirms the diary entry is still a big piece in their investigation.

“It’s pretty significant to look at that, you certainly can’t rule that out because what 15-year-old girl writes that?”

Authorities seem content with the physical evidence they have for the investigation. The missing pieces are witness accounts from a crucial time: after the girls were at the Zayre store.

“We’d like to know what happened from the time they left the store until they were murdered: if [someone] saw certain people together…and I can’t say who those certain people would be, but we have witnesses who saw the girls at the store, we have witnesses who saw them in different places.” Bechtold says.

Authorities still have the girls clothing and there’s the possibility they could bring the items back for further DNA testing if scientific advancements in the field are made. DNA testing on the clothes in 2006 revealed no clues.

Another interesting development with the case happened in 2005, when it was presented to the Vidocq Society, a members only crime solving club of detectives, FBI agents, psychologists and scientists who hear cold cases in Philadelphia. After hearing this case: they confirmed to the Sheriff’s Office that they were on the right track.

“Their opinion at the time that we presented it to them is that the person or persons we are looking at, look like they would be viable suspects,” Bechtold says.

Old WJON Radio copy for the Reker case from the 70's and 80's
Old WJON Radio copy for the Reker case from the 70s and 80s.

Rita says this helped confirm in her mind who was responsible.  She isn’t able to comment on names.

“That was a breakthrough for us.”

A new investigator was also assigned to the case recently. Bechtold says John Niemi has been with the department for about 10 years. He met with Rita in Mid-July to keep her informed on what they were doing to try and solve the case. The Sheriff’s Office hopes he will give them a fresh perspective.

In 2013, Fred Reker, the girls father, died at the age of 84. Rita is now 80-years-old but still hasn’t given up on finding closure.

“We had four other children and they had to grow up with the mystery of this: that was hard for them. Our family bares the scars of this yet and I guess before I die I’d like to see it solved.”

If you know something (especially if you saw the girls after they went to the Zayre store), you should contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at 320-251-4240 or the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Cold Case Homicide Unit at 1-888-234-3692

There’s still a reward of up to $50,000 being offered for information on the murders.

Videographer Alex Svejkovsky contributed to this story.

Thanks to the Stearns History Museum for photos in this story and video.

(Stearns History Museum; Myron Hall Collection)
Photo: Stearns History Museum; Myron Hall Collection

Article reprinted in full, in the public interest

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September 1, 2016 update

42 Years Later, Murder Of 2 Sisters in St. Cloud Still Unsolved

If you have any information on the Reker case, call the Stearns County Sheriff’s office at (320) 251-4240. There is a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.

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September 20, 2016 update

Reker Murders: Connection or Coincidence?

The Fox 9 investigators reveal new details of a case that could be connected to one of Minnesota’s most notorious unsolved mysteries: The 1974 murders of Mary and Susan Reker in St. Cloud.

By Jeff Baillon
FOX
September 19, 2016

Excerpted

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KMSP) — Before the abduction of Jacob Wetterling, it was one of Minnesota’s most notorious unsolved mysteries: the 1974 murders of Mary and Susan Reker in St. Cloud. The Fox 9 Investigators have uncovered new information about a similar crime that begs the question – could they be connected?

The road to find justice has been brutally long. But even after four decades of wrong turns and dead ends, Rita Reker remains hopeful the murders of her daughters can be solved. …

The girls, who were just 12 and 15 when they were killed, were last seen alive by their parents on Labor Day in 1974.

They left their home on foot to go buy school supplies at the Zayre discount store about a mile away. …

Twenty-six agonizing days after they disappeared, the girl’s bodies were discovered in a quarry outside of the central Minnesota city.

Susan was covered with brush and had been stabbed 13 times. Mary was underwater and there were six puncture wounds on her body.

All these years and still no leads? Maybe not

The Fox 9 Investigators recently learned of another crime, one with haunting similarities to the Reker case.
It happened almost two years to the day after the girls’ bodies were found.

Using Minnesota’s open records law, Fox 9 obtained police and court files about this case that were never made public before.

The accomplice agreed to an audio interview with the Fox 9 Investigators as long as his voice was disguised. …

In the fall of 1976, when he was 17, he hung out with a classmate named Herb Notch.

One Saturday evening they were driving around St. Cloud and stopped at a convenience store called “The Dairy Bar.” …

They went into the store with a gun.

14-year-old Sue Dukowitz was at the register while her dad, the owner, was doing work next door. They ordered her to hand over money from the till and told her to go with them to the car.

Notch drove south of town on a dirt road which, at that time, led to a secluded gravel pit.

“He always had this knife and he was playing with it,” the accomplice said.

Notch parked the car off the road. Dukowitz was tied up with tape and Notch used his knife to slice through the front of her sweater.  He also cut off her bra and underwear.

After sexually assaulting her, he stabbed her.

“He had no remorse at all, none, like hitting a bug on your windshield,” said the accomplice.

Notch and the accomplice believed Dukowitz was dead, so they hid her body under some brush.

What happened in this attack has striking similarities to what is known about the stabbing deaths of the Reker girls.

They too were taken to a remote location outside St. Cloud, but it was a quarry, not a gravel pit.

Mary Reker also had her sweater cut down the front and her bra cut off. The body of her sister was hidden in the brush.

But, there is one significant difference between the cases.

Sue Dukowitz lived to give police a description of her kidnappers by playing dead.

After Notch and his accomplice drove off, she managed to walk half a mile through the darkness towards a light and knocked on the door of a house.

Ralph Thole’s parents helped her inside, laid her on their couch, and called for an ambulance. Dukowitz recovered from the attack after a few days in the hospital. She died at age 34 from cancer. …

Hours later, police found Notch and the accomplice. Notch admitted he was the one who stabbed Dukowitz.
When asked why he did it, Notch said “I still haven’t got an answer for that.”

A judge ordered Notch to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Court records show doctors determined he had “a fearlessly savage quality about him,” was a “very dangerous person” and “in the right situation, a homicidal individual.”

“[He] seems to lack any significant remorse regarding his alleged offenses,” the court records showed.

Notch was offered a deal.  He pleaded guilty to robbery and kidnapping, but the charges of attempted murder and sexual assault were dismissed. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

His accomplice served seven years in prison for his role in the crime and has stayed out of trouble ever since. He told the Fox 9 Investigators he knows nothing about what happened to the Reker girls.

The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office knows of Herb Notch, but would not say if he is now a suspect in the 42-year-old investigation.

“I can agree with you that there are similarities in both cases,” Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold said.

Multiple sources tell the Fox 9 Investigators Notch was questioned previously about the Reker case.

Retired investigator says crimes too similar to ignore possible connection

Denny Sigafoos periodically worked on the Reker homicides before retiring from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in 1994.

Fox 9 asked if he was working on the case today and knew about the other case what he would do. Sigafoos responded, “I would have been all over Notch and anybody that he knew and everybody that he knew.”
Sigafoos said the two crimes are too similar to ignore the possibility of a connection. …

Notch’s history

Herb Notch served 10 years of the 40-year sentence for his attack on Dukowitz.

In 1988, after being released from St. Cloud prison, he got into trouble again.

A former girlfriend accused him of breaking into her home and raping her at knife point. He was acquitted of the sex charge, but found guilty of false imprisonment and burglary.

In 1992, another female acquaintance claimed Notch drove her to a remote location, tied her up and raped her in the back of his pickup truck.

The Minnesota fugitive task force spent 14 months tracking him down after charges were filed. They found him in Phoenix, Arizona where he was living under his brother’s name.

That brother, Steven Notch, was in prison at the time for fatally shooting his sleeping roommate.

Herb Notch returned to Minnesota to stand trial on rape charges, but was acquitted.

No comment from Notch

Notch would not speak with Fox 9 about the Reker case. He still lives in Minnesota, is married and has children.

The Fox 9 Investigators sent him two letters, including one by registered mail, asking him to talk about the striking similarities between the knife attack on Dukowitz and the stabbings of the Reker girls.

When called to follow up, Notch commented, “Let me tell you something, don’t bother me any f***ing  more.”

Mary Reker may have known killer

Sigafoos believes the murders were, in his words “inept” – likely committed by a young person or persons because the crime scene was “sloppy.”

“Who’s ever done that I think had contact with them and knew ‘em,” he said.

Notch was employed at the Zayre store where the Reker girls went shopping the day they disappeared.

Notch’s family lived outside St. Cloud in Luxemburg, the same small town where the girls would visit their grandparents.

Notch and Mary Reker were the same age.

In one of the last entries to her diary, Mary wrote a chilling message: “If I am murdered, find my killer and see that justice is done. I have a few reasons to fear for my life and what I ask is important.” …

Full story and video at Fox 9

Anyone with information on the Reker case is asked to call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department at (320) 251-4240 or crime stoppers at (320) 255-1301. Tipsters can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward.

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December 5, 2016 update

Stearns County to Re-Examine Unsolved Double Murder Case

By Jeff Baillon
FOX
December 4, 2016

Excerpted

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KMSP) — Stearns County investigators are taking a new look at one of Minnesota’s most notorious murder mysteries, the unsolved case of two St. Cloud girls killed 42 years ago.

The Reker sisters walked out of their home in 1974 to buy school supplies. It was the last time their mother saw them alive.

“Considering the condition of Mary and Suzanne’s bodies, they didn’t even fight back. Someone just stabbed them to death,” Rita Reker said.

The girls were found three weeks later in a quarry outside of St. Cloud. No one’s ever been charged with their murders. But the Jacob Wetterling case is proof that a fresh look at old evidence can matter.

Advances in DNA add to hope of solving case

Advances in DNA testing gave investigators the break that ultimately led them to Danny Heinrich, Jacob’s killer.

Chief Deputy of the Stearns County Sheriff’s office, Bruce Bechtold said they are looking at the case like it is brand new.

“We haven’t done any DNA analysis on any of the evidence we have for six, seven years,” said Bechtold.

Among the items to be re-tested at the state’s crime lab are the clothes of Mary and Sue.

Stearns County is also putting additional investigators on the case. They’re going through the files and making an outline of things to follow up on.

“Profilers tell us they feel it was somebody very young and my own feeling is that this person had an accomplice,” Reker said. “I don’t think anyone could do this by themselves.”

Last week, the family met with investigators and gave them names of people who’ve never been interviewed, but might know something.

A similar crime may hold clues

In September, the Fox 9 Investigators profiled another crime with striking similarities to the Reker murders.

The story helped to generate calls from the public.

“We’ve got several leads from that,” said Bechtold

It happened in 1976, almost two years to the day after the girls bodies were found. …

Herb Notch, who was 17 at the time, admitted to the stabbing and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. ..

A court-ordered psychiatric evaluation described Notch as having a “fearlessly savage quality. In the right situation, a homicidal individual … who seems to lack any significant remorse …”

Public asked to help

Reker is now in her 80s and hopeful the new attention on the case will finally bring justice.

“I think there are plenty of people who know. We need to have that person come forward,” she said.

Investigators believe the person or persons responsible are still alive. If you have any information call Stearns County Sheriff at (320) 251-4240 or Tri-County Crime Stoppers at (320) 255-1301.

Officials stress that even if what you know seems minor, it might be the clue that solves this crime.

Full story and video at Fox 9

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September 3, 2017 update: New book on Reker case

Two Sisters Missing: The 1974 Reker Murders

Reker_book-cover Reker_book-back

On September 2, 1974, sisters Mary Reker, 15, and Susanne, 12, walked from their St. Cloud home for a trip to the local Zayres store to buy school supplies. They were never seen or heard from again. For nearly four weeks their disappearance was treated as a case of runaway teenage girls. But on September 28th their bodies were found at a nearby abandoned quarry. They had been stabbed to death with a small, double-edged knife. There have been many suspects over the years but an arrest has never been made in the case. Stearns County investigators have said that the main suspect(s) in the case are still alive. There is still time to find answers to who was responsible for the deaths of Mary and Susanne Reker. Someone knows what happened. This is the long-awaited story of the day the girls disappeared and the 40+ year investigation that followed. Foreword and Afterword written by Rita Reker.

Product details

Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1542959845
ISBN-13: 978-1542959841

About the author

Robert M. Dudley is a true crime researcher and author from west central Wisconsin. His research for his first book, It Can’t Happen Here: The Search For Jacob Wetterling, released in April 2015, led to the discovery of information that tied Danny Heinrich to Jacob’s 1989 kidnapping and murder. Heinrich was arrested 6 months after the release of the book, and ultimately confessed to Jacob’s murder.

Purchase at Amazon
Paperback $6.99
Kindle $2.99

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