Tag Archives: Missing person

The Deaths of the Yuba County Five

               It started as a trip to a collegiate basketball game. The five men, often referred to as “boys” by family and friends, were set to play their own basketball game for the recreation center they frequented. The group was excited for the upcoming game they would play in, which was part of the reason their families were alarmed when they had not arrived home the morning after the collegiate game. On February 24, 1978, the story of the Yuba Country Five began, and the nightmare of their families did as well (Rossen).

               The basketball game, which was at California State University, Chico, ended at approximately 10 PM that night. Jack Madruga, 30, had driven the group in his 1969 turquoise and white Mercury Montego, a car which would be forever associated with this case (Gorney). Madruga was an army veteran, having served in Vietnam, and was particularly close to William “Bill” Sterling, 28. The youngest of the group was Jackie Guett, 24, and the oldest was Theodore “Ted” Weiher, 32, who were as close as Sterling and Madruga.  The final member of the group was Gary Mathias, 25, who had also served in the army, but was discharged after drug issues while stationed in Germany and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Mathias left his medication, which he took regularly, behind that night, leading to the belief that he had planned on being home in time to take the next dose. The last time we are sure the five were seen was at a Behr’s Market, where they stopped for junk food on the way home from the game. From there, they drove east, despite that their homes were south of the store (Rossen).

               It was their parents that raised the alarm when they didn’t arrive home by the next morning. While Mathias was known to occasionally stay out late with friends, the other four were home-bodies with fairly regular schedules (Gorney). They were, for lack of a better word, predictable. The four not being home by morning was extremely unusual for them. Despite the families alerting authorities to the missing men, the abandoned car was not found until February 28th. The car still had gas in the tank, and most of the junk food had been eaten except half of a candy bar. The keys were not in the car and a window was left rolled down. Authorities theorized that the car had gotten stuck in the snow and for some reason, the five men who should have been able to get the car out chose to abandon it. According to Madruga’s mother, the Mercury Montego was Madruga’s prized possession and he wouldn’t have driven it somewhere it could have been damaged. The rolled down window also struck her as odd, both leading her to believe that the five had been forced to drive up the mountain (Rossen).

               After news broke of the disappearance, a witness came forward. Joseph Schons, 55, had been on the mountain the night the five men disappeared. According to his story, he had been driving up the mountain to see if the conditions were okay to bring his wife and child up at a later time when his car got stuck in a snowdrift. While trying to free his car, he suffered a minor heart attack (Rossen).  Schons claimed that, while resting in his car after his heart attack, he heard a whistling outside. When he left the car, he spotted five men and what appeared to be a woman with a baby in car headlights, and he heard them talking. He called to them for help only for the headlights to turn off and the talking to stop (Gorney). Schons also claimed to have seen two cars, one of which was a pickup truck, and the group get into one of the cars and drive away (Rae).  Early the next morning, Schons felt well enough to attempt to get help and left his car, heading for a lodge nearby. Along the way, he spotted the Mercury Montego, but at the time thought nothing of it. The car was 70 miles from the basketball game the group had attended. It was on the road that Schons reported he saw it on that the car was found, also called in by a park ranger (Rossen). The car was in the Plumas State Forest, just past Elke Retreat and sitting at elevation 4, 500 feet. Another witness, a woman who owned a store about an hour from the abandoned car, reported seeing five men in a red pickup truck. Two of the men stayed in the truck while two more bought food and one more made a phone call from a phone booth. This is not confirmed to have been the Yuba County Five (“The Haunting Case Of The Mathias Group (Yuba County Five) — Strangeoutdoors.Com”).

               In early June of 1978, motorcyclists came upon an abandoned forest service trailer 19 miles from the abandoned car with a broken window and an unusual, and thoroughly disgusting, scent permeating the area. Authorities were immediately called and inside, Weiher’s remains were found. Weiher had been draped in sheets, eight in total, in a manner that seemed almost ritualistic (Rae). His leather boots were missing from his body, his feet badly frost bitten, and he was emaciated. He had lost approximately 80 to 100 pounds, nearly halving his weight at the time he disappeared (Gorney). It was estimated, based on the growth of his beard and other factors in his autopsy, that he had been living in the trailer for eight to 13 weeks before his death (Rossen). What was unusual was that the trailer was filled with C-rations, only 36 of which were eaten, and freeze-dried meals (“The Haunting Case Of The Mathias Group (Yuba County Five) — Strangeoutdoors.Com”). The opened C-rations, which were military rations, had been opened with an Army P38 can opener, which only Mathias and Madruga would have known how to use from their time in the army. Weiher’s nickel ring, which his name engraved, his gold necklace, his wallet, and a Waltham watch missing crystals were all found on a table in the trailer. The watch was unfamiliar to the families (Gorney).  To add to the unusual discovery, there was a propane tank that could have been turned on and would have heated the trailer, as well as matches and plenty of material to start a fire to keep warm. Yet, none of these items had been used (Rossen).

               A day later, Madruga’s and Sterling’s remains were found 11 miles from the car (Gorney), on the opposite side of the road from the trailer containing Weiher’s remains and approximately 4.5 miles from the trailer. Authorities believed that their bodies had simply given up on them as the remaining members of the group continued on. The keys to the Mercury Montego were found on Madruga (Rossen). Madruga was found near a stream, having been dragged about 10 feet by animals that were scavenging his remains, lying face up and with his watch wrapped in his right hand. Sterling was not far, in a wooded area, scattered across a 50 foot area. All that was left of his remains were his bones (Gorney).

               Huett’s remains were found two days later, unfortunately by his father, Jack. Jack Huett found his son’s spine, and soon other bones were found in the area. His levi’s were found, along with his ripple-soled “Get Theres” shoes. The next day, his skull was found approximately 100 yards downhill from where the rest of his remains had been found by an assistant sheriff. The Huett family dentist was able to identify Huett through his dental records (Gorney). Mathias body has never been found, though his shoes were found in the trailer with Weiher’s body, leading to the belief that he may have taken the shoes, which would have been better for the terrain (Rae).

               Northwest of the trailer by a quarter mile, three wool blankets from the forest service were found along with a two-cell flashlight. The flashlight was turned off and rusted, but how long it had been there was unable to be determined (Gorney). Schons had claimed to have seen flashlights outside his car while he was still waiting for help to come, though this story is questionable due to his condition at the time (Rae).  Several more tips have been called in in the years since the five disappeared, but none have panned out beyond Schons’ statement. The families even turned to psychics, who predicted things such as the five had been kidnapped and were being held in either Nevada or Arizona, or that they had been murdered. According to the psychic, the five had been killed in a red house, possibly stained wood or brick, that was two stories and in Oroville, numbered either 4723 or 4753. This home was searched for, but it was found to not exist at all (Rae). Weiher’s sister-in-law has her own theory: the five saw something, whether they knew it or not, at the basketball game that night that prompted someone to follow them, or chase them, into the mountains (Rossen).

               The Yuba County Five are remembered by their families. Ted Weiher, who had an intellectual disability, was known to have worked as a janitor and at a snack bar for a period of time before his family urged him to quit due to worry about the stress. Jackie Huett, while not diagnosed with any disabilities, was frequently described as being “slow” by those around him. Bill Sterling was known to be a generous person, often volunteering at mental institutions doing things such as reading to patients. He was known to be a man of his faith, often bringing the Bible with him to the institutions. Just like Weiher, Sterling was known to be intellectually disabled. Jack Madruga was known to be a good friend, and was the only one of the five who could drive. He was also known to be disabled. Gary Mathias was doing well after struggling for a few years with his schizophrenia and had been working for his step-father, Bob, part-time as a gardener at his landscaping business. The five were all part of the Gate Way Project, a project in Yuba County for people with disabilities, and played basketball for the Special Olympics together. On the night they disappeared, none of them were dressed for the weather, which was likely part of their unfortunate fate (Rae).

Rossen, Jake. “‘Bizarre As Hell’: The Disappearance Of The Yuba County Five”. Mentalfloss.Com, 2018, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/532063/bizarre-hell-disappearance-yuba-county-five.

Gorney, Cynthia. “5 ‘Boys’ Who Never Come Back”. 5 ‘Boys’ Who Never Come Back, 1978, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1978/07/06/5-boys-who-never-come-back/f8b30b11-baeb-4351-89f3-26456a76a4fb/. Accessed 4 Apr 2021.

Rae, Kendall. The Bizarre Disappearance Of The Yuba County 5. Youtube.Com, 2019.

“The Haunting Case Of The Mathias Group (Yuba County Five) — Strangeoutdoors.Com”. Strangeoutdoors.Com, 2017, https://www.strangeoutdoors.com/mysterious-stories-blog/2017/12/7/mathias-group-from-yuba-city.

The Disappearance of Timmothy Pitzen

            On May 11, 2011, 6-year old Timmothy Pitzen was picked up early from school by his mother, Amy Fry-Pitzen (Helling). Timmothy is described as having been a happy and energetic child, who loved to play. At the time of these events, his parents, Amy and Jim Pitzen, were going through a rough patch, but Jim was blindsided by what occurred. Jim dropped his son off that morning, reminding the young boy he loved him and to be good. Timmothy had been at school less than an hour when Amy showed up and signed him out under the pretense that there was a family emergency (Sparling, and Motsinger). Less than a week later, on May 14, 2011, Amy was found dead in the Rockford Inn motel by an employee. It was determined that Amy had died by suicide, her wrists and neck having reportedly self-inflicted slashing wounds on them. The note Amy left claimed that Timmothy was safe and with people who would take care of him, but that no one would ever be able to find him. In the 10 years since his disappearance, there has been little found out about Timmoty Pitzen’s whereabouts and his family still holds out hope (Helling).

            We have some information available on what Amy and Timmothy were doing during the three days before Amy’s body was found. After picking Timmothy up from school, the two enjoyed some time at the Brookfield Park Zoo, Key Lime Cove resort, and Kalahari resort. The Kalahari resort, located in Wisconsin Wells, was the last place the two were seen together. Amy, who was 43 at the time of her death and Timmothy’s disappearance, is known to have purchased a pen, paper, and envelopes at a Family Dollar in Winnebago, Illinois the day she died. At 11:15 PM, Amy checked in to the Rockford Inn she would be found in, without young Timmothy. A phone call Amy made on May 13th narrows down the last known location of Timmothy. He was with her the I-88 and I-39 corridors northwest of the Dixon/Rock Falls/Sterling area, approximately 5 miles northwest of Sterling, Illinois near Route 40 (NBC Chicago).

            Amy’s car, a 2004 Ford Expedition SUV, was found abandoned in a parking lot by investigators on the day she was found. Concerningly, the car was dirty and had what was either long grass or weeds stuck underneath it. There was also a large, alarming blood stain that matched Timmothy, but family members seem to believe this is actually from a nosebleed Timmothy had suffered before his disappearance. It is worth noting that the knife used in Amy’s death only had her blood on it. The clothing she was seen wearing in security footage, Timmothy’s Spider-Man backpack, her cellphone, and her I-Pass are all missing, not being present in the hotel room or her car. Her I-Pass records were checked and showed two trips to the area Timmothy’s disappeared, once on February 18, 2011 and again on March 20, 2011, neither of which family members could explain (NBC Chicago).

            According to Jim Pitzen, Amy had a history of suicidal tendencies; she was on medication for depression and had survived a suicide attempt in the past. Right before Amy seemingly whisked Timmothy away to an unknown location, she and Jim had a fight about Amy going on a cruise with a friend and leaving them behind. Due to her history of mental health issues and three previous divorces, some speculate that Amy’s behavior may have stemmed from a fear that she would lose custody of Timmothy if she and Jim were to divorce (Sparling, and Motsinger).

            Investigators discovered a secret email account Amy Fry-Pitzen, separate from the account she and her husband, Jim Pitzen, both had access to. The account was mostly spam emails, and unfortunately deleted emails could not be retrieved from the account as Yahoo apparently didn’t keep those kinds of records. In 2014, a woman came forward from Rocktown, Illinois claiming to have seen a young man that looked like the age-progressed image released by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The image was made to show what Timmothy would look like at 9-years old, but it is not known who the boy that was seen was (NBC Chicago).

            Shockingly, Amy’s cellphone was turned in to investigators in 2013. The woman who turned it in had apparently found it on the side of the road in 2011 and kept it on a shelf until her brother needed a new phone. A family member recognized one of the names on the list when the phone was turned on, but unfortunately nothing seems to have come from this discovery. Another tip came in in 2015, again relating to the age-progressed photos, that a boy in Florida looked like the photos. The boy reportedly didn’t attend school and the family moved into the Florida neighborhood around Timmothy’s disappearance and had license plates from the Midwest. In the end, however, the boy was not Timmothy Pitzen (Sparling, and Motsinger).

            A young man, estimated at the time to be 14-years old, briefly brought hope to those following the case after her appeared wandering the streets in Newport, Kentucky and told police he was Timmothy Pitzen. The young man claimed he had escaped his kidnappers, who were in Ohio (Sparling, and Motsinger). The young man was identified through DNA as, not Timmothy Pitzen, but instead as Brian Rini, 24, not 14. On October 31, 2019, Rini was found competent to stand trial for the deception after his mental stability was called into question. He is known to have an extensive criminal history going back to age 13 and wouldn’t let police take his fingerprints or DNA when he first appeared (Sewell).

            It has been nearly an entire decade since the Pitzen family last saw Timmothy, who would be 16-years old now. The family has gone far too long without answers and many are holding out hope that someday, Timmothy may find his way home. For now, the answer still remains: where is Timmothy Pitzen, and what happened during those days he was alone with his mother?

 Helling, Steve. “HLN Special Examines Case Of Timmothy Pitzen, Missing Boy Whose Mom Wrote Taunting Suicide Note”. PEOPLE.Com, 2020, https://people.com/crime/timmothy-pitzen-hln-special-examines-case-missing-boy/. Accessed 9 Jan 2021.

NBC Chicago. “Timmothy Pitzen Case: What We Know So Far”. NBC Chicago, 2019, https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/national-international/everything-we-know-about-the-timmothy-pitzen-case/81170/. Accessed 9 Jan 2021.

Sparling, Hannah, and Carol Motsinger. Cincinnati.Com, 2019, https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2019/04/04/timmothy-pitzen-bizarre-backstory-his-disappearance/3364096002/. Accessed 9 Jan 2020.

Sewell, Dan. “Plea Agreement Reached For Ohio Man Who Claimed To Be Missing Timmothy Pitzen From Aurora”. Chicagotribune.Com, 2020, https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/aurora-beacon-news/ct-timmothy-pitzen-case-aurora-20200107-ruyfc3xs5vd47bgdh67bi7exd4-story.html. Accessed 7 Jan 2021.

The Disappearance of Alissa Turney

            Alissa Turney, 17, was finishing her junior year in high school on May 17, 2001, when she disappeared. Her sister, Sarah Turney, was 12-years old when her sister disappeared and remembers her sister being excited for the summer to come. While young Sarah was on an end-of-year field trip to a water park, her family was about to change forever. The Turney sisters lived with Sarah’s biological father, Michael Turney, after their mother, Barbara Strahm, died from cancer when Alissa was eight-years old. Michael adopted Alissa as his own afterwards, adding a daughter along with his daughter, Sarah, and three sons who were already grown and out of the house (Cavallier 2020).

            When Michael Turney went to pick up Alissa from school that day, she reportedly was not there (Cavallier 2020). According to Sarah Turney, he also claims to have taken Alissa out of school early. However, he gives conflicting stories: he picked her up early, she never went to school that day, or she ran away with a biker. He also told a neighbor that she went to live with relatives in California. Her disappearance happening on the last day of school also seems to be strategic: if she disappears on the last day, children won’t be at school going to counselors where they may talk about things she had told them about her relationship with her father (Turney 2019). Her boyfriend and some of Alissa’s friends did confirm that Michael picked her up around lunch time on the last day of school (Pai 2020). Her bedroom, which was usually tidy, was found in disarray, and her phone was found on her dresser when they attempted to call her. With her phone was a note, written in what appeared to be her handwriting, claiming that she was running away to California, where an aunt lived (Cavallier 2020). The note read,  “Dad and Sarah, When you dropped me off at school today, I decided I really am going to California. Sarah, you said you really wanted me gone – now you have it. Dad, I took $300 from you. That’s why I saved my money” (Pai 2020). Alissa had previously talked about leaving Arizona and heading to California, even talking about wanting a white jeep like Cher in Clueless. The family learned later that Alissa had never made it to their aunt’s house, if that was truly where she was heading (Cavallier 2020).

            According to Sarah, her father was frantic about her sister, both before and after she went missing. Before her disappearance, he constantly needed to know where she was and what she was doing. He was overbearing, controlling to the point of possible psychological abuse. Sarah Turney noted that he never treated her the way he treated Alissa. After Alissa went missing, he apparently went to California repeatedly to look for her. He passed out fliers of her and went house-to-house looking for information on his missing child (Cavallier 2020). His frantic behavior with his family, and the panic he caused in them, was contrary to the nearly blasé way in which he reported her missing at nearly 11 PM that night. When he called to report her missing, he reported that she had left and left a note, leading to the conclusion that she had run away. Michael once worked for law enforcement and would absolutely know how to report in a manner that would result in little interest in following up with the report. Calling in and acting as if this is a standard runaway teenager and not a genuinely missing person would result in less eyes on the case. This caused a major delay in investigating the case, which meant evidence that could have helped find Alissa Turney is no longer available, such as phone records from the time or traffic cameras (Turney 2019).

            While Michael Turney was apparently building the façade of a concerned father, his son James Turney was more concerned with his sisters’ safety. James told Dateline that, after their mother’s death, he hoped to give the girls a safe place to live and that he felt his father was not treating them well or keeping with safe. Just months before Alissa disappeared, she told James during a conversation that she was frightened of her father and wanted to leave. When he learned she was missing, he thought she had run away just like most everyone else. What was confusing was that she didn’t go to any of the places she could have, like his house or her aunt’s house, and she had left behind her belongings, including approximately $1,800 in her bank account (Cavallier 2020). In the years since her disappearance, not only has that $1,800 gone untouched, but her social security number has never been used. If she had run away, eventually she would have needed to use her social security number to get a job or attend school again. She never got to attend her senior year and would surely have joined a new school when she settled. She’s never contacted anyone else in her family, even 19 years later. Surely, once her family was free of her father, she would make contact were she still alive (Pai 2020).

            While Michael Turney has been the main subject of scrutiny by the public, in 2006 a confession made by Thomas Hymer brought the case back to the public eye. Hymer, who was serving time for the 2001 murder of Sandra Goodman in Florida, claimed to have killed Alissa. Unfortunately for the Turney family, his story didn’t add up and he later confessed that he was mistaken. The confession may have been false, but it brought a renewed interest in the case and family members who had never been talked to by the police began to come forward. Allegations began to pile up on Michael Turney and his relationship with Alissa. Sarah, who would have said before that her father was not likely involved, began to question him as well. She found that his story about the day Alissa went missing seemed to be changing over time and it didn’t feel right (Cavallier 2020).

            It was in 2008 that the case was finally reopened and reclassified from a runaway to foul play. Due to the allegations made by others against Michael Turney of sexual abuse, he quickly became the main suspect in her disappearance and possible murder. When a search warrant was served in December 2008 for the house the Turney’s lived in at the time, they found videotapes dating back to the 1980s and surveillance footage from the house. Despite the surveillance on the house, no videos were found from the day Alissa went missing (Cavallier 2020).  Sarah Turney sites the supposed failure of all the surveillance equipment on the exact day that Alissa went missing as suspicious. There was a passive recording device on the family phone that recorded all calls, and she says her father maintained before she was even born. There were multiple cameras hidden throughout the house, including phasing the doorway and hidden in a vent facing their cough. Michael Turney claims that the recording device on the phone failed when Alissa supposedly made a phone call to the family in which she told him that her leaving was his fault and that she was never leading California (Pai 2020), and has said both that the cameras in the house failed and that there is video from the day Alissa disappeared, but he won’t share it with police (Turney 2019). If he truly has footage from the day Alissa Turney disappeared, it is extremely suspicious that he won’t hand the footage over to detectives investigating her disappearance.

Other items found in the house included two handmade silencers, 26 handmade explosive devices (filled with gunpowder and nails), a van filled with gas cans, and a whopping 19 high caliber rifles. A manifesto was also found, titled “Diary of a Madman Martyr” and spanning 98-pages. Michael Turney plead guilty to possessing 26 unregistered pipe bombs in March of 2010 and received the maximum 10-year sentence, but was released in 2017. While Sarah Turney was hopeful that the investigation into her father’s involvement in Alissa’s disappearance would continue, but was disappointed to be told by the police that they could not bring charges against any people of interest in the case (Cavallier 2020). During this search was also when they recovered letters written by Alissa in which she wrote about the sexual abuse she suffered at her stepfather’s hands. They also recovered the contracts she signed which stated that he had not sexually abused (Pai 2020).

            According to Sarah’s blog, “Justice for Alissa”, she knows exactly why her father likely killed her sister. Michael Turney was abusing Alissa sexually as well as the abuse through control. Not only did family members come forward with allegations of abuse, but friends of Alissa’s came forward and a teacher who had been dating Michael Turney attested to the abuse as well. Alissa also wrote letters here she talked about the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her father. Michael was known to follow Alissa to work and wait in the parking lot so that he knew where she was at all times. His controlling behavior with Alissa came across to others as more of an abusive boyfriend than a father.  Not only did Michael warn Alissa’ friends and their parents that she was gullible and couldn’t take care of herself, he also forced her to sign behavioral contracts that stated that he never abused her, sexually or physically. Michael made a call to Child Protective Services  a year before Alissa’s disappearance claiming that she was going to call and falsely accuse him of sexually abusing her to get him to buy her a car (even though in reality, he had been offering to buy her a car so that she could drive Sarah to school and run errands), apparently to ask what a parent should do if a child falsely accuses them of sexual abuse. Sarah does not remember any of Michael’s other children ever being subjected to the treatment that Alissa was, and she believes this behavior becoming public knowledge was the motivation for Michael (Turney 2019).

            On that day, Michael would have had an alarmingly long amount of time alone with Alissa during which time he could have murdered her and hidden her body. From the time he picked her up, approximately 11 AM, to nearly 7 PM that night, he was alone with Alissa. It is known that Michael has an extensive knowledge of the desert, leading to the possibility that her remains could be out there somewhere. He was also seen buying a large amount of lye near the time that Alissa went missing and has acknowledged that he did buy the lye. Furthering the suspicion on Michael, he had identical trucks at the time, one of which was hidden from his children, which he sold shortly after Alissa’s disappearance (Turney 2019). As we know already, he made several trips to California under the guise of looking for Alissa. Is it possible that her remains are hidden somewhere out there? Did one, or perhaps both, of those trucks have evidence in them that could tie him to her? Michael Turney also told family members another story: someone had been following Alissa with the intent to cause her harm. This was where he came up with his excuse to go to California looking for her and began making the fliers he gave out. He said the police were not helping and he would have to do things himself (Pai 2020).

            Michael told one of his sons that Alissa was killed by assassins sent by the Electrician Union and buried in Desert Center, CA and that he was forced to kill these men. Yet, he continued to tell the rest of the Turney family that Alissa was missing. If he truly knew that Alissa was dead and where her body was buried, why would he continue to tell the rest of his family that she was missing? Why wouldn’t he have told investigators where her remains were (Turney 2019)? Michael did apparently tell police the same story, but when they checked on the men he named, they found that the men had actually died of natural causes (Pai 2020). On top of this suspicious behavior, Michael Turney refuses to give DNA samples to police and has refused to do any formal interviews without meeting certain criteria first. A meeting with police must take place on live television, with him having the ability to interrogate his family, John Walsh, the judge that presided over his bomb case, and two Phoenix police detectives. Not only would he be interrogating these people, but he would require them to be on a polygraph operated by a Canadian operator (Turney 2019).

            Since his release from prison on the bomb charges, Sarah has only seen her father in person once. It was October of 2017 when she met with him at a Starbucks, a neutral space, Sarah with the intention to find out what happened to Alissa and Michael with the intention of reconnecting with his daughter (Cavallier 2020). However, when Michael realized that Sarah was not there to reconnect after his stay in prison, he became angry. Sarah reports on her blog that he made several jarring, digusting statements about her sister before declaring, “Be at the deathbed Sarah and I will give you all the honest answers you want to hear,” followed by the statement that he would tell everything if the state would give him a lethal injection within 10 days (Turney 2019).

            Sarah Turney has remained vocal in the case of her sister, running her blog and her podcast, Voices for Justice, which chronicles Alissa’s disappearance. She also began a youtube channel, a facebook page, and began posting videos on Tik Tok, which is where I was first exposed to the case. Her Tik Tok videos are what made me decide to write on her sister’s disappearance, in hopes that maybe someone would read this article and know something that may help (Cavallier 2020). While I was beginning my research for this blog, a major break was made in the case: Michael Turney has been arrested for the murder of Alissa Turney. The announcement that a grand jury indicted Michael on second-degree murder charges in the death of Alissa Turney came on Thursday, August 20, 2020. The actual indictment was handed down on Agust 19, 2020 (Phakdeetham 2020). Sarah Turney and her siblings will finally see justice, but it isn’t over yet. The Turney siblings deserve the chance to have a proper burial for their sister. Her remains have still not been recovered, all these years later. If you know something, or believe you do, please contact the Phoenix, AZ police at (602) 262-6141 or phoenix.tips.ppd@phoenix.gov. Alternatively, you can contact Silent Witnesses at 480-WITNESS (Cavallier 2020).

Cavallier, A. (2020, June 14). Sister of Alissa Turney who disappeared on last day of school in Phoenix, Arizona in 2001 turns to TikTok app for help. Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://www.nbcnews.com/dateline/sister-alissa-turney-who-disappeared-last-day-school-phoenix-arizona-n1231014

Turney, S. (2019, April 27). 5 Reasons I Know My Father Killed My Sister, Alissa Turney. Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://justiceforalissa.com/blog/f/5-reasons-why-i-know-my-father-killed-my-sister-alissa-turney

Pai, A. (2020, July 16). Alissa Turney’s stepfather facing charges 19 years after Arizona teen went mysteriously missing from school. Retrieved August 25, 2020, from https://meaww.com/19-years-after-alissa-turney-disappeared-police-set-to-charge-her-stepfather

Phakdeetham, J. (2020, August 21). Stepdad charged with 2001 murder of teen despite NO body being found. Retrieved August 25, 2020, from https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/12468994/alissa-turney-stepdad-charged-murder-no-body/

The Dupont de Ligonnès Murders (And Disappearance)

            The Dupont de Ligonnès were the descendants of French aristocracy, and were the world to be as it was before France banned social classes in the 1700s, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès would have been a count (Doherty 2019). On April 21, 2011, all but one member of the Dupont de Ligonnès family were found wrapped in sheets and covered in quicklime under the patio of their house in Nantes, France. The deceased included the mother of the family, Agnès, 48, and her children, Arthur, 21, Thomas,18, Anne, 16, and Benoît, 13. Whomever killed the family also killed their two Labradors and buried them alongside their family. The killings had likely happened between April 3 and April 5, possibly by Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, who was nowhere to be found. Autopsy reports stated that the five family members had been killed with a .22 rifle in an execution manner and suggested that the children had likely been drugged beforehand (Ball 2019).

            Xavier, who was 50 at the time of the murders, is the main suspect in the murders. A neighbor called the police on April 13 when they noticed that the blinds in the house had been closed for a few days. By the time police began the investigation that eventually lead to the April 21 search of the home, on April 19, Xavier was already under suspicion (Ball 2019). During the search of the Dupont de Ligonnès home, police came across a severed leg that eventually lead to their search under the porch of the house. The leg was reportedly found under a terrace (Doherty 2019). Xavier had no history of criminal behavior, but when the bodies of his family were discovered without his present, suspicions would grow. He owned a .22 rifle and had bought digging tools, cement, and four bags of lime throughout Nantes, France in the days leading up to the murders. Along with these suspicious purchases, Xavier told friends he was a secret agent for the US being put into witness protection and told his children’s high school that he was getting a job transfer and moving to Australia (Ball 2019). Before the murders, he was known to have been doing target practice with his father’s rifle (Doherty 2019).

            On April 12, Xavier was seen in southern France, where he was reportedly booked into a luxury sweet. During this stay, witnesses say he ate alone and ordered half a bottle of burgundy. He was seen at Roquebrune-sur-Argens just a few days later, on April 15. Supposedly, he spent some time in a budget hotel that his car was found parked at, most likely abandoned (Ball 2019). In 2018, abandoned potassium mines and underground caves were searched by police for any evidence there might be of Xavier (Allen & Tahir 2019). These are the last confirmed sightings of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès. Massive manhunts were performed, but no further evidence was found. According to friends, approximately a year before the murders they received suicide letters from Xavier. He was supposedly being crushed by financial debt and was thinking about killing himself and possibly the rest of the family, or “shooting up the house.” In 2015, bones were found nearby the last place Xavier was seen, but DNA proved they were not his bones. The headline making bones resulted in a letter being sent to journalist supposedly signed by Xavier and claiming he was still alive. (Ball 2019).

            October 2019 saw what was thought to be a true breakthrough in the case: an arrest was made in Glasgow, Scotland. Unfortunately, DNA proved that the man apprehended was not, in fact, Xavier, but someone else entirely (Doherty 2019). The man, Guy Joao, is a retired man form France married to a Scottish woman. He was detained at the Glasgow Airport after he was mistakenly identified as Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès.  Before DNA proved that Joao is not Dupont de Ligonnès, there was hope that they had caught him after eight years. Joao’s fingerprints happen to partially match Dupont de Ligonnès’ fingerprints. At the time of his detainment, police believed that his passport was a fake and that he was disguised. It has been believed for some time that Xavier may have stolen or faked papers of identification and disguised himself, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that there was speculation that that may have been the case. There have also been theories that Xavier underwent plastic surgery to disguise himself and had remarried in Scotland (Allen & Tahir 2019).

            In an unusual turn of events, at the time of the murders the bodies were prepared for burial at an abnormally fast pace and the extended family was not allowed to view or identify the bodies. Evidence was collected from the bodies in less than a week, and at the time of the funeral, which was attended by over a thousand people, the family had still been denied the chance to view the bodies of their deceased family members. The bodies were cremated afterwards, meaning that the family could not view the remains after the funeral either. Many family members believe that the bodies they put to rest were not actually those of their family. Part of this comes from a letter that Xavier left for his extended family instructing them to look after the belongings in the house and informing them that the family was moving to the United States. DNA tests were taken of the bodies, but only to confirm that the bodies were of related persons and not that the bodies were the Dupont de Ligonnès family (McCaw 2020).

            Whatever you believe, one thing is for sure: four people and two dogs died at the hands of a wannabe executioner at the Dupont de Ligonnès home in Nantes, France.  Whether you believe those found were truly the Dupont de Ligonnès or you believe they were all persons put their as some form of distraction, that fact will always remain. These people were murdered execution style with a .22 rifle and whoever did it, whether it be Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, or someone else, has gotten away with it for eight years. Xavier may still be out there, hidden through plastic surgery or perhaps by family members, or perhaps he did what he had told his family long before: killed himself and took his wife and children with him. Until such a time comes as whoever is responsible for this crime comes forward, we will not have the answers we desire.

Ball, Sam. “Xavier Dupont De Ligonnès: Murder, Mystery and an 8-Year Manhunt.” France 24, France 24, 13 Oct. 2019, www.france24.com/en/20191012-xavier-dupont-de-ligonnès-murder-mystery-and-an-8-year-manhunt.

Doherty, Jennifer. “A French Aristocrat Suspected of Murdering His Family Eludes Authorities Once Again.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 12 Oct. 2019, www.newsweek.com/xavier-dupont-de-ligonnes-false-alarm-true-crime-1464828.

Allen, Peter, and Tariq Tahir. “Cops Arrest Wrong Man in Hunt for French Aristocrat Who ‘Killed Wife and Kids’.” The Sun, The Sun, 12 Oct. 2019, www.thesun.co.uk/news/10119239/xavier-dupont-de-ligonnes-killing-family-arrested-glasgow/.

McCaw, Jordan. “The Dupont De Ligonnès Murders and Disappearance.” Recount & Reveal, Recount & Reveal, 18 Mar. 2020, www.recountandreveal.com/blog/2020/3/17/the-dupont-de-ligonns-murders-and-disappearance.

Where is Helen Brach?

                Helen Brach was born in 1911 on a farm in Unionport, Ohio. She grew up there and married her high school sweetheart; however, the pair was divorced by the time she was 21. She met her future husband, Frank Brach, at a country club she was working in. Frank Brach was known for the Brach’s candy company, which earned Helen Brach the title Candy Lady (Wikipedia). The candy company was sold by Frank Brach for $136 million, which is roughly $1.1 billion today. After Frank’s death in 1970, Helen took to taking drives in her cars, pink and lavender Cadillacs and Rolls-Royces. socializing with friends and regularly gave generous donations to animal welfare groups (Jett 2020).

                It was February 17, 1977, when Helen Brach seemingly disappeared. She visited the local Mayo Clinic for a regular checkup before heading to the air port to travel to her mansion in Chicago.  The last confirmed sighting of Helen Brach was at a nearby gift shop, where an assistant insisted that she heard her say her houseman was waiting for her before leaving.  The crew who worked the flight she was supposed to be on reported that they didn’t see her on the flight, but her houseman, Jack Matlick, said he picked her up from the O’Hare Airport. If this is true, then she went four days without talking with anyone before she was reportedly dropped off again at O’Hare Airport for a trip to Florida (Wikipedia).  Jack Matlick had been in prison on previous occasions for aggravated robbery and was known to be abusive to his wife (Jett 2020).

                Four years before her disappearance, Helen was introduced to Richard Bailey, now known to have been a conman and gigolo. She got along quite well with him and they were frequently seen together at social gatherings, reportedly as paramours. Bailey showered the widow with flowers and gifts. Despite the relationship the two seemed to have, a swindler like Bailey would eventually swindle the Candy Lady – a moniker he and his friends had given her. He sold her three racehorses for $98,000, after buying them from his brother for $18,000, two years before her disappearance. When, a year later, Bailey again tried to sell her more horses, Helen had grown suspicious and decided to have the horses appraised. According to the appraiser the horses were essentially worthless. Helen told a friend who suggested that she take the case to the district attorney that she would do so, after going to the Mayo Clinic she was last seen at in Rochester, Minnesota (Jett 2020).

                For some reason, Matlick waited two weeks to report that Helen Brach was missing. He reported to police that he had picked her up on the 17th and dropped her off after the weekend for a flight to Florida, where she was expected by Bailey. Bailey reported to police that he was staying in a hotel in Palm Beach with a young woman, awaiting Helen’s arrival. He prepared for her to arrive, but she never came. He claimed he tried to call her estate, but Matlick was the one who answered and continually told him that she was out. He reportedly assumed she had dropped him for another man and gave up on her showing up. At the time, this is as far as the investigation into her disappearance went. No further investigation continued, her friends and relatives continued life presumably somewhat richer, and she was declared dead in 1984 (Jett 2020).

                There were two main suspects in her disappearance: Jack Matlick and Richard Bailey. Matlick, who claimed to have picked Helen up at the O’Hare airport, came into question when the people at the Mayo Clinic Helen had gone at remembered her saying he was waiting for her outside. While Matlick claimed that Helen had been home for the weekend after he picked her up, workers at the airport and on the plane she was supposed to be on don’t remember seeing her, and friends didn’t hear from her the entire four days she would have been home. Friends even tried to call her, but Matlick would answer them, much like when Bailey called, and tell them that she was out of the house. There were also painters working in the house at the time she was supposedly there, and none of them remembered seeing her the entire weekend. It was also well known that Helen hated mornings, and according to Matlick he dropped her off at the airport as 6 AM, even though the first flight wasn’t until 9 AM. Just as with the flight back home, no one remembers seeing Helen at the airport or on the flight to Florida. Along with this, there was no ticket in her name for the flight in question and friends who would normally be involved with picking her up from the airport both in Chicago and Florida had not heard about her trip at all.  According to Helen’s gardener, he saw Matlick with in Helen’s house with two strangers during the weekend, one of which was dressed in a baggy dress and wearing a wig that looked like Helen’s hairstyle. It was also found that Matlick had a receipt for a toll exit near a farm Helen owned, dated the Monday he supposedly dropped her off at the airport, February 21st. It was later found that Matlick had forged Helen’s signature on checks that totaled approximately $13, 000 and stole roughly $75,000 worth of times, now worth about $375,000 today; in exchange for charges not being pressed, he signed off the $50,000 that would have been given to him in Helen’s will (Jett 2020). He claimed that Helen had arthritis that bothered her so much, she requested that he sign the checks in her name (Orangebeanindiana 2020). Matlick was never charged with her disappearance and died in 2011 (Jett 2020). It was noted by Matlick’s wife that the weekend that Helen went missing, Matlick told her he had too much to do and would be spending the weekend at the house despite having never done so before. During the time that he was staying there, several friends attempted to visit Helen, but he claimed she wasn’t feeling well and sent them all away. Supposedly, the painters working in the house at the time had actually been hired to repaint two specific rooms, one of which also had its carpet replaced, and had one of her pink Cadillacs cleaned and shampooed inside. Up until his death, Jack Matlick was hounded by the press about her disappearance (Orangebeanindiana 2020).

                It was 1989 when the Brach case was reopened and Bailey was looked at more closely. In the time since her death, he had continued to scam wealthy women much the way he had scammed Helen during their tryst, but had not been truly looked at. While he was never charged in Helen’s disappearance and possible murder, Bailey was charged with counts of mail and wire fraud, racketeering, and money launder in a manner often used in drug trafficking, for a total of 29 charges. Police also charged Bailey was conspiring to kill Helen Brach, as they believed he hired someone to kill her so she wouldn’t have him charged for the horses he fraudulently sold her. Bailey waved his right to a jury trial and plead guilty toe racketeering and fraud, but maintained his innocence in the disappearance of Helen Brach. Another known conman, Joel Plemmons, testified that Bailey had afford him $5,000 to kill Helen the week she disappeared. The judge, taking into account all evidence of conduct even outside the guilty pleas, sentenced Bailey to 30 years in prison, though it is worth noting that Bailey was not found guilty of Helen’s murder beyond a reasonable doubt.  Last year, at 89-years old, Bailey was released from prison and still maintains his innocence in her disappearance (Jett 2020).

                Another theory that has been proposed named 11 people, including Matlick, but not Bailey, as responsible for Helen’s disappearance. In 2004, Plemmons, who had testified against Bailey, claimed to police that a Silas Jayne, notorious in the Chicago horse world, had ordered Helen’s death. At the time, Jayne was in prison for conspiring to have his own brother murdered. According to Plemmons, Jayne was the one selling the bad horses to Bailey to swindle wealthier people, and he didn’t want Helen outing his operation. Plemmons claimed that Jayne had cronies who beat her in her home and Plemmons himself shot her twice, before disposing of the body in a furnace. Despite this admittance, no arrests were made and Plemmons died in 2016 (Jett 2020).

                What truly happened to Helen Brach? We may never know. It seems she never made it inside the airport at Chicago when she was set to head home, despite what her houseman insisted. Did she go somewhere when she was supposed to go into the airport? Was she lured away by someone? 43 years later, chances are we will never find out the true fate of the Candy Lady.

“Helen Brach.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Brach.

Jett, Philip. “Unwrapping the Disappearance of Helen Brach.” Criminal Element, 31 Jan. 2020, www.criminalelement.com/unwrapping-the-disappearance-of-helen-brach/.

Orangebeanindiana. “The Empty Grave of Candy Queen Helen Brach.” OrangeBean Indiana, 31 Mar. 2020, orangebeanindiana.com/2020/03/31/the-empty-grave-of-candy-queen-helen-brach/.

The Murder of Susan Reinert

            It was June 22, 1979, when the Reinert’s disappeared. Susan Reinert, 36, was due to give a speech at Parents Without Partners in Allentown, PA, 50 miles north of her home town of Ardmore, PA. She left that morning with her two children, Karen, 11, and Michael, 10, likely in hopes of turning the trip up north into a weekend away for the family. According to a neighbor who saw them leave, they were all dressed casually. They are never seen again (Barry).

            Susan Reinert was found nude, badly beaten, chained, and stuffed into the trunk of her own car on June 25, 1979 (O’Loughlin 2011) (Barry).  A man found her when he was cutting through the parking lot in Harrisburg, PA, nearly 90 miles from Allenstown and nearly 100 miles from her home. He saw her car, an orange Plymouth Horrizon Hatchback, which he thought looked abandoned. The back was open and he looked inside, where he discovered her remains (Barry). Her children were nowhere to be found (O’Loughlin 2011).

 Six years late, on June 25, 1985, Jay Smith was arrested and charged with her death. He was convicted and sentenced to three death sentences (Leask & Shellem 1992). Jay Smith was the principal at the school Susan was a teacher at and dubbed “The Prince of Darkness” by her colleagues after her disappearance. Rumors began to circulate, including insinuations that there were swing parties happening between the faculty of the school, devil worship, and that Smith had burned the bodies of the Reinert’s in the school’s incinerator (Barry).

Year later, Reinert’s fiancé, William Bradfield, was convicted of conspiracy to commit three murders, even though the bodies of her children had not been recovered. Not only were the bodies of the Reinert children not recovered, but Smith’s daughter and son-in-law, Stephanie and Edward Hunsberger, had gone missing a year prior to his arrest; both may have been heroin addicts. There were many rumors going around about their disappearance – people were saying they thought Smith had killed them and the children while others thought the Hunsbergers were in hiding and raising the Reinert children (O’Loughlin 2011).

            As of 2011, both the Hunsbergers and the Reinert children remain missing and are likely dead. William Bradfield and Jay Smith have both since passed, taking with them to the grave the information on where the Hunsbergers and Reinert children could be found (O’Loughlin 2011).

            After getting divorced from her first husband, Ken, Reinert began dating William Bradfield, a fellow English teacher at Upper Merion Area High School. From the beginning of their relationship, Bradfield vocally denied there was one to other teachers at the school and the woman he was living with at the time, Susan Myers, who was also a teacher at the school. It was well known as well that Bradfield had other lovers (Barry). Reinert’s infatuation with Bradfield eventually got to the point that she changed the beneficiary of her life insurance from her brother and children to Bradfield, whom she referred to as her “intended husband” on the forms. From the beginning of the investigation, police suspected that this change may have been motive (O’Loughlin 2011).

            On the weekend that the Reinert’s disappeared, Bradfield was in Cape May, New Jersey with several other male and female friends. It was supposedly known that Bradfield, as well as other members of the school’s faculty, were involved in swinging sex parties. It is worth noting that during the autopsy, it was found that Reinert had sand between her toes (Barry).

            While Bradfield couldn’t be charged for the murders for years, he was arrested and charged with theft by deception. Before Reinert’s death, Bradfield convinced her to withdraw $25,000 from her bank account that he could invest. The investment, however, was fake, and Bradfield was arrested. While he was in jail awaiting trial for this theft, he filed suit for the insurance money from her death in an extremely bold move. He was set to go to trial in 72 hours (O’Loughlin 2011). Arrested in connection with the theft was another one of Bradfield’s lovers, Wendy Ziegler. According to police, Ziegler hid the money in a safe-deposit box and took it out the day the Reinert’s disappeared. While she was arrested, police were apparently more interested scaring her into cooperating on their case against Bradfield than actually charge her. She ended up being one of the witnesses who testified against him in 1981, where he was sentenced to two years in prison (O’Loughlin 2011).

            Smith had had previous issues with the police before Reinert’s disappearance. In 1978, Smith was arrested at a shopping center after being called due to suspicious activity. Police found loaded handguns, a syringe filled with morphine, a hooded mask, and several other items described as burglar’s tools in his car (O’Loughlin 2011). It is worth noting at this point that the official cause of death for Susan Reinert was a lethal dose of morphine (Barry). Smith claimed he needed the guns to scare off people harassing him and the syringe must have belonged to his son-in-law, whom he said was a drug addict (O’Loughlin 2011). Police searched Smith’s home, revealing more drugs and guns, as well as uniforms for security guards, badges, and pornography that largely dealt with bestiality. Along with the drugs and guns, police also found four gallons of nitric acid and office supplies reportedly stolen from the school. As the investigation continued, police linked Smith to two armed robberies at Sears stores. Bradfield was one of the witnesses at his trial in 1979, providing an alibi for Smith, but was apparently not convincing enough. Smith was found guilty, but let out on bail while appealing the conviction (O’Loughlin 2011).

            On April 6, 1983, Bradfield was arrested and charged with the murders of Susan Reinert and her children, Karen and Michael. During the trial, there was testimony about the changes to Reinert’s will and life insurance and testimony claiming that Bradfield had been telling friends that he was concerned Smith was going to hurt Reinert, but never told Reinert herself or police about his concerns. Smith was not yet on trial for the murders at this point, but much of the testimony presented by the state connected Smith to Reinert. Among other things, there was a hair from Reinert that matched one found at Smith’s house and a comb from the Air Force Unit Smith belonged to found under Reinert’s body. It is worth noting, however, that it was found that there had been an event where the combs had been given out (O’Loughlin 2011). A very small amount of evidence actually linked Bradfield to the murder – instead, investigators were attempting to connect Bradfield to Smith to try to prove that the two had conspired together to kill Reinert. Bradfield was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in October 1983 and sentenced to three life sentences (O’Loughlin 2011).

            In March 1992, new evidence in the case was found in a box kept in the attic of the lead investigator that could have possibly cleared Smith of the murders. One of Smither’s lawyer’s filed to have the evidence put into the care of a court-appointed custodian and requested that the judge order the prosecution to explain why the evidence was never handed over to them during the initial trial. The evidence from the 1986 trial was sealed in boxes and left in the Attorney General’s office. According to the Chief Deputy Attorney General, the sealed boxes would be opened once the new box and the evidence inside was turned in (Leask & Shellem 1992).

            Smith’s attorney argued that the second trial of the murders constituted double jeopardy and strengthened the argument using evidence found in the box. Among the pieces of evidence in the box was a comb identical to the one used as evidence in the original trial; however, according to the attorney, this comb found in the box is not the comb originally presented at the trial. The comb found in the box was not tagged as trial exhibit, while the one used in the trial was, according to Smith’s attorney, and the comb used in the original trial should have been sealed away with the rest of the evidence in the Attorney General’s office (Leask & Shellem 1992). Smith’s attorney also argued that the officers may have been paid off by as much as $50,000 before any arrests were made for information, by Joseph Wambaugh, author of “Echoes in the Darkness”, a best-selling book about this case (Leask & Shellem 1992).

            The box found also contained notebooks numbered through 23, with the exception of 13 which seemed to be missing. Smith’s attorney theorized that the missing notebook was from a time when the officer was dealing with a jailhouse informant who claimed that Smith had told him that he had committed the murders of the Reinert’s. Smith’s attorney alleged that in another notebook, the officer noted that the informant said Smith told he did not commit the murder, and has been suspicious that there may have been a deal with the informant (Leask & Shellem 1992). Smith was released after being on death row for six years, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the prosecution was guilty of misconduct including hiding evidence and making deals. Smith died a free man in 2009, after spending the rest of his life trying to clear his name (Arias 2013).

            In 1998, Bradfield died of heart failure and a photograph that was likely developed in 1986 was found. The photograph shows a small statue of a hooded figure, possibly in a wooded area. Police believe this photograph may hold the key to finding the remains of Karen and Michael Reinert. Searches have been conducted, yet there have been no remains found as of yet. Police continue to take tips as to where this statue may be. If the statue could be found, it would hopefully lead to the recovery of the children’s remains (O’Neill). Along with the photograph, which was found among several boxes, police also found letters that appeared to be written in code. Some theorize that somewhere out in the world, another person involved in the murders exists and could tell them where the Reinert children are (O’Neill).

            While the murder of Susan Reinert may be solved, there are still questions haunting people today. Where are her children? Was Jay Smith truly innocent, or was he actually involved? What is that photograph found in Bradfield’s belongings? Where was it taken? Perhaps some day we will have answers to these questions, but for now they will remain unanswered.

O’Loughlin, Kathy. “True Crime: The Reinert Murder Rocked Our Area.” Main Line Media News, 23 June 2011, http://www.mainlinemedianews.com/mainlinetimes/life/true-crime-the-reinert-murder-rocked-our-area/article_17ab2d1d-521b-5d4d-878c-d5b8f8ad734c.html.

Leask , Laird, and Pete Shellem. “Evidence Surfaces in Reinert Case.” Death Penalty Information Center, The Patriot News, 29 Mar. 1992, deathpenaltyinfo.org/stories/evidence-surfaces-in-reinert-case.

Arias, Jeremy. “Susan Reinert, Teacher and Kids Killed by Ex-Principal Jay Smith: Notorious Murders.” Pennlive, 28 May 2013, http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/2013/05/notorious_murder_susan_reinert.html.

O’Neill, Ann. “Does Photo Found in Cell Show Children’s Grave?” CNN, Cable News Network, http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/07/02/pennsylvania.reinert.murders.police/index.html.

Barry. “Susan Reinert Victim.” America’s Best Crime Writer, barrybowe.com/susan-reinert-victim/.

Barry. “Susan Reinert Killer.” America’s Best Crime Writer, barrybowe.com/susan-reinert-killer/.

Barry. “Susan Reinert Story.” America’s Best Crime Writer, barrybowe.com/susan-reinert-story/.

Barry. “Susan Reinert Bribery.” America’s Best Crime Writer, barrybowe.com/susan-reinert-bribery/.

The Death of Holly Piirainen

            On August 5, 1993, Holly Piirainen, 10, was visiting her grandparent’s cottage in Sturbridge, MA with her family when she disappeared. She had to a neighbor’s house with her younger brother, Zachary, 5, to see some puppies when she was abducted. Her brother returned home without her, prompting her father, Richard, to send both her brothers out to look for her. They returned with only a shoe, found in the road.

            Her father reported her missing immediately, which lead to a massive search including officials from local and state police as well as units from Rhode Island and Connecticut, and a sheriff’s department. Despite this massive search, it wasn’t until late October of that year that her remains were recovered.

            It was October 23rd of 1993 that hunters found Holly’s remains in Brimfield, MA, near Five Bridge Road. She was found just a few miles away from where she was abducted. There is now a small pink cross where her remains were found.

On January 3, 2012, Mark Mastroianni, the Hampden County attorney, announced that forensic evidence connected deceased David Pouliot, who died in 2003. At the time that Holly’s remains were recovered, police collected several items that could be evidence from the area and connected one of these items to Pouliot through forensics.  The specific item apparently lead police to feel that Pouliot and possibly others associated with him were in the area her remains were recovered at a time that would mean they may have information relating to her death or be involved with her death. While he was linked to the crime scene, Pouliot was not officially declared a suspect.

            Among the names on the suspect list police have, one name in particular stands out to many: Randy Stranger, the brother of Rodney Stranger, who is a suspect in the disappearance and murder of Molly Bish in 2000. Stranger was reportedly living in a tent in Brimfield, MA at the time that Holly was taken and cooperated with police when he was questioned about her at the time of her disappearance. At the time that Rodney Stranger was arrested in 2009, for the murder of his girlfriend, Randy was supposedly missing. He was found in Florida by Massachusetts State Police and they arrested him on an outstanding drug warrant. He spent a year in jail. When police investigating the disappearance of Molly Bish searched Rodney’s trailer on a top in 2012, an investigator on Holly’s case also joined them.

            Rodney Stranger has also been named as a possible suspect, along with serial killer Lewis Lent. Lent has confessed to multiple murders since being in jail for the murder of a 12-year old boy in 1990. He confessed to also killing a young girl in 1993, in New York, Jamie Lusher in Westfield, MA in 1992, and kidnapping a girl from Pittsfield, MA in 1994. A previous resident of Brookfield was also named, Robert Armes, by a police officer on “48 Hours” as being investigated in relation to Holly’s and Molly Bish’s deaths.

            Zachary, the younger brother Holly was with when she went missing, began to have flashbacks of a man’s face in 2005, that he was unable to place. A sketch was drawn up of the man he was seeing that bore an eerie resemblance to Randy Stranger. It is worth noting that the family was not shown a picture of Stranger until 2009, four years after the sketch was drawn up.

            As of February 2020, the abduction and murder of Holly Piirainen remains officially unsolved. It is possible that perhaps out there somewhere, someone saw something on August 5, 1993 that they may not have known was pertinent to the investigation. If you believe you may have information pertaining to Holly’s murder, you can call tips in to the Massachusetts State Police at 413-505-5993 or text CRIMES (274637) starting the body of the text with the word “solve” to text in a tip.

Articles used when compiling information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holly_Piirainen

https://www.boston25news.com/news/holly-piirainen-new-details-emerge-in-19yearold-murder-case/139232396/

https://www.masslive.com/springfield/2019/08/massachusetts-unsolved-murder-26-years-after-holly-piirainens-disappearance-and-killing-family-renews-plea-for-help-to-solve-case.html

https://abcnews.go.com/US/massachusetts-cold-case-linked-dead-man/story?id=15280841

https://www.telegram.com/news/20190805/family-seeks-answers-on-26th-anniversary-of-holly-piirainens-disappearance

https://www.boston25news.com/news/new-england-s-unsolved-holly-piirainen-25-years-later/823976673/

https://thisweekinworcester.com/holly-piiaranens-family-still-looks-for-clues-26-years-after-her-disappearance-death/

The Disappearance of Molly Bish

I’m eight years-old, watching the news while my parents talk when a report on a missing person comes across the screen. The room is quiet as the image of a young blonde woman, a few years older than my older sister, comes onto the screen and the reporters tell us her name: Molly Bish. She was 16 and worked as a lifeguard at a local pond, where she was last seen. This was the exact moment I realized the world wasn’t as nice as I hoped it was.

            Molly Anne Bish, born August 2, 1983, lived in Warren, MA her entire life with her father, John Sr, mother, Magi, and siblings, Heather and John Jr. She was working as a lifeguard at Comins Pond at the time she disappeared. According to her mother, Magi Bish, the day before Molly disappeared there was a strange man with a mustache in a white car parked nearby. He seemed unusual, but when she picked Molly up later in the day and dropped her off the next day he was nowhere to be seen. Another witness claimed to have seen the man just minutes before Molly was dropped off, parked nearby again.

The first signs that Molly was missing came when the first parents arrived for the day’s swimming lessons; her whistle, chair, and sandals were there and there was an open first aid kit, but no Molly. One parent took over the lesson and informed Molly’s boss, who informed the police at 11:44 AM. Her disappearance was not initially taken seriously, as many assumed due to her young age that she had likely walked off to hang out with friends. The Bish’s became aware of their daughter’s disappearance at 1:00 PM, when police informed them that no lifeguard had been found on duty at Comins Pond.

Magi Bish and Heather Bish headed to the hospital, where one of Molly’s friends was after being hit by a car, to see if perhaps she had gone to see her, and Heather checked with Molly’s boyfriend, who seemed just as unconcerned as the police. Her boyfriend joined Heather and Magi back at Comins Pond, where Magi had an argument with the police about whether or not Molly would have left her post. The police were eventually convinced and called in the State Police, who had more experience with missing persons cases.

The State Police posited the theory that she may have drowned, which the family disagreed with as she was a strong swimmer. This did, however, upset either John Jr or John Sr (reports differ on who), and he ran into the water to find her before being pulled back by officials. The pond was searched using boats and a dive team, but when there was no sign of her after hours of searching, the search in the pond and the surrounding woods was called off for the night.

The search resumed on the 28th at 6:00 AM; police units, a helicopter equipped with infrared imaging devices, a mounted unit, and the townspeople began the largest search in Massachusetts history. Local businesses printed out missing person posters and posted them on their work fronts. A path that lead from Comins Pond to a cemetery was searched specifically, and the theory that Molly had been helping someone with a faked injury when she was abducted was presented. This is what reminded Magi Bish of the strange mustached-man she had seen when dropping Molly off the day before she went missing. She described him as being roughly 50 years-old and having salt-and-pepper hair, with a mustache, dark eyes, and smoking a cigarette. A composite sketch was drawn up based on her description, but when shown the picture, John Jr, who had worked at Comins Pond before, did not recognize him as a regular at the pond.

The police set up a roadblock in an attempt to stop the man from leaving and found out, after speaking with the townspeople, that the car he was in had been seen near the cemetery near the pond just a few days earlier. The District Attorney’s office ordered the search of over a hundred white cars, but because the make of the car could not be determined from Magi’s description, there were no real leads uncovered.

The Comins Pond scene was compromised by the original responding team and could no longer be properly investigated. Too many people had been in-and-out of the area since the first report had been made; new footprints, new fingerprints, and even cigarettes were now covering the crime scene. This meant the police didn’t have much evidence they could really work with, so they began turning to theories. Tips were coming in from all over the country, including sightings of Molly, but her family firmly believed she would not have left like that.

Her boss and boyfriend were both considered suspects initially, but her boyfriend passed a polygraph test and her boss had an alibi that checked out. They began to investigate known sex offenders in the area, giving some polygraph tests, which resulted in some showing signs of lying, and trying to prove or disprove alibis. The alibis were hard to prove, as many sex offenders have a hard time finding steady employment. John Sr’s case files were also investigated, as the thought was that perhaps she was taken in revenge, but it seems that everyone they spoke to had nothing but kind things to say about him.

Tips continued to come in, in the coming years, including tips that she had been sighted in various places like Miami, Florida. In 2003, an officer who had retired called in a tip that he believed Molly’s disappearance may have been connected to the disappearance and death of Holly Piirainen in 1993. Holly disappeared while out with her brother on a trip to visit their grandmother in Sturbridge, MA; her body was found near where she went missing, by hunters. Her murder remains unsolved. It is worth noting that Molly actually wrote a letter to Holly’s parents to let them know she was hoping for her safe return.

Due to the physical similarities between Holly and Molly, both blonde with blue eyes, and the close proximity of their disappearances, police suspected that they may be looking for the same perpetrator. The hunters were interviewed, and while one felt he had seen something suspicious months before, the other felt that it was nothing.

            At 11 years-old, I watched the news break with my mother of remains being found and was reminded again of the girl I had seen on the news years before. In 2003, a hunter told Tim McGuigan that he had seen a blue bathing suit, like the one she wore, while out hunting in 2002. McGuigan reported this to police, resulting in a search of the area and the recovery of her remains on June 9, 2003. Her remains were found only five miles from her home. Initially, police found pieces of her bathing suit that they sent for DNA analysis. The suit was confirmed to have her DNA on it and they began a larger search of the area. A totally of 26 bones were recovered from the Whiskey Hill area of Palmer, MA and all were confirmed through DNA analysis to belong to Molly Bish.

            Molly Bish was buried on what would have been her 20th birthday, August 2, 2003. Police began to look for a white male between the ages 18 and 50 who may have a history of violence and probably knew the area for fishing or hunting.

            A man in Connecticut in 2005, who was charged with attempted kidnapping, was investigated briefly. Another man, Rodney Stranger, was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend in 2008, in Florida. The police in Massachusetts were called based on a conversation he supposedly had with his deceased girlfriend. At the time of Molly’s disappearance and murder. Stranger lived in the Warren, MA area and fished and hunted at Comins Pond. He bore a resemblance to the composite sketch drawn up based on Magi Bish’s description of the man she saw the day before Molly disappeared. He resembled the sketch based on Magi Bish’s description of the man she saw the day before Molly disappeared, his brother owned a white car that matched the description, and he moved to Florida a year after Molly’s disappearance. He plead guilty to the murder of his girlfriend, but denied any involvement in Molly’s death.

            After receiving a tip from the sister of Stranger’s deceased girlfriend that he had some strange things in his home in 2012, the police performed a search. They found his Massachusetts Firearm ID, where they discovered he looked like the sketch. After this discovery, people began to come out with statements of seeing a man matching his description at Comins Pond right before Magi dropped off Molly, as well as the tip that the car had been seen near the cemetery at the time. He was also questioned in the disappearance of Holly Piirainen, but has not been charged with either.

            Another man who resembled the sketch was suggested as a possible suspect in 2011, by private investigator Dan Malley. The man, Gerald Battistoni, was initially an informant the Narcotics Task Force of Eastern Hampdon County and was in jail for the rape of a teenager in the 1990s. He was found to have been in the area at the time of Molly’s disappearance and was investigated for her disappearance and the disappearance of Holly Piirainen. He attempted suicide after being named a suspect in both cases and died in 2014.

            Police have begun testing DNA of persons of interest against DNA evidence from the crime scene and evidence collected over the years. They also brought in cadaver dogs in 2013, when a race track being constructed near where the bones they had had been found. They made sure to inform the construction workers on what to look for in hopes they could recover more of her remains. A bag with a pair of shorts matching the ones Molly wore when she went missing was found in 2014, under a long near Nenemseck Sportsmen’s Club Palmer, across the street from where her remains were found, by a private investigator. That same year, a lawsuit was filed by the man who brought the tip leading to Molly’s remains against the District Attorney’s office. He felt he should get the reward money offered for information leading to her remains, however, the judge dismissed the lawsuit as the reward was offered by an independent foundation and the reward was for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her murderer.

            The Bish family also hosted “Just One Piece” in 2014, a campaign that lead to more people coming forward with possible persons of interest on the case. Information has been withheld to prevent any possible obstruction or issues with the case, but what has been shared is that a man was seen not far from where Molly disappeared, at a camp ground in West Brookfield, MA. He left the day she went missing. According to witnesses, this person of interest came back to the camp ground, face bloody and scratched, raving about something bad having happened in the woods. Approximately six months later, he was heard bragging about being a person of interest in a case despite never having been interviewed.

            The Bish family hired another private investigator, Sarah Stein, to take over the case from other private investigators they had hired. Stein believed the car may have been buried at a camp ground in Brookfield, MA based on a tip she had received and the investigators used ground penetrating radar to check the area. Several anomalies lead to the area being investigated more and Stein believed that there was something buried there. State police were present in 2017 when volunteers searched the camp ground, but this search was not considered officially part of the investigation. Molly’s sister, Heather, claims a man matching the sketch still lives in the area and would have had access to the camp ground at the time. She also claims the equipment that would be needed to bury a car was available at the camp ground at the time of Molly’s disappearance.

In the aftermath of her disappearance, the case has been featured on Disappeared, America’s Most Wanted, Unsolved Mysteries, and 48 Hours. Her parents, Magi and John Sr, have started the Molly Bish Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the safety awareness and prevention for children. They distribute the children identification booklets that many kids fill out at school and helped pass the AMBER Alert system currently in place in Massachusetts. John Jr, Molly’s brother, has since become an EMT and her boyfriend died in a car crash in 2018. In 2010, on the 10-year anniversary of her disappearance, a vigil was held at Comins Pond.

            In 2019, it was announced that a new task force would be taking over several unsolved cases in Massachusetts. The unit consists of five seasoned homicide detectives who will work with the District Attorneys and the evidence already collected previously by investigators. The officers will work both as a team and individually, under the directions of the District Attorney of Jurisdiction. The cases being covered by this new unit will reportedly go back as far as the 1950s or 1960s.

            As of 2020, Molly’s sister, Heather, is backing a bill that would allow police to search for violent killers using DNA databases. This would be similar to the tactics used to hunt down the Golden State Killer, arrested in 2018.

            The case of Molly Bish’s disappearance and murder is officially still an open case. If you believe you may have information that could lead to the arrest of Molly’s murderer or the recovery of the rest of her remains, please contact the Warren Police at 413-436-9595.

Articles information was sourced from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Molly_Bish

https://storiesoftheunsolved.com/2019/04/10/the-murder-of-molly-bish/

https://www.telegram.com/news/20191002/molly-bish-slaying-to-go-before-new-state-police-unsolved-case-unit

https://www.westernmassnews.com/archives/new-person-of-interest-sought-in-molly-bish-murder/article_f8940308-dcaa-11e8-a049-0bfa98358e65.html

https://www.boston25news.com/news/sister-molly-bish-behind-bill-allow-police-hunt-violent-criminals-dna-databases/D42EBWRL7NE4NE5XKUHLAB2TIM/

http://www.geocities.ws/lizzietish2000/SuspectSketch.html