A killer remains at large in an unsolved area murder that is approaching a one-year anniversary.
Rachel Anthony, 50, Pequot Lakes, was abducted Feb. 28, 2001, from her place of work in Pine River. Six weeks later her body was found in Breezy Point.
It's a murder case that for the past year has stumped law enforcement officials from two counties, two cities and two state agencies.
"A lot of the homicide cases that police departments work on are fairly easy to solve," said Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Terry Smith.
The BCA has 19 agents in northern Minnesota, and the agency investigates two things: drugs and deaths.
"It's probably fortunate for us that most common homicides are relationships gone bad, where someone in the family does something to someone else," Smith said.
It is the cases like Anthony's -- cases Smith describes as "whodunits" with few clues, no eyewitnesses or suspects -- that are more difficult to solve.
"In a case without a lot of evidence, done with forethought and stealth, they're harder to solve, but not impossible to solve," said Smith. He, like all the agencies investigating the abduction and murder, is confident an arrest will be made in the case.
The Anthony murder case is unique in that it is being investigated by both Cass and Crow Wing counties, the Pine River and Breezy Point police departments, the BCA and the FBI.
However, murder cases are not uncommon in Cass and Crow Wing counties. Since 1992, there have been seven homicides in Cass County, nine in Crow Wing County.
The late 1980s and early 1990s were a particularly violent period in the counties. Two beating deaths resulted in a body discovered in a car's trunk and a body found in a northeast Brainerd Dumpster. In the 1980s, there were two shooting deaths, a domestic murder/suicide and a stabbing death. Alcohol played a role in at least three of the killings.
In 2000, Crow Wing County had no murders, and Cass County had two. Both murder suspects, Arvid Kloek and Robert Armstrong, were arrested and charged in court.
In 2000 there were 138 homicides in Minnesota, and arrests were made in 87 of those cases.
Crow Wing County has averaged one or two homicides per year in the last decade. Sheriff Dick Ross said the county has the same Class A crime statistic rating as Minneapolis -- based on the number of serious crimes and size of the county's population.
"We still have a lot of violent crimes in this county," Ross said. "We're solving them. The only thing that makes you feel good is our success rate at solving them is high."
Anthony is one of a few unsolved murder cases in Cass and Crow Wing counties. Anthony disappeared Feb. 28, 2001, from Ultimate Liquors, an off-sale liquor store in Pine River where she worked.
She was noticed missing at about 1 a.m. There was no sign of a struggle. Her coat and purse were left in the store, her car sat idling in the street.
Anthony's body was discovered April 13, 2001, by four teen-agers who were horseback riding in a rural area along Nelson Road in Breezy Point, about five miles off Crow Wing County Road 16. An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be asphyxia due to homicidal violence.
"It's frustrating in that there's been no arrests," said Cass County Sheriff Randy Fisher. "The amount of hours spent, it's taxing on any department. But we're certainly hopeful that an arrest will be made."
For almost a year the Cass County Sheriff's Department's three investigators have been working thousands of hours trying to solve the Anthony murder case.
Fisher doesn't want to speculate about who could've committed the abduction and murder, but he said evidence at the scene of the crime in Pine River shows it probably wasn't a random event. Not a lot of people would have known where the back door to Ultimate Liquors was, he said.
Right after her abduction, Cass County investigators received hundreds of tips about what might have happened to Anthony, but none has led to a suspect. However, Fisher said without the public's help in such a case, Anthony's killer may never be found.
Often, it's what the average resident sees that provides the best leads for investigators. Crow Wing County Chief Deputy Irv Tollefson said tips from the public can prove invaluable in solving cases.
"We rely on that a lot," Tollefson said. "A lot of times it pays off. You have to have that."
In general, Fisher said serious felonies have been on the rise in recent years and he attributes that to growth in Cass County, and the rural nature of the wooded areas. Of all the Cass County crimes in 2000, about 26 percent were serious felonies: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson.
Anthony's murder and abduction is not unique to Cass County. In the 1980s there were two similar missing person/murder cases.
In 1984 a rural Pine River father and daughter disappeared from their home. As with Anthony's disappearance from the liquor store, nothing in the Paulson home seemed disturbed: Marge Paulson's knitting and her purse containing money were in the house, and Clarence Paulson's all-terrain vehicle was left outside.
In 1990 a worker dismantling an abandoned 19th century farmhouse found the skeletal remains of 59-year-old Clarence and 34-year-old Marge.
On June 14, 1985, 68-year-old Pine River resident Charlotte Lysdale was reported missing from her Pine River apartment. Her body was never recovered.
Though Lysdale's body was never found, the incident did go to court. Jerome Bye, 54, at the time a Pequot Lakes real estate agent, was tried and acquitted of first-degree murder in Lysdale's death.
Lysdale reportedly last was seen at Bye's residence. Bye had bought Lysdale's home on Lower Hay Lake on a contract for deed in 1984.
Bye is believed to be the first person tried in Minnesota for murder without the direct evidence of a body. He was also indicted and convicted by a jury in 1988 for theft of a property deed from Lysdale.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department has one missing person case still unsolved, going back to 1959 when a Kego Lake summer resident near Fifty Lakes went to get mail and never returned.
Tollefson said what has been unique in Crow Wing County is the increased manpower of the investigative division with individuals gaining specialization in terms of print taking and plaster of Paris for such things as tire or shoe impressions.
"Other counties don't spend the time on homicide that we do. They don't have the resources we do," Tollefson said.
Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan said the answer to violent crimes is two-fold -- prosecution of cases and prevention by working with area families and, particularly, at-risk children. Prevention efforts may never be able to be fully measured in terms of success rates. Ryan said "it's a walk of faith."
"I don't think our Crow Wing County community is becoming more violent than it was when I took over this job seven years ago," Ryan said.
The most recent Crow Wing County murder was the double homicide of Theodore "Ted" Bieganek, 68, and his wife, Angeline "Angie" Bieganek, 64. They were found shot to death in their bed at their Barbeau Road home near Highway 371 north of Brainerd on Christmas Eve. The Bieganeks' 19-year-old grandson, Joshua John DeRosier, was arrested Feb. 19 and charged with second-degree murder in their deaths.
Before the Bieganek double homicide was the June 6, 2001, murder of Dianne Geist, 29, and the following suicide of Dennis Geist, 31, at the family's home north of Merrifield.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department lists a Pine Center death as the only homicide the county has not prosecuted to a conviction. In that case, a suspect was arrested for 28-year-old Pamela Smude's 1992 death, tried and found not guilty of the murder charge.
Tollefson and Ross said a vast majority of murder cases in Crow Wing County involved a victim and killer who knew each other. All but one in the last few decades involved a conviction of one or more people involved in the murder.
Tollefson said the abduction and torture death of a St. Paul man at Crooked Lake was probably the most bizarre. The Blackhoof Lake murder case, described by those who worked on it as an execution-style killing, was the most time consuming. Tollefson said those two cases -- along with investigation into the murders of two brothers at Snug Harbor and attempted murder of a woman there -- took an extraordinary amount of time.
The murders involved multiple scenes. Investigators worked about six weeks before an arrest was made and another five to six weeks following.
While all the crimes were different, they had similarities in the solving. Investigators gathered information about the victims and whom they knew and spent time with, as well as the events leading to the murder.
The sheriff said he recently saw a statistic where 43 percent of homicides are solved nationally.
"It speaks well of us that we've got a higher than average national rate of recovery," Ross said.
Ross said he sees a decline in the trend of domestic assaults that used to come in almost daily. But he said violent crime is still part of life in the county. There are 36 road officers on the county's staff.
"We need to teach the public to be cautious," Ross said. "I think as a whole we have to be cautious of where we go and who we deal with."
Rural areas and quiet neighborhoods are not immune. "It'll happen in a bedroom community just like it will happen in a downtown bar," Ross said of violent crime. "... Homicide is the type of crime you can't predict."
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