18 years later, killer of central Minnesota woman remains a mystery
PINE RIVER, Minn. — For a year and a half, Rachel worked the night shift alone at Ultimate Liquors after spending the day with her young grandsons at the rural Pequot Lakes home she shared with daughter Jessica and her former son-in-law.
Feb. 27, 2001, was a winter day much like those in recent memory — especially snowy and unbearably cold.
Jessica Anthony knows it was a Tuesday when her mother vanished. She remembers because Tuesday was women’s league night at Community Bowl, a block away from the liquor store. Jessica bowled with her team that night, finishing about 9:15 p.m.
“A lot of Tuesdays, sometimes I would go over and say hi to her before heading home. And occasionally I’d help her finish stocking up one of the refrigerators,” Jessica said during an interview earlier this month. “I remember sitting in my car, looking at her car across the street, and debating about going to help her. And I thought, ‘It’s really cold outside, and I’m really tired.’ And I decided to go home. … What if I’d gone in? Would something different have happened if I’d gone in to say hi?”
Between midnight and 1 a.m. Feb. 28, 2001, a police officer noticed Rachel’s car left running outside the liquor store and began investigating. The front door of the store was locked, but the back door swung open when the officer tried it. Nothing looked amiss, but Rachel’s coat, purse and cigarettes remained. No Rachel.
Steve Abraham, Pine River police chief at the time, awoke to a phone call from the officer.
“I got out of bed, got dressed, came in and we searched the surrounding area for, oh I don’t know, a half-mile around,” Abraham said. “The snow had been really deep at that time. There was no tracks in the snow, nothing. We beat on every door for several blocks around, getting people out of bed, seeing if they’d seen anything at all. No one had.”
Officers theorized the perpetrator took Rachel from the back alley while she was disposing of garbage, just before she planned to head home.
Kim Terhaar and her ex-husband, who owned Ultimate Liquors at the time, confirmed for police a puzzling piece — no robbery of money or product appeared to have occurred at the store. Although the store was equipped with security cameras, they were not recording that night.
Jessica called her sister, Tricia Lehr, with the news the next morning.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, her brother Robert Mozden received word of his mother’s disappearance when his father showed up at the door.
For weeks, Rachel’s friends and family did what anyone would do — helped in any way they could and prayed for her return. Tips poured in to police in the beginning, though none yielded information on Rachel’s whereabouts.
There was no sign of Rachel until April, when on Friday the 13th, four teenagers on horseback made a gruesome discovery on a road between Breezy Point and Pequot Lakes.
Rachel’s body lay about 15 feet down an embankment on Nelson Road, The search was over for Rachel and on for whoever left her there.
Coincidentally, Chief Abraham’s own son was among the horseback riders who became part of Rachel’s story. Perched atop the horses while traveling at a slow pace, the riders spotted what those driving by had not.
Who killed Rachel Anthony?
Since the discovery of Rachel’s body, an autopsy of which revealed she died of asphyxia due to homicidal violence, investigators have worked to determine who was responsible. Theories vary on who killed Rachel and why, and with no major suspects ever identified, the debate continues. Generally speaking, however, law enforcement officials leaned toward the likelihood the murderer is, or was at the time, a local.
Dave Bjerga was a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent tasked with death investigations at the time. He said the location of Rachel’s body played a major role in the suspect profile. While used by locals as a shortcut, avoiding county highways, Nelson Road is not one most people from out of town seem to know.
“We went to the FBI and had this case looked at, and they agreed with us, that this is somebody who knows this area of southern Cass and northern Crow Wing County,” Bjerga said. “To us, that just gave us more incentive to now spread out the parameters of our search for suspects, not just around Pine River, but to those two areas.”
Just like investigators, Rachel’s children have spent many years going over their mother’s disappearance, in search of answers.
“They never did find out who the last customer was that night,” Jessica said. “That was the only sale that they could not find out who it was. So there’s always that question if that was the person. I personally think that that last customer had something to do with it, being that that person never came forward. Because everybody else did.”
Will Rachel’s case ever be solved? Bjerga is confident it can happen, particularly in light of advances in DNA technology and the proliferation of genealogy databases.
“Law enforcement is now mining those databases for familial DNA,” Bjerga said. “I really think that’s what’s going to solve this case.”
Help solve Rachel’s case
The case remains an open investigation with the BCA and the Cass County Sheriff’s Office. Spotlight on Crime is offering up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for Rachel’s murder. If anyone knows anything about the case — even if it seems to be a small, inconsequential detail, Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch said — they are asked to contact the BCA at firstname.lastname@example.org or 877-996-6222, or Cass County at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677.