2014-12-18 / Top News

WHO KILLED RACHEL?

BY ATHENA PONUSHIS

RACHEL HURLEY LOVED TO SING, “OH, OH, OH, SWEET CHILD O’ mine.” She loved to act out lines from “Top Gun” — “Talk to me, Goose.” She was pretty. She was silly. She was popular. She was 14. And that’s where stories of her end.

Friends remember the last time they saw her, the flip of her hair as she turned to walk away.

Nearing 25 years later detectives look at her picture, trying to retrace that walk.

It was Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1990, when Rachel left her friends at Jupiter Inlet to meet her mom at Carlin Park. She did not make it. The body of the feisty eighth grader, who said she was going to grow up to be a fighter  pilot, was found in the beach scrub, raped and murdered.

Detectives have no eyewitness, no suspect and they have made no arrest. They have DNA and say they have eliminated 127 men whose DNA did not match.

If the killer was already in prison detectives say they would have his DNA. This has led them to suggest maybe he did this just once, maybe he meant to assault her but did not mean to kill her and has done nothing criminal since.

It turns the stomachs of Rachel’s friends to think it could be someone they know, someone still in their social circle.

They question if detectives have done all they can do to find the person who did this. They wish detectives would be more forthcoming with details of the investigation, tell the public more to jog the memory of the community that fell to its knees when Rachel was murdered.

Meanwhile, detectives keep quiet, the killer is still out there and Rachel remains one of more than 300 open homicides at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Everyone waits for a jailhouse brag, a deathbed confession, a guilty conscience.


After Rachel’s body was found in the scrub area, the brush was cut. It has grown back. 
COURTESY PHOTO After Rachel’s body was found in the scrub area, the brush was cut. It has grown back. COURTESY PHOTO There are people in Jupiter who think they know who did it. People who think police know too, but just can’t prove it. They doubt detectives have good DNA. Or worse, wonder if DNA was inadvertently washed away.

Asked if there was a fumble on evidence, some officials will not answer and some say just enough to leave the impression that maybe there was. A cold case is an open case, which means records are closed. Detectives claim they have the DNA. They need the name.

Who killed Rachel?

“LET’S PUT IT this way,” says Detective William Springer, “we have physical evidence. Do I believe it belongs to the perpetrator? Yes. Is there a possibility that it may not belong to the perpetrator? I can never rule that out. I think where we collected it from and what we have is good, viable evidence. If his DNA was in the system, we’d probably know who it was. That’s the best I can tell you.”


Rachel Hurley was running to meet her mother in Carlin Park when she was murdered. 
COURTESY PHOTO Rachel Hurley was running to meet her mother in Carlin Park when she was murdered. COURTESY PHOTO Detective Springer served as the sergeant in charge of the Cold Case squad from 2004 to 2010. He retired, came back in 2013 and now works three days a week as a part-time detective. The latest lead detective assigned to Rachel’s case, he feels like he inherited it back.

Detective Springer will not say if Rachel was smothered or strangled. Reports at the time said both. “And the reason I’m not going to tell you is because if we find the person who did it, I want him to be able to tell me, and if it’s out there, that means everybody knows, so if he tells me how he did it, then I won’t know if he’s really telling me the truth, or if he read it somewhere.”

 Presumably, an autopsy would say, but Detective Springer won’t. As long as Rachel’s murder continues to be an ongoing investigation, her autopsy is exempt from public record. “He’s going to have to tell me how he did it … that’s something that will never be released,” Detective Springer emphasizes.

He hopes detectives have held back enough physical evidence from public view that when they ‘get the guy’ they have probable cause to arrest him and can prosecute him beyond a reasonable doubt.

Detectives have found reason to doubt 127 males — their DNA does not match the physical evidence. Detective Springer says these males have been eliminated over the years, not all at once.

The last time a man was eliminated was earlier this month, after Florida Weekly started asking questions. A rape victim had called Detective Springer to give him names. He did not call her back until the day he was interviewed by Florida Weekly. The woman believes two weeks had passed.

Detective Springer will not say the name of the man recently eliminated but will share some of the eliminated names that have been emblazoned all over the news. They range from having been on the beach that day to having been charged with violent sex crimes:

Billy Fagan — Florida Department of Corrections No. 621763. In prison. Registered sex offender. Townspeople say the media crucified him in the aftermath of the murder. He was never charged in the Rachel Hurley case, but was arrested on 31 sex charges. Reinvestigating, Cold Case detectives found “nobody ever really sat down and interviewed Billy Fagan.” They did. He gave them an alibi. His alibi was confirmed. He blames his life trajectory on being accused. He’s currently in federal custody, serving 15 years for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Douglas Gross — Florida Department of Corrections No. 619240. In prison. Detectives found a bloody T-shirt near Rachel’s body. The blood matched his DNA. More evidence was lacking. He’s serving time for armed burglary, escape, resisting officers. A fellow inmate told investigators that he admitted to killing Rachel with a friend’s help, 15 years after her murder.

Franky Washburn — Known to hang out at Carlin Park. Friend of Douglas Gross, purportedly the friend referred to by the fellow inmate of Gross, who said Gross had confessed.

Paul Simon — Florida Department of Corrections No. 273833. In prison. Convicted rapist. A woman who says Simon raped her gave his name to detectives. She says detectives told her his last crime was so heinous, his victim was found in his trunk. “We have nothing to tie him to Rachel,” Detective Springer says. “Now is it possible he did it? Yeah. I’m not saying he didn’t, but we have nothing to tie him to Rachel.” Serving 20 years for burglary, assault and sexual battery.

Bobby James Allen — Florida Department of Corrections No. 118907. Serving 25 years. Serial rapist. Known as the “ninja rapist” of Panama City. Reports say he may have raped or attempted to rape as many as seven women at knifepoint, wearing a black mask. A woman who says Allen raped her in Palm Beach Gardens, before he moved to Panama City, gave his name to detectives. Reports say he was the first in Florida to agree to be surgically castrated to avoid a life sentence.

Todd Clayton Campbell — His DNA pinned him to the rape and murder of Vickie Lynn Long in Jupiter, 25 years after the crime. He was charged in the Long case. He was acquitted. He told jurors he and Long had a casual sexual relationship, which would explain his DNA.

Claude Davis — Tangled up in the 1993 disappearance of 10-year-old Andrea Parsons in Martin County.

There are 120 more men authorities have looked at, whose DNA cannot be linked to Rachel. Evidence says whoever killed her on that beach, in the scrub, somewhere between the safety of her friends and the safety of her mother, remains at large. Detective Springer insists he has the DNA. He needs a phone call, he needs a break, he needs another name.

“I’m not going to rule somebody out just because their DNA does not match what we have,” Detective Springer assures. “You don’t solve a case in the office waiting for a DNA match. You have to get out and talk to people and see what they have to say.” See where they were on that day.

ERIN LODEESEN, A CLOSE friend of Rachel’s, spent the night with Rachel at a slumber party at Madina “Maddy” Behr- Weckenmann’s house the night before she went missing. The girls watched a scary movie, woke up and went out on a friend’s boat. Erin and Maddy were the last friends to see Rachel.

“The reason Rachel was running to meet her mom was that her mom was picking her up at Carlin Park,” Erin says. “All of our parents were picking us up at Carlin Park because we didn’t tell any of our parents that we were going out on the boat. None of our parents knew,” because the girls did not want their parents to say no.

The girls went out on a boat with a friend. A boy they went to middle school with. Erin will not share his name. She says Rachel was meeting her mom at 3 p.m. to go sell pancake breakfast tickets for her softball team. Erin’s mother was picking up Erin and Maddy a half hour later.

“I remember getting off the boat at the Inlet and Rachel saying, ‘I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go,’ and I said, ‘Just wait.’ My mom, she always put the fear of God in me, you always go with a friend, you never let a friend go by herself and it was such a long walk, I knew she shouldn’t have gone by herself,” Erin says. “I remember her hair flipping and I said, ‘Rachel, just wait. Wait for us.’ And Maddy said, ‘I have to go to the bathroom.’ And Rachel said, ‘I can’t wait. My mom’s waiting. I have to go.’ So she ran, she ran away. I’ll never forget her hair flipping. She had her pink brush in her hand and a white T-shirt on and a towel and she just went running.”

Erin and Maddy did not see if Rachel took the beach or headed towards the shortcut over the dunes, through the wooded sea grape trees and saw palmettos to the civic center at Carlin Park.

They went to the bathroom. They walked the beach. Erin remembers the wind, sand pelting against her legs, walking in the water for the splash to lend some sense of reprieve, thinking their parents were totally going to know, the weather gave it away, they did not spend the day on the beach.


Friends say Rachel liked this photo because it was taken after she got her braces off. 
COURTESY PHOTO Friends say Rachel liked this photo because it was taken after she got her braces off. COURTESY PHOTO Erin remembers asking Maddy, “Where’s Rachel? I don’t see her.” Rachel ran fast. The girls may have spent five minutes in the bathroom, so she could have been five to seven minutes ahead of them, running. “Maybe she made it.”

When they reached Carlin Park, other friends were asking the same question, “Where’s Rachel? Her mom’s looking for her.”

“We were so scared that we were going to get caught for being on the boat ... it didn’t even cross our minds that she could be missing,” Erin says. “We just wanted to get in the car and pretend that we had been at the beach all day.”

Back at the Lodeesen house, Erin and Maddy were still nervous, “We’re so going to get caught.” The phone rang. It was Rachel’s mom, Andrea Hurley, asking, “Where’s Rachel?”


Newspaper clippings have been collected from over two decades now. 
COURTESY CLIPPINGS FROM FRIENDS Newspaper clippings have been collected from over two decades now. COURTESY CLIPPINGS FROM FRIENDS Erin told Andrea they were down at the Inlet, Rachel ran ahead to meet her, they had not seen her since.

Twenty minutes later, Andrea called again, “What was Rachel wearing?”

Erin’s mother drove the girls back to the beach.

The girls called everyone they knew from the pay phones at Carlin Park, putting together a search party of friends and parents. Erin says probably 75 people showed up, going up and down the beach, looking.

“I remember looking in the woods at one point and we were calling Rachel’s name,” Erin says. “We’re calling her name and we’re looking in the woods and we’re picking up big pieces of plywood and all this stuff and all of a sudden I said to my mom, ‘What are we looking for?’”


A marker sits in memory of Rachel Hurley at the Carlin Park ballfield. 
COURTESY PHOTO A marker sits in memory of Rachel Hurley at the Carlin Park ballfield. COURTESY PHOTO That’s when her view of the world shattered. That’s when the parents knew it was time to get the kids out of the woods.

They escorted the children over to the civic center. The dads went back into the woods and continued looking.

“It was my father actually who came out of the woods,” Erin says. “And he said, ‘Everybody, gather around. We found her.’ And we all breathed this sigh of relief. And then he said, ‘We think she’s dead.’ … From there, it was horror, real, real horror.”

Rachel’s murder has shaped Erin’s life path. She is filming a documentary, looking at trauma and memory, trying to breathe life back into Rachel. She has been writing a book on the experience ever since she was 15. A part of her feels like she has been waiting on Rachel's murder to be solved to publish her book. She did not want her words to jeopardize the case, but now says, “I feel like there’s no justice, nothing has happened, so I’m ready to get it out there and maybe it will help, maybe it will bring somebody in, maybe it will jar somebody’s memory or maybe it will just push the sheriff’s department to keep on it.”

Twenty-five years, a jumble of memories, no one remembers that day the same way. Erin originally felt compelled to write the book because she felt the news was getting it wrong. The story, as she remembered it, was so different than what she saw in the news. Many reports paint the picture of a sunny St. Paddy’s Day, hundreds of people on the beach. Erin says that’s a creation. The weather was bad. The beach was deserted.

She says stories are inclined to portray Rachel as sweet and beautiful — she was — but she feels Rachel’s feisty side often gets lost. Rachel was a force, a powerhouse of spunk. She was no wilting flower. All the girls looked up to her, listened to her and did what she wanted to do.

Erin has seen news footage of cops running into the woods, as if they were running to look for Rachel. Friends maintain that the police and media may have been on the scene, but nobody would help them search. Some friends remember police officers sitting in their patrol cars. This may have been a matter of jurisdiction. Carlin Park falls under the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office. Friends say deputies did not arrive until after the search was over. Friends also remember newscasters not willing to help them search, but wanting to talk to them as soon as Rachel was found.


Rachel was described as a fiesty, athletic youngster growing up in Jupiter. 
COURTESY PHOTO Rachel was described as a fiesty, athletic youngster growing up in Jupiter. COURTESY PHOTO Erin remembers one report that implied Rachel walked into the woods. She takes offense at this assumption. She was there. She was one of the last to see Rachel. She did not see which way Rachel went. Rachel was smart.

Another reporter said Erin saw a man walk into the woods. Erin says that’s not true. By sensationalizing the story, she feels the reporter was irresponsible with her life.

Something was stolen by all of this, stolen from the lives of the teens.

“We’re dealing with life and death, we’re dealing with things like rape and sexual abuse … right at 13-years-old, when we don’t even really know what’s going on with our bodies,” Erin says. “Our best friend has been killed and we don’t know who the killer is and it could be one of our friends, so it’s like all of this is happening and yes, we’re scared to do anything, to go out, to be around a boy, to go out with an older guy, to get in someone’s car … something was taken from us, many things were taken.”

As detectives would throw out more and more names, she says girls grew more and more scared. It could be anybody: ‘Who was it? Where were you?’

“Rachel’s friends have always wanted justice for her,” Erin says, “like it’s some kind of offering that we could give her … it’s something that would help us feel like we didn’t stop.”

Detectives want phone calls, detectives want names, but Erin says detectives are not giving the public anything to think about. She feels people who were there that day might have more to offer if detectives were more forthcoming with their evidence.

“We don’t know what sort of evidence they really have,” she says. “You don’t want to jeopardize the case … you don’t want to say anything that could potentially screw things up, but I think after 25 years, we’re getting impatient.”

MIKE WAITES, STATE attorney chief investigator, was leaving the old Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre the night Rachel was found. Carlin Park sits immediately southeast of the theatre. He remembers seeing police lights by the park, driving home, turning on the news and seeing Rachel was the lead story. He was surprised his sergeant had not called. He no sooner had the thought, and his sergeant was on the phone.

Seven o’clock the next morning, he was up at Carlin Park. The crime scene expert was waiting for him. Deputies had stayed by the scene all night. Waites says everything was there except for Rachel.

“We started to go through everything piece by piece, what we could find, trying to figure out what was or was not related,” he says. “In a scene like that you take everything … You’re safer to take it and not need it than leave it and wish you had it.”

Waites and Robert Weakley were the first detectives assigned to Rachel’s case. “Who was lead? Who was assist? It didn’t matter. It was ours,” Waites says.

Waites transferred to the state attorney’s office in 1994. Weakley left the sheriff’s office in 2002. Waites stayed actively involved in Rachel’s case until 2003/2004. Now he occasionally talks with Detective Springer.

Reflecting on Rachel’s case, he answers questions as to why it has not been solved.

Q: Does he think the pedestrian search party may have trampled evidence and hindered the investigation?

A: “I don’t think so, not from what I know, no.”

Q: Does he think the rain that night washed away evidence?

A: “I didn’t see Rachel the night she was discovered, so I really can’t answer that question for you.”

Q: Does he think the dated ways of 1990 came into play?

A: “The evidence collection techniques, the way you conduct an investigation, everything of that nature, none of that has really changed. Where the advances have come in are the advances in the forensic sciences, the collection of biological evidence, being able to analyze it.”

Q: Back in 1990, were detectives solely looking for blood samples, an ABO match? What were they able to collect?

A: “Some questions I won’t answer because it’s still an open investigation.”

Q: Does he think the turnover of detectives has contributed to the case not being solved?

A: “No. Detectives … are in the Cold Case squad because of their expertise and experience.”

Q: So why has Rachel’s case not been solved?

A: “If I knew what the one particular thing was that kept the case from being solved, I’d be having this conversation because an arrest had been made. That one piece could be something very minute, trivial to the public, but it means a whole different world to us.”

Rachel’s picture hangs on a bulletin board in his office, a poster offering $100,000 reward to help solve her case. (The $100,000 reward no longer exists, but CrimeStoppers offers $1,000.)

“I look at Rachel every day,” he says. “I think about what Rachel would have been, what she would have grown up to be, what her life would be like and then I think about how much I owe her, how much I owe her family.”

Though Rachel’s case now rests in the hands of a semiretired detective who works three days a week in a department flooded with over 300 open homicides, Waites says, “I would think it’s being actively pursued. If they’ve eliminated 127 that they’ve told you about, what else has gone on that they haven’t told you about?”

Denying a request for an interview but wanting to reassure the public that even 25 years in, Rachel’s case remains an active investigation, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw asked his media relations director to forward a statement: “The sheriff’s office has spent countless hours and dollars on Rachel’s case and I assure you we will continue to do so until it is solved.”

The Cold Case Unit consists of a sergeant, two full-time detectives and Detective Springer. They are awaiting the assignment of another detective. Cases date back to the 1970s.

“Rachel Hurley,” Detective Springer says. “Do I work it every day? No. Can I work it every day? No, because there are other cases. But am I thinking about it? Yeah, I know it’s there.”

As soon as Karen Marcus hears Rachel Hurley’s name, she says the word, “tragedy.” Palm Beach County commissioner at the time, Marcus says everyone read about Rachel and followed the search for her killer.

The softball field at Carlin Park was dedicated to Rachel. Jupiter Middle School planted an oak tree in her honor. Marcus says the community put arms around each other and cleared back the land that had hidden what happened. The beach scrub has since grown back.

“Rachel has not been forgotten,” Waites says.

If an innocence was lost, Waites says it was lost the day Rachel died. “As a parent, you could take your child and let them have a great day on the beach with their friends and you wouldn’t have to worry … St. Paddy’s Day 1990 that ended for that community.”

If he were Dan, Andrea and Erika Hurley, he doesn’t know if he would ever want to see his face show up on the doorstep because he has never been able to bring them the news everyone wanted to hear. He’s sure every time he knocked on the door, they relived that day.

“I don’t care who puts the guy in jail, just let me go tell Dan and Andrea with you,” Waites says.

If he can’t give the family, the community, the killer, then what can he give them?

“I understand the community’s frustration … but there still is the likelihood that this case can be brought to closure with the identification of the offender,” Waites says. “Thee biggest ally we the investigators have is the public feeding us information … and as a homicide investigator, I never get tired of leads coming in.”

TAMI ROWELL FIRST CALLED detectives in 2003. She had seen Sheri Duff, Rachel’s most vocal friend, on the news, talking about Rachel and the unsolved case.

Rowell says Paul Simon, one of the 127 men on the list, raped her. She did not report it.

When she heard Sheri Duff on the news, talking about Rachel, she says, “It made me think of Paul instantly, it always has. I’ve always thought of Paul Simon.”

Rowell says Paul Simon raped her when she was 16, almost three years after Rachel’s murder.

“Paul only stopped raping me and smothering me because my friend walked up … His face was laid up against my ear and he was smothering me the whole time, nose and mouth. Had he not been interrupted, could he have gotten carried away and not realized how far he was going?” Rowell says. “I’ve always imagined a similar act with Rachel. Some articles say she was strangled and some say asphyxiated, but the early articles, I remember something about being smothered.”

Rowell called detectives because she thought maybe they had the evidence, they just needed one more story, one more voice, maybe they needed to see a pattern.

She says she tried calling several times, detectives never called her back. She sent an email outlining the details of her experience so detectives could see the nature of the act, they never wrote her back.

“You start to think, oh, well, maybe you’re overdoing it. Leave it alone. They know what they’re doing,” Rowell says. “You start to doubt your instincts. I left it alone.”

Googling around in 2013 to see if any new information had surfaced, Rowell found Sheri Duff in another interview. Sherif Duff only knew Rachel for three years but has spent more than 24 years looking for her killer. Rowell reached out to Rachel’s friend, who asked her to please reach out to Detective John Van Houten, since retired. She did. He asked her to come down to the sheriff’s office.

Rowell told him about Paul Simon. He asked her why she didn’t report it. She said she was young, she felt responsible for putting herself in the situation, she did not think anyone would believe her.

“It stigmatizes you, too,” Rowell says. “When I first came out about Paul Simon, I had plenty of people whispering behind me, saying, ‘Whatever. Why are you lying on him like that?’ I felt so redeemed when I saw he had been arrested (for another rape), I know that’s a horrible thing to say, but I felt redeemed. I had friends … come up to me and say, ‘I’m sorry, I really didn’t believe you.’”

As Rowell opened up about her rape, she says Detective Van Houten opened up about Rachel’s case.

“He said he’s always believed someone went too far on accident,” Rowell says. “He said he believes there was more than one person, that the crime scene did leave that much, but the rain had battered the crime scene.”

Does Detective Springer believe there was more than one person?

“I don’t know. I have to keep an open mind,” he says. “Is it possible there was more than one person? Yeah. Is it possible it’s only one person? Yes. That’s what makes it hard, you don’t have any eyewitnesses.”

Detective Springer does not believe in tunnel vision. He says if you target people, you miss the big picture. You miss the lead that may break the case because you think you know who did it.

“Anything’s possible. I wouldn’t rule out that whoever did it didn’t intend to do it, that it was an accident, you don’t know until you find the right person,” Detective Springer says, before dropping a couple questions that must plague him. “Do I think she knew him? I don’t know. Do I think she went back there willingly? I don’t think so.”

Rowell says Detective Van Houten told her about red hair and memorable teeth. When she went home with that information, she started thinking about guys Paul Simon used to hang out with, guys he had influence over, guys who would do what he told them to do.

“I feel like if the community did hear those little pieces, they could trigger something like, ‘Oh, that guy,’ or ‘Hey, wait a minute. I know who gave him a ride that day,’ or whatever it triggers,” Rowell says. “It adds one more piece to the puzzle, so you know where the other piece goes.”

Responding to Rowell’s recollection, Detective Springer says, “I don’t know what she’s referring to, to be honest with you. I mean, I don’t know about red hair. I never heard of red hair. That I don’t recall. I don’t know where she got that impression.”

And the teeth?

“I’ll look at anybody’s teeth, bad or good. Teeth change, that’s the problem with teeth.”

Detective Springer does not want to skew the public’s perception of Rachel’s case because of one person’s memory and interpretation. “I’m not comfortable with it. I’m not saying it couldn’t be possible, but I’m just not comfortable with it.”

Again, he doesn’t want tunnel vision to miss the view.

Rowell called Detective Springer in late October, after she learned he took over Rachel’s case. She left a voicemail.

When he called her back in November, she says, “He acted like he didn’t know who I was, it was really weird, like he didn’t know that I had a video interview … like it was brand new information. It was very odd.”

Rowell gave him four new names, names she did not give detectives before, boys she did not suspect at the time of Rachel’s murder, because the media had her believing it was Billy Fagan.

“All the names she gave me, I intend to find them, talk to them and if their DNA’s not in the system, I’ll collect it,” Detective Springer says.

Considering DNA, Rowell read a report on an unsolved murder website that haunts her. It’s an account of when Detectives Waites and Weakley took Rachel’s case to the Vidocq Society, a group of retired forensic experts, looking for fresh eyes.

A paragraph from the report reads: “Weakley bluntly says that mistakes were made. Some DNA material, possibly from the killer, was found under Rachel’s fingernails. However, the material had been improperly handled and could not be used as evidence. In addition, police believe that the killer might have ejaculated on Rachel’s chest. However, any material was inadvertently washed away during the autopsy.”

Detective Springer would not say if physical evidence was mishandled or washed away. “I wasn’t there. Ask Waites.”

Waites wrote in an email, “I can’t respond to what may have been collected from under her fingernails and if it was stored properly (this case or any other) as you are speaking of procedures that may have been done in a lab and I am not familiar with those.”

Rachel’s autopsy records are exempt from disclosure, pursuant to Florida Statute 119.071(2)(a), as her case remains an ongoing criminal investigation. The records custodian at the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Officeffi gave the names supposedly listed on her autopsy report — Jon Thogmartin, M.D., chief medical examiner, and William Pellan, forensic investigator — but when the men were contacted to see if they would talk about Rachel’s autopsy, they said they were not working with the Palm Beach Medical Examiner’s Office in 1990.

ERIKA HURLEY, RACHEL’S sister, says that day, March 17, 1990, a line was drawn in her life. That’s the way the Hurleys divide life, before or after losing Rachel. Her parents are private, they declined to talk.

Erika, a big sister turned only child, dreads the question, ‘Tell me about your family. Do you have any siblings?’ She has forever stumbled with the words, “I have a sister,” or “I had a sister.” How does she tell the story? She tends to say something like: “I had a sister. She died. She was killed. She was murdered in our town, growing up, at the beach. Still to this day, we don’t know who did it.” Jaw drop.

The night of Rachel’s murder, and the next few nights, Erika, then 17, slept with her parents.

“We didn’t want to believe that this, it was the craziest, I think back and it was the most unfathomable, craziest thing you could ever think about, to wake up the next day and be like, ‘That happened? What just happened? What just happened? Are you kidding me? What? No. No. This can’t happen. No. No. No. There’s no way,’” she says. “You want it so bad not to happen, you’re like, ‘No. No.’ I mean, it’s insane. I can’t even describe it, really. I can’t describe that feeling.”

Erika describes their sisterhood as old-family-sitcom good. She and Rachel would play Barbies, they watched “The Brady Bunch,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Little House on the Prairie,” Rachel would pretend to be Mary, Erika would pretend to be Laura.

Sometimes, she’ll let herself wonder, what would it have been like when the two sisters outgrew their teenage, sibling-rivalry years, when they went to college, when they had babies, eating Sunday dinners at their parents’ house. “I can’t help but wonder, and it’s kind of dangerous to go back there, because … it’s a fantasy,” Erika says. “But what would it be like if she was here with her husband and their children and now my kids have cousins and now it’s this big, fun family, when really, it’s me being the only child when I had a sister.”

Erika says her family does not talk about if Rachel’s case will ever be solved. She says if detectives came to them with a DNA match they would be grateful to have the person taken off the streets, but detectives have not contacted her family with any news in years.

Any time she hears of a lead she feels a knot in her stomach, she feels the want to know who did it and then the immediate repulsion that maybe she really doesn’t want to know.

After she lost her sister, she would have to consciously push thoughts out of her head when she would lay her head on her pillow, or else her mind would run away.

Erika says she has found a sense of peace in Rachel’s murder remaining ambiguous, not knowing the name and face of the person who did it.

“If I saw this person, now I would have this face and these, these, you know, the trial or whatever, saying what happened, and now how am I going to go to bed at night?

“I don’t know if this person did this once, I don’t know if this person did this many times before, I don’t know if this person has done this many times since, or if this person did this one time and they’re living with this burden every single night before they go to sleep, trying to push that thought out of their mind.”

Erika takes a breath, then asks the question everyone asks, the question that follows who did it, “How does this person live?” ¦

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