Details Still Eerie 28 Years after Girls Were Slain
The Sisters May Have Been Sighted at a Tavern and near the Quarry the Day They Vanished
By Curt Brown
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
May 9, 2002
Mary Reker's last diary entry is just as chilling today as when it was discovered 28 years ago, shortly after the 15-year-old St. Cloud girl and her younger sister, Susanne, were stabbed to death.
"Should I die," she wrote just before Labor Day 1974, "I ask that my stuffed animals go to my sister. If I am murdered, find my killer and see that justice is done. I have a few reasons to fear for my life and what I ask is important."
With Mary's last wish for justice still unfulfilled, the sisters' unsolved murders returned to the headlines this week when Stearns County authorities said they are investigating a priest who is a suspect in several decades-old sex-abuse cases involving children.
The priest, the Rev. Richard Eckroth, 75, a monk at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, took the girls and other church youth to a lakeshore cabin in Beltrami County two years before the sisters died.
Stearns County Sheriff James Kostreba said Eckroth is among several suspects "we're taking another look at" in connection with the 1974 double murder.
Eckroth has denied any wrongdoing. He could not be reached Wednesday for comment. In the 1990s, at the insistence of the girls' parents, he took and passed a polygraph test, the sheriff said.
Kostreba said Wednesday that Mary's diary entry showed that she had reason to be afraid for her life. "But what was that reason?" the sheriff asked. "It's been a difficult road or we wouldn't be where we are, we'd be done with it."
The slayings have been investigated for years, but there has never been enough evidence to bring criminal charges. Yet vivid clues remain, ranging from Mary's diary to her watch, which was frozen at 3:25 when her body was pulled from an abandoned quarry 26 days after the girls disappeared.
Here's what is known about the Reker sisters and their last day:
On Sept. 2, 1974, the girls talked about heading to a nearby Zayre discount store to buy school supplies.
Mary, a sophomore at St. Francis High School in Little Falls, told her mother she also wanted to look for a winter coat.
Susanne, 12, was going to tag along.
As their father, Fred, painted their modest home, and their mother, Rita, hung up the wash, the girls set off about 11:10 a.m. for the milelong walk to the store.
Mary was wearing wire-rimmed glasses, blue jeans, brown oxford shoes, a short-sleeved white sweater and an Army fatigue shirt with REKER stitched above the left pocket.
Susanne was wearing navy-blue corduroys, gold wire-rimmed glasses, a white cotton jacket and low-cut boots. The manager at the Shopko store on their route saw the girls before noon.
At 1 p.m., Jacob Yunger, a neighbor, chatted briefly with them at Zayre. In a 1977 interview with the Minneapolis Star, Yunger said he heard Susanne tell Mary: "I don't want to go with that man. I don't like him. Let's not."
Yunger said the girls walked toward the store's grocery section, which was closed for Labor Day. The women's coat section was in the same area. A worker in the grocery section was convicted two years later for stabbing a St. Cloud girl. Another grocery worker was a friend of a boy Mary had dated.
Another onetime suspect who lived six blocks from the Rekers was sentenced to life in prison in 1979 for the stabbing death of an 8-year-old Colorado girl. Kostreba said Wednesday that none of them is considered an "active" suspect in the Reker case.
Yunger told police he saw a nervous-looking large man waiting outside the store about the time the girls left. Another witness told police that he saw the sisters at a tavern on the other side of St. Cloud with two men and about a dozen teenagers. He remembers the REKER on Mary's shirt.
A few people living by the abandoned Meridian Aggregates Quarry southwest of St. Cloud said they saw girls matching the Rekers' description heading to the popular swimming area that afternoon.
When the girls didn't come home by 6 p.m., their parents went to the police. Nearly four weeks later, on Sept. 28, 1974, two teenage boys walking in the area found the bodies.
Susanne had been stabbed 13 times. Her fully clothed body was found under a bush about 13 yards from the quarry. Her glasses and jacket were a few feet away.
Mary had been stabbed six times. Her body was found on a ledge under 25 to 40 feet of water. Her pants and underwear were found strewn on the cliff as if someone had tried to throw them into the water. Her bra had been cut into four pieces; the front of her sweater was not found.
Rita Reker said this week there is no evidence connecting Eckroth with her daughters' deaths. She doubts he did it.
Twenty years after the killings, Fred Reker said: "We've learned to go on, but it still gnaws at you. Who did this and why? And does the person who knows about it continue to cover up for the killer?"
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