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  St. John's Abbey Shares Information with Murder Investigators

Associated Press State & Local Wire
May 8, 2002

Investigators looking into the unsolved 1974 killings of two girls have asked St. John's Abbey for information on several monks and priests who are restricted by the abbey for alleged past sexual abuse.

Stearns County Sheriff James Kostreba wouldn't say exactly what he was looking for, but said it was "way too premature" to name suspects or draw any direct links between the killings and St. John's.

"It has always been an open investigation," Kostreba said Wednesday about the slayings that occurred nearly three decades ago near St. Cloud.

Abbot John Klassen has agreed to provide the information for 13 Benedictine monks and priests who were there between 1970 and 1990. Klassen says they have been restricted to responsibilities that limit their contact with the public. Two of them have denied any wrongdoing; the others have admitted some form of abuse.

The list includes the Rev. Richard Eckroth, who took dozens of children to a St. John's-owned cabin near Bemidji during the 1970s. Several of the now-grown children say he abused them. Eckroth denies it.

Two of the children, Mary and Susanne Reker, were found stabbed to death in 1974 in a quarry near St. Cloud, about 65 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Mary was 15; Susanne 12.

Kostreba said there is no new physical evidence in the case.

Eckroth passed a polygraph test about the killings in the 1990s, the sheriff said. A message left at the abbey for the 75-year-old Eckroth was not returned Wednesday.

Klassen, abbot for 17 months, is credited with responding to allegations of abuse more openly than his predecessors. He publicly acknowledged sexual abuse by former Abbot John Eidenschink. That prompted a handful of additional allegations against Eckroth by people who had been taken to the cabin as children.

The Reker girls' parents, Rita and Fred Reker, met with Kostreba and Klassen last week to discuss the growing number of reports that the priest abused many children at the cabin. Fred Reker worked at the St. John's Liturgical Press warehouse on campus.

"We have learned a lot of things in the past couple of weeks about what happened at the cabin," Rita Reker, the girls' mother, told AP Wednesday. She said she hoped that by coming forward, her family would give credibility to other victims.

Rita Reker said Eckroth took several of her six children, including Mary and Susanne, to the cabin twice in the two years before the girls were killed. Reker has said she doesn't believe Eckroth was involved in her daughter's deaths.

 
 

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