Rachel Anthony's family hopes new info released on mother's murder brings closure
Those involved with the case have long suspected the person who prompted Anthony, an employee of the liquor store, to ring up the items is likely the same person responsible for her death.
PINE RIVER — Rachel Anthony’s killer may have smoked Kool cigarettes and drank Mickey’s malt liquor.
Investigators are hoping these details, released to the public for the first time Friday, Feb. 25, might spark people’s memories and lead to solving the cold case of the abduction and murder of 50-year-old Anthony 21 years ago.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Cass County Sheriff’s Office said the cigarettes and malt liquor made up the last transaction of the night on Feb. 27, 2001, at Ultimate Liquors on Barclay Avenue in Pine River.
Those involved with the case have long suspected the person who prompted Anthony, an employee of the liquor store, to ring up the items is likely the same person responsible for her death. Both brands are somewhat out of the ordinary and investigators believe the killer likely either had family ties to the area or lived here at the time.
“If someone has information, even if it's the smallest detail, please report it as this little detail could make a difference,” Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch stated in a news release. “The Cass County Sheriff’s Office and BCA are committed to following up on all leads and hope that one will bring us to the successful outcome of this tragic case.”
“We hope that this new detail may jog someone’s memory and we encourage them to come forward,” stated BCA Superintendent Drew Evans. “Rachel’s family deserves answers, and the person who killed her deserves justice.”
Dave Bjerga, a retired BCA agent and native to the area, said Friday’s release showed the public investigators haven’t given up on solving one of the cases about which he’s never forgotten.
“I just think it’s fantastic that this has been looked at again,” Bjerga said. “There’s new technology, there’s a new set of eyes looking at it. And maybe somebody will pick up on something we didn’t see or something we missed. … I hope that they are successful.”
Anthony’s daughter Tricia Lehr said Friday she doesn’t remember many specifics during the whirlwind aftermath of her mother’s disappearance. She does, however, remember law enforcement zeroing in on the final customer as a potential suspect.
“The time the last transaction happened and the window where she went missing — she was closing up and everything, so it just makes sense, right?” Lehr said. “The one thing that makes sense.”
Lehr said even more than two decades later, hope is something onto which she holds.
“I am hopeful. I mean, I want to say I’m a little bit cautious with my hope. I don’t want to be overly hopeful and be disappointed when — if nothing comes of it,” she said. “I think I’ve always kept a little hope that someone would come forward with some new information. Or just anything.”
Lehr said she keeps the memory of her mother alive with her 20-year-old daughter and 15-year-old twins.
“Whenever I think of something that happened with Mom or … I do something that reminds me of Mom — and then like, ‘Gee, now I’m a mom’ — I want them to know her through my stories. Or any stories from (my siblings) Jessy or Bobby. Just anyone that knew her,” Lehr said.
Anthony’s son Robert Mozden said Friday he hopes the newly public information generates leads for investigators to finally identify his mother’s murderer.
“I know that there’s some DNA evidence that they’ve collected, so you know, maybe the combination of the two can help somebody put two and two together to where our family can have some closure,” Mozden said.
Mozden said it’s always baffled him that no credible leads have come from residents of a city as small as Pine River.
“In a town of that size, everybody knows everybody’s business. It’s a given,” said Mozden, who himself lives in an Ohio city about the size of Brainerd. “And for nobody to know anything just really is mind-boggling. I certainly do not believe that nobody knows anything. I think somebody knows something, and either they’re afraid to come forward or are potentially the culprit themselves.”
After all this time, Mozden said he knows it’s a possibility the person or people who killed Anthony may be dead — but solving the mystery would bring the family some peace.
“It would at least bring some closure. We wouldn’t necessarily have the accountability piece, but at least we’d be able to close the loop on who did it and they’re no longer in the picture in the world … so we don’t have to ever worry about that person again.”
It’s been two decades since the bitterly cold night when Anthony disappeared, never to be seen alive again.
Sunday, Feb. 27, marks the 21st anniversary of the woman vanishing, only for her lifeless, strangled body to be found six weeks later at the bottom of a roadside embankment 10 miles away near Breezy Point.
Anthony, a tall woman with striking blue eyes who seemed well-liked and was described as a hard worker with a magnetic personality by her former employer, often closed down the store. For a year and a half, Anthony worked the night shift alone after spending the day with her young grandsons. She shared a rural Pequot Lakes home with her daughter Jessica Anthony and her former son-in-law. That Tuesday night, she’d already started her Ford Escort in preparation for her drive home while winding things down for closing time.
Later, Jessica Anthony would tell police her mother usually followed a routine: exiting through the front door to start her car, returning through that same door and locking it behind her, taking the garbage out to the dumpster in the back, locking the back door behind her and leaving for the last time out the front.
This routine, it appeared to police, was interrupted that night. Sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. Feb. 28, 2001, a Pine River police officer began to wonder about the parked car puffing exhaust outside the still-lit liquor store as he drove along Barclay Avenue, the main street through the heart of the small Cass County city. He stopped to investigate, finding the front door locked. The back door in the alley, however, swung open when the officer pulled the handle. Nothing looked amiss and no one was inside, but Anthony’s coat, purse and cigarettes remained.
Investigators looked at who was traveling along Highway 371 that night, looked at receipts from the liquor store and the type of alcohol purchased. All those who made purchases from the liquor store during her shift were cooperative and eliminated as suspects.
The last purchase rung up by Anthony that night occurred at 9:56 p.m., but the transaction was never completed.
While investigators and agents looked for clues, extensive searches were ongoing in Pine River and the surrounding area by air and land to find Anthony. Neighborhoods were canvassed, but there were still no signs of Anthony.
Tips poured in to police in the beginning, though none yielded information on Anthony’s whereabouts. There was no sign of her anywhere until April 14, 2001, when four teenagers on horseback made a gruesome discovery on a road between Breezy Point and Pequot Lakes.
Spanning 1 mile, Nelson Road runs north-south and connects Buschmann and Wild Acre roads. Wooded and hilly, the street is sparsely dotted with homes along with a large gravel pit, known locally as the Swenson pit. Across the street, southeast of the pit’s entrance, Anthony’s body lay about 15 feet down an embankment giving way to a wetland.
After the discovery of Anthony’s body, an autopsy of which revealed she died of asphyxia due to homicidal violence, investigators tried to determine who was responsible. Theories vary on who killed Anthony and why, and with no major suspects ever identified, the debate continues.
Help solve Anthony’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 Anthony’s murder.
If anyone knows anything about the case — even if it seems to be a small, inconsequential detail — 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.
CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or email@example.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .