Today I am going to talk about the abduction and murder of Rachel Anthony, a mother, grandmother and sister. On a bitterly cold night in February, 2001, Rachel was working the closing shift at a liquor store when she was abducted by one or more assailants, suffocated, and deposited in off of a rural road approximately 15 miles away. While this is not the most extensively covered case in crime writing, there are enough news articles to get a sense of who Rachel was a person, as well as to develop a few theories as to what exactly happened to her that night.
On February 27th, 2001, Rachel Anthony was fifty years old and sharing a home with her daughter, Jessica, her ex-son-in-law, and her young grandsons. For the past year and a half, she had been employed at Ultimate Liquors in the small town of Pine River, Minnesota. Ultimate Liquors was owned by a woman named Kim Terhaar and her ex-husband, who, along with others, described Rachel as a friendly and reliable employee. What is known about Rachel’s background paints the picture of a woman with a wide variety of talents and interests, in the best sense of the word, a Jill of all trades. She was born on May 30th, 1950, in Garfield Heights, Ohio, and would end up being the second of four children. Her father passed away early in her childhood, at which point her mother moved Rachel and her older sister, Connie, out to California to pursue a career with Pacific Bell. She later brought her family back to Ohio and remarried, which resulted in the birth of Rachel’s younger sister and brother. At age 19, she married a man named Richard Mozden and had a son named Robert. The pair divorced after two years, and Robert ended up being raised by his father. Sadly, Robert was only just getting to really know his mother at the time of her murder.
Rachel later had two daughters, Jessica and Tricia, and she also gained a stepson and stepdaughter when she married Frank Anthony. The family lived on a hobby farm, where everyone remembers Rachel as being in her element. She was great with the animals, and got to use her green thumb on the houseplants she kept. Rachel’s family members have described her as being smart, and also somewhat restless, never one to settle on just one activity or one vocation for long. She liked to read, play Scrabble, and had a thing for atmospheric displays, such as lightning storms and the northern lights. She wrote poetry, and did some freelance writing, even publishing some of her articles in newspapers. At the time of her death, she was working on a children’s book. Rachel was described as being tall, well-built, and strong, and she had been a competitive swimmer in her youth.
By 1996, Rachel was divorced from Frank and had moved to the Pine River area to be closer to her daughter Jessica, and Jessica’s young family. Her other daughter, Tricia, was married and living in Pennsylvania. Rachel spent the morning and early afternoon of February 27th, 2001 at home with her family before going to work at Ultimate Liquors. As far as anyone can determine, most of Rachel’s shift was uneventful. After she disappeared, law enforcement tracked down everyone who had made purchases during the afternoon (I should add here that I do not know how they actually managed this, as surely some people had paid in cash? The security cameras were–sigh–determined not to be working). Only the last, uncompleted transaction remained unaccounted for, and it occurred at 9:56 pm, shortly before the store’s 10:00 pm closing time.
Jessica, Rachel’s daughter, was with some friends at a bowling alley within sight of Ultimate Liquors that night. She left to go home around 9:15 pm, and she remembers seeing her mother’s car parked near the store. On past occasions, she had stopped by to visit her mother, and sometimes helped her with her closing duties. She knew Rachel’s routine. To quote Jessica directly: “She had a routine of going out, unlocking the front door, starting her car to warm it up, coming back in, locking the front door. Then taking the garbage out the back and then coming back through the back, lock that door and then come back through the front and leave.”
Some evidence found at the store supports the idea that Rachel had been interrupted in the process of closing the store. The front door was still locked, while the back door was unlocked, and the lights were left on. While there was a layer of fresh snow on the ground, the alley behind the store was coated in glare ice, giving little sign of anything that might have transpired there. Rachel’s coat, purse, and cigarettes were still inside the store, but her car was idling outside, likely because she wanted to start warming it up before she drove home. The car was spotted running in an otherwise deserted parking lot by a police officer later that night, although the time of the discovery has been variously reported as “between 12:00 and 1:00 am” and “1:30 am.” This was the first sign of something amiss, and led police to investigate the store and realize that Rachel was missing. The owners of Ultimate Liquors confirmed that there were no signs of robbery within the store itself.
Rachel’s body was not discovered until April 14th, by a group of teenagers traveling down a rural road on horseback. Their elevated viewpoints allowed them to spot the remains about 15 feet down an embankment where they had been hidden from drivers. The embankment led down to a ravine and a wetland, and was just off of Nelson Road near a gravel pit called “Swenson’s Pit.” I have included links to maps of the area in the sources section, because as you all probably know by now, I really like maps.
The cause of death was ruled as “homicidal asphyxiation, but there are not a lot of other details known about the condition of Rachel’s body, possibly because there had been too much decomposition by that point. Even the cause of death can be read somewhat broadly–“asphyxiation” could include manual strangulation, ligature strangulation, or various means of suffocation. I have not come across anything stating whether Rachel was still wearing her original clothing, or if there were signs of sexual assault. Nor have I found any discussion of any other injuries she may have sustained around the time of her death, such as defensive wounds or anything that might indicate multiple attackers. It’s not even clear if investigators have any opinion on whether the murder occurred where the body was found or if the site was only used for disposal.
Working with what we do know, we’ll start with the location. While Ultimate Liquors sits just off Highway 371, Nelson Road is a little-traveled road that is primarily used as a shortcut by locals. It runs north/south, and connects Buschmann Road with Wild Acre Road. This has been interpreted as pointing to someone familiar with Pine River and Breezy Point area, rather than someone simply passing through Pine River on 371. The location was approximately 15 miles from Pine River–only a 15 to 30 minute drive, to give the broadest reasonable estimate.
It should be noted that it would not have been an optimal night to do anything outside, up to and including homicide. The temperature dropped to -17 degrees F (-27 degrees C). For this reason alone I find it unlikely that the actual murder took place in the same spot where Rachel’s body was found. In may have taken place in the store, in the vehicle used to transport her, or in some yet unknown secondary location–possibly a house owned or accessible by her abductor (s).
One of the big questions in this case is the attacker’s relationship to Rachel and their motive in killing her. It’s been speculated that Rachel was abducted as she was taking the trash out to the back alley. If so, this strongly implies that someone who knew her routine was waiting for her. However, we also have to take into consideration that there was an unfinished transaction on the cash register. Although the store owners have stated that there was no sign of robbery, I think it is a bit presumptuous to dismiss it entirely as the initial motive for the attack. After all, late at night, minutes before closing, is a prime time for those inclined to try to rob a liquor store, and the unfinished transaction could be read as someone approaching the cash register under the guise of a legitimate purchase, and then producing a weapon. We know the front door was locked, but there are ways that this could have happened that don’t rule out robbery. Maybe the attacker forced Rachel to lock the door in order to avoid interruption, or else someone lingered in the store until after Rachel herself had locked it for the night. At some point during the attempted robbery, something went off-script enough to cause the attacker to abandon the robbery plan completely–maybe a struggle broke out, or maybe the would-be robber realized that Rachel could identify them. At this point, Rachel was either murdered and removed from the store, or else forced from the store and murdered elsewhere.
There are certainly other possibilities that position Rachel herself, not her cash register, as the target of the attack. One variant on this theory is that someone had been stalking Rachel at her place of work and learned her routine, whether or not she had any more than a passing acquaintance with them. Since several customers would have come in and out of the store on a given shift, this would have been easy enough for someone to do without being noted as unusual. The other variant is that the attacker knew Rachel and bore some unknown grudge against her. However, no likely suspects or motives have ever been tied to this theory.
Rachel had an unpublished children’s book that she was writing, and more grandchildren have been born since her death. She was very much someone who was interrupted in the midst of a very active and interesting life, and I’m certainly not alone in wanting more concrete answers about what really happened to her back in February of 2001.
Anyone with information relevant to this case should contact Crime Stoppers of Minnesota.
The promised maps: