A Utah State Prison inmate has been identified as a possible suspect in the 1982 abduction and slaying of 3-year-old Rachael Runyan of Sunset.
No charges have been filed against the man, who is serving time for an unrelated aggravated assault conviction. Police have questioned the inmate after being told by a female informant in April that her brother was responsible for the crime.Since then, the woman has recanted most of her statements and she was charged with theft for taking informant fees. Leads in the case, which has haunted investigators for seven years, are still being actively followed, and NBC is considering the case for a segment on its "Unsolved Mysteries" program, according to published reports.
Rachael was kidnapped from a playground behind her home on Aug. 26, 1982. Three weeks later - after her parents appeared on national television and a $40,000 reward was offered for her return - the child's body was found in a remote wooded area in northern Morgan County.
Hundreds remembered the tiny tot as they gathered in a Sunset LDS Stake Center in late September 1982, to pay their last respects to the blond, blue-eyed girl.
Throngs filed past the body hidden in a small white casket, adorned with her picture, a pink baby rosebud, and her Raggedy Ann doll.
One of the well-wishers may have been her killer, according to a recent tip police received. "If you can find the registry, I think you'll find he signed the book."
That tip, along with leads provided by the woman who contacted Salt Lake Police in April, was forwarded to Sunset police and Lt. Phil Olmstead, who has never given up on solving the case since he answered Elaine Runyan's desperate call for help on Aug. 26, 1982.
Runyan called Olmstead 20 minutes after Rachael had been lured from the schoolyard near her home by a black man who offered her and her brothers _ one 5, the other 18-months old _ ice cream and bubblegum. Elaine dashed off, her two boys in tow, to a nearby supermarket that her son had heard the man say he was taking Rachael to. She raced up and down the aisles asking everyone, "Have you seen a little blond girl? A 3-year-old with a black man?"
Her frantic search fruitless, she raced back home and called her husband Jeff, who told her to call the police immediately.
For the next 24 days, the Runyans led a nationwide search for the child that Elaine Runyan described as almost perfect. "No, she was perfect. She acted how little angels would if they were mortal."
The search ended when a family, out for a Sunday drive in the Trapper's Loop area, stopped next to a turnout in the remote mountains 45 minutes from the Runyan home. The children climbed out of the car and ran down to a stream below to throw rocks in the water. As they moved closer to the stream, near a pile of brush, they thought they found a doll.
The doll was the Runyan's doll - Rachael - her golden curls now green with algae.
First efforts to identify the child were futile, and the Runyans were asked to identify the body, now swollen and stiff. When they first gazed at the bloated and distorted shape, they thought surely it must be someone else's child. It wasn't.
The following weeks and months brought dozens of leads into the Sunset Police Department, and every one was thoroughly investigated. None panned out. Despite the disappointments, Olmstead continually promised the Runyans that someday the killer would be found.
The most recent lead, from the female informant, resulted in a police photo line-up. Elaine Runyan took her son to see if he could identify the man who had taken Rachael. But when he looked at the pictures, he turned to his mom and said, "I can't tell, Mom. You look."
Though she had never seen the killer, police hoped through mother's intuition that Runyan could pick the one who they thought was the suspect.
She did. "I gave them all heart attacks," she remembers.
On July 19, the case was referred to Ogden City police because the woman said the child had been taken to Ogden and that the crime had been committed there.
Runyan was contacted again during the first week of September for another police lineup. Though police are still investigating, Runyan knows charges against the latest possible suspect may never be filed.
After seven years, Runyan is still asking herself why. "Why did he have to kill her? Why couldn't he just have let her out at the corner or at the door of a neighbor?
"Isn't it interesting how our system is so concerned about criminals' rights? Whatever happened to the victim's rights? I ask myself that question again and again."