The case of Rachael Runyan is disturbing, and I’ve learned that I should warn readers early on of troubling subject matter especially involving crimes against children. This is that warning.
The very first article I wrote for this blog in February,2017 was about April Marie Tinsley, a little eight-year old girl who was abducted, raped, and murdered in Indiana in 1988. I’ve avoided writing about any cases like this since then as it’s incredibly hard to do. Writing about children that are terrorized and murdered takes something out of you and makes realize just how shitty this world can be; or at least some of the people in it. At the same time, these cases need to be solved and a spotlight shined on the monsters responsible for these horrifying crimes.
Rachael Runyan is another little girl that came face to face with evil and didn’t survive. It’s cases like Rachael’s that make many parents afraid to let their children out of their sight, even if just to play in their yard. On August 26th, 1982 three-year-old Rachael Runyan played outside of her house only about 15 feet away while Rachael’s mother Elaine prepared lunch. Rachael, along with her two older brothers were lucky enough to live right next to a school and playground in the town of Sunset, Utah. The Runyan children took advantage of the location, and enjoyed themselves before dinner. It wasn’t long before a man approached the group of kids and began offering them ice cream and bubble gum. The man was able to gain Rachael’s trust and without warning, grabbed the innocent three-year-old and threw her into his car before speeding away. Rachael’s young brothers watched helplessly. The boys immediately ran in and told their mother what happened, and horrified, she called police. When police arrived, they quickly started the search for little Rachael.
Rachael’s brothers were able to give a description of the man that had taken Rachael, and his car. They would describe to police that the man was black and around 6 feet tall. He was thin and in his mid to late 20’s or early 30’s. He had a moustache His car was a blue mid-size car with distinct wood grain panels on the sides. Despite the descriptions of the man and his car, no leads were quickly generated, and the immediate search revealed no signs of Rachael.
24 days later, on September 19th, 1982 a family that was on a picnic found the lifeless body of Rachael Runyan near a creek bed in a secluded area. The scene was an unimaginable one. The beautiful little blonde Rachael, was nude and hog tied. Brush was haphazardly used to try and hide the body. It seems unclear as to whether Rachael was sexually assaulted, or if the police have released specific details about the crime itself. Police worked leads in the case and developed persons of interest, but no arrests were made, and the case went cold leaving Rachael’s family devastated.
In 1989, the television show Unsolved Mysteries did an episode about Rachael’s case, once again bringing the attention to the case that it deserved. In the episode, some disturbing things were revealed to the audience, including a police theory that Rachael may have been kidnapped and murdered for purposes of a snuff film. Another possible clue that was revealed in the episode was a message found in the bathroom of a business in the Sunset, Utah area. The message scrawled on a stall read;
“Beware I’m still at large I killed the little Runyan girl. Remember beware!!”
The sinister note was also accompanied by the drawing of an inverted cross and the numbers 666 leading some investigators to think that the murder of Rachael Runyan may have been related to satanic ritual, or cult activity. But there was nothing solid to connect this writing to Rachael’s case, and it may have been nothing more than a cruel joke.
It wasn’t until 2011 when police got what they thought might be a big break in the case. A top suspect in the Runyan case, was arrested in Pennsylvania following an amber alert. The suspect had taken his five-month-old son without permission after assaulting his girlfriend. Police were able to locate the man and his son, and his son was found to be unharmed. A quick check of this suspect revealed that he looked almost identical to the description of Rachael’s abductor. He had lived in the Sunset, Utah area around the time of her murder, and a relative of his owned a car that closely matched the one that the abductor was seen driving away in. Police have stated that there is not enough evidence to charge this man with Rachael’s murder. Many of us in the true crime community know this man’s name, and feel he quite likely is the murderer of little Rachael Runyan. I hope that one day there is enough to make an arrest in Rachael’s murder, whether it’s this suspect or another. It’s been 35 years since Rachael Runyan’s murder- far too long for her family to wait for justice.
Although the Rachael Runyan abduction and murder was a horrible crime, there have been some positive things that have resulted from it. Rachael’s mother Elaine, became a staunch advocate for missing children. She was instrumental in the creation of the Missing Children of Utah organization. As a reminder to always think of child safety, and as an honor to Rachael’s memory, Utah Representative Steve Handy sponsored legislation this year that would make August 26th, Rachael Runyan Missing and Exploited Children Day in Utah.
Although Rachael’s been gone for 35 years, her memory lives on and her case is a reminder to us all to keep your children close and be wary of the monsters that live among us.