The Justice Files: Remembering Rachael

Justice Files

SUNSET, Utah (ABC4) – 39-years ago today, Elaine Runyan was a frantic and terrified mother.

The day before her three-year-old daughter Rachael, was kidnapped from a school playground near their Sunset home.

Her daughter was found a month later in a shallow grave. Her killer has never been found. But with the help of authorities and an investigator, there is a person of interest that authorities are looking at.

“She would be 42-years old,” Runyan said on her Facebook.

In August of 1982, a stranger drove into the park next to Doxey Elementary in Sunset. Three young children were playing on the school playground.

One was three-year-old Rachael Runyan who was playing alongside her brothers.

Their mother was a few yards away. She could see the kids from her kitchen window as she was preparing lunch.

“The next thing I know, I tell them it’s time for lunch,” Runyan said. “I was cooking sloppy joes and the next thing I know they were over (by) the car.”

She said the children were walking in line towards the car and the man suddenly took Rachael and fled. Her 5-year son was panicked.

“He saw something that was horrible,” she said. “His sister was grabbed by this man, put over his shoulder, and shoved in the car and of course, he’s screaming.”

About a month later, the body was found in Morgan County.

Her son gave Sunset police a description of a man believed to be African American and for years it was the image of Rachael’s kidnapper.

But later something changed.

“Over the years he said, ‘mom, I don’t think he was black’ as he got educated about people,” Runyan said.

With the help of police, a new composite was created but was seldom seen by the public. The new composite was of a dark-skinned man, possibly Hispanic with a gap in his mustache.

The family’s investigator has now come up with a person of interest who was a known sexual predator in the 1980s and lived in the Sunset area.

Two years ago, the case was turned over to the state’s Attorneys General office. Investigators are now developing a profile of the abductor.

“We hope they have a profile of a subject so that we can compare to the person of interest and we can have can have the state lab compare the two,” said Jason Jensen, the investigator.

Jensen recently purchased a 1978 Ford Pinto that he claimed looked similar to the one the abductor used. He hopes to showcase it in hopes it will help solve the crime.

“Many times people don’t remember this car because it’s hard to find pictures of this car,” he said. “So I searched high and low to find one and purchase it.

Meanwhile, Rachael’s family waits. Each year on August 26, they gather at her gravesite or at a park named in her honor.

The community of Sunset placed a memorial at the park named after Rachael. it’s the same park where she was abducted.

She said Rachael’s story on the memorial serves as a reminder to families and children.

“It’s a way to educate,” Elaine Runyan said. “It’s a way to keep children informed and families can come have picnics and talk about it. It’s a sacred place actually.”

Runyan said a $50,000 reward is still available to anyone with information that leads to an arrest and or conviction.

Rachael’s story caught the attention of federal authorities. In 1983, her abduction was a factor that led to the passage of the 1983 Missing Children’s Act.

About the same time, a federal law was passed to allow parents access to an FBI clearinghouse of missing children.

Ten years later, the Utah legislature passed the “Rachael Alert” which notified the public when a child was kidnapped. A year later, Utah adopted the newly former “Amber Alert” system.

August 26 is also recognized in Utah as the Rachael Runyan Missing and Exploited Children’s day. The Utah legislature passed the law in 2017 to raise public awareness of missing and exploited children.

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