ATKINSON, Illinois- The family of a 16-year-old murder victim says the man named as her likely killer was not a stranger, and in fact, their father had helped him out by getting him a job.
Authorities on Wednesday revealed they have solved the 43-year old case, announcing that Robert Clark likely killed Mary Ann Becker in 1974. The pretty, honors student was home alone while her parents worked second shift, found strangled in the living room of the family home in Atkinson on September 9, 1974.
"He (Clark) knew my parents, my dad befriended him, and actually helped get him a job at the coal mine," said Theresa Yarger, one of Mary Ann's three sisters.
"The day of my wedding, we had a little party and Bob was the bartender," she said.
Clark, then 24 years old, lived in an upstairs apartment less than a half block away from the Becker home. He worked in the same coal mine as Mr. Becker.
"We always felt that whoever did this had to be someone who knew our family. Someone who knew my father would be gone, my mother would be gone and she'd be alone," said Kathy Burns, Mary Ann's eldest sister.
Clark died in 2015 in Indiana.
"I'm relieved actually that he's dead because I don't have to worry about him hurting anyone else or hurting my family. He was an evil man", said Sue DeSmith, another of Mary Ann's sisters.
"There were people in town who though they saw him in town that night and told the police and it was just like, he somehow got out of everything," she said.
Clark left Atkinson after the slaying and moved to Galva. In 1980, he was convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl in Henry County, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality and he only served two days in the county jail.
In 2013, Illinois State Police launched a renewed effort into trying to solve the cold case, assigning a two-man team to review old evidence and conduct new interviews.
After more than 100 interviews, including some with people who police had not spoken with before, all evidence, though circumstantial, pointed to Clark. A man, police say, with an incredibly violent past.
"The evidence just kept mounting and mounting and mounting as we continued throughout five different states finding multiple victims of crimes with similar methods of operation who were survivors of a sexually motivated crime,"said Investigator Brian Masters, with the Illinois State Police.
"We know of at least three victims who moved out of state he stalked for a decade to get away from this monster," Masters said.
He said Masters was approached by previous investigators in 1980 about the crime, but he asked for an attorney and was never formally interviewed.
During the course of the new investigation, police learned that Clark had long ago confided in his brother that he was not working at the time of the crime, which contradicts his long-standing alibi.
Mary Ann, who would be turning 60 years old next month, is buried next to her parents in a cemetery in Atkinson.
"When my parents were alive, they visited her grave every Sunday. Every Sunday. None of us ever forgot. But, Mom would talk about what happened to Mary Ann, and she couldn't say she was murdered," said Yarger.
"I'm just relieved that it's over. I'm glad that the State Police were able to put in the effort they did. We are so grateful," said Burns.
The women hired a private investigator a few years back, and he concluded the prime suspect was Bob Clark, but it never went anywhere.
"It's kind of like putting a jig-saw puzzle together and you're missing just a few pieces, and none of the other pieces really fit. And, I think that over the last four years, the State Police were able to find the missing pieces and it's like all of a sudden, you see the picture," said Yarger.
Finally, the answer they've waited for all these years.
" There are people in Atkinson who have under a cloud of suspicion for 43 years. We feel that this development vindicates them," Yarger said.
"We are relieved. We are thankful. We are thankful that Mary Ann wasn't forgotten."