Missing and Murdered in the Midwest Episode 8: Peggy Schroeder

MISSING AND MURDERED IN THE MIDWEST: A podcast looking into crimes that made the headlines, starting in the Quad  City area, and expanding throughout the Midwest. Podcast host and News 8 Executive Producer Toria Wilson, has dedicated her time into researching and looking back at stories News 8 has reported on, the murder cases that shocked us and the missing persons cases that left us with unanswered questions.

EPISODE 11: On January 8, 2020, the youngest daughter of Peggy Schroeder, Anna, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges for her mother’s death nearly three years earlier.

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But let’s back up to the beginning of this case: It was the summer of 2017 in the small town of Morrison, Illinois. 

A call came over the police scanner around noon on Saturday, July 8, for a house fire off West Park Street. From the outside, it didn’t look like much happened and fire crews went inside the home to investigate what was burning.

Peggy Schroeder, 53, was found dead at the scene.

Neighbors, as you could expect,  were shocked at what happened.

“She was a good person, and it’s a tragedy what happened,” Stephanie Becker, a neighbor said to News 8. “You definitely don’t expect it… especially just right next door.”

Not even 12 hours after the fire was first reported, two juveniles were arrested around 2 a.m. on July 9. Peggy’s 15-year-old daughter, Anna Schroeder, was charged with two counts of first degree murder, concealment and arson. Anna’s friend, Rachel Helm who was also 15, was also arrested but at this point faced no charges.

How it happened

After her mother got home from work on Thursday, July 6, Anna met her mother in their living room and said that she had a surprise for her.

Anna asked her mom to put a towel over her face and shot her in the forehead with Peggy’s .38 revolver.

Anna said she then texted her friend Rachel about what she did. She didn’t believe her, so Anna sent a picture of her mom’s body.

Later that night Rachel came to the house, dropped off by her own mother, and the girls spent most of the evening trying to clean the blood out of the carpeting. They would eventually fall asleep in Anna’s room.

The next day on Friday, July 7, Anna and Rachel moved Peggy’s body into her own bedroom where they left her on the floor and covered her with a bed sheet. The pair walked to Subway where Anna learned her father was coming to town. They head to another store to buy more cleaning supplies, but decide instead to dye their hair and run away.

Instead of leaving right then and there, the next morning the girls set the house on fire. Rachel was the one to light the bed sheet covering Peggy’s body.

Anna then goes to her dad’s house and Rachel goes back home to her family in Rock Falls, Illinois.

That afternoon, neighbors reported the smell of burning plastic later leading to the discovery of Peggy’s body.

Sometime after getting back home, overcome with guilt, Rachel told her mother what they had done. Around 8 p.m. that Saturday night, Rachel’s mother drove her daughter to the Sheriff’s Department where the teen told everything to police, even where Anna could be found.

Police picked up Anna at her dad’s house and brought her into the neighboring Bureau County Sheriff’s Office for questioning. She was left alone for nearly an hour before she finally broke down, asking for her father. 

Anna too would also confess to the crime, even admitting to researching children who murdered their parents.

Both 15-year-olds were placed at the Mary Davis Juvenile Detention Center in Galesburg, Illinois.

The aftermath

News 8 spoke to Kaylene Schroeder, Peggy’s daughter and Anna’s 18-year-old sister, the day the details of the murder became public information. Peggy had legally adopted both Kaylene and Anna, but Kaylene said that while the two had a rocky relationship, she never thought this could happen.

“It breaks my heart to just even talk about it, because I just can’t imagine life without my mom,” Kaylene said. “Now she’s gone, and it’s because of my own blood and flesh. I can’t believe she would do something like this. She’s never been known to be violent or just burst into moods like this. I don’t know what was going through her mind and she just threw away her life and my mom’s.”

More than two weeks after Peggy’s ashes were buried at a cemetery in Savanna, Illinois, Rachel Helm, charged with arson and concealment of a homicidal death, faced a judge.

After this hearing the question had to be asked: Would Rachel and Anna stay in juvenile court or would they be bumped to adult court?

“Are those people who say, ‘If you do an adult crime you do the time,’ prepared to say a 14-year-old can join the military or a 12-year-old can be bound by a contract,” Jim Mertes, Anna’s attorney asked News 8 in November 2017.

Rachel’s case was moved to adult court in April 2018.

Rachel’s defense was that she was scared. Anna had a gun and she knew her friend had already used it once. According to Rachel, Anna told her she shot and killed her mother at point blank range “to be with her.” Rachel also claimed she was afraid that Anna might hurt herself.

Whiteside County Circuit Court Judge Trish Joyce said she just couldn’t get past the callousness of the crime and that Rachel had opportunities to leave.

If she is convicted, Rachel faces up to five years for concealment and up to seven years for arson as an adult.

Anna’s case was moved to adult court in June 2018.

According to Anna’s testimony during the hearing, it was all Rachel’s idea and she’s the one that egged Anna on. She said the real motive in the case was that Peggy was going to end a romantic relationship the two girls had.

During questioning on the stand, police said Rachel sent Anna texts “on multiple occasions that express her desire for Anna to kill her mom and that she perceived that Peggy did not approve of her.”

It was also stated that one of the prescriptions Anna was on, Zoloft, had caused her to hallucinate as a child, but she was put back on the medicine in April and the dose was doubled in May just two months before the murder.

By 2019, Anna’s defense claimed that she’s not responsible for her actions as she was forced to take the medicine and was in an involuntarily drugged condition. The defense said when Anna killed her mother, she couldn’t understand that what she was doing was right or wrong. 

Anna could face up to 20 years in prison, but she would have faced life in prison under the original, first-degree murder charge. Since second-degree murder is a day-to-day credit she could be released after 10 years in prison at most.

If her case would have stayed in the juvenile system… she could have been released after turning 21 years old.

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