43 Years Since the Disappearance of Michael Mansfield

The entry to Lincoln College in Lincoln, IL. Upper right: Michael Mansfield. Lower right: Russell Albin Smrekar

This New Year’s Eve marks 43 YEARS since the disappearance and murder of Michael Mansfield.

Michael was a Lincoln College student and 19 when he returned home to Rolling Meadows, IL for the Christmas/New Year holidays. The afternoon of NYE, he answered the phone at his parents’ house and told his folks he was going out for about an hour and would be back. He put on his buckskin coat and walked out the door, leaving his wallet behind. He didn’t have a car, so he left on foot. His family never saw him again.

Mansfield disappeared 6 days prior to his first scheduled court appearance to testify against Russell Albin Smrekar in a matter involving a Lincoln College dorm room burglary. On September 18, ’75, Smrekar (he and Mansfield were not college roommates), who was also a Lincoln College student (and a known thief to the Joliet PD), showed up at Mansfield’s dorm room wanting to temporarily store a load of record albums in his room. At first Mansfield agreed, but then after Smrekar left, Mansfield figured the albums were stolen, and he dumped them in the hallway near a trash chute under a stairwell. Mansfield was seen unloading the loot and was reported, which ultimately led to his arrest and being a co-defendant in the burglary. Mansfield professed his innocence and claimed didn’t realize the records were stolen when he initially allowed Smrekar to leave them in his room. Also taken in the burglary along with 150 stolen records was an expensive guitar. Mansfield didn’t know anything about the guitar. Following his and Smrekar’s arrests, the Logan County State’s Attorney’s office (my father’s office) offered to defer Mansfield’s charges for 6 months (and possibly indefinitely) if he would agree to turn state’s evidence and testify against Smrekar in court. Mansfield signed the Deferred Prosecution Agreement on Dec. 18, ’75 and returned home to Rolling Meadows the following day.

In the first months following his disappearance on New Years Eve, a few cards and a letter were sent to a female friend of Mansfield’s who was also a Lincoln College student. They were postmarked and sent from Rockford, IL and allegedly written by Mansfield, although there was no confirmation that he’d actually penned the correspondences. Those cards and letters were the only evidence in the Mansfield case (authorities were aware of them), and they evidently disappeared. Mansfield’s family was completely unaware of the cards and letters, so they were never asked to verify the handwriting. There’s been no mention of these correspondences since, but if they should still exist somewhere, the handwriting could be compared to the handwriting of persons of interest still at large suspected of aiding and abetting Smrekar.

According to the Mansfield family, very little investigation into Michael’s disappearance was ever conducted, which frustrated them greatly.

Years later, after I began my own investigation into Michael’s cold case, I received an email in February 2006 from Det. Robert Doucet of the Rolling Meadows PD. Doucet said his department had “recently re-opened the Michael Mansfield case,” and he asked that I contact him to discuss his case and also the cold case of Ruth Martin. Martin was a 51-year-old real estate agent who’d been called as a witness to testify in another matter involving Smrekar having stolen two ribeye steaks from Lincoln’s Kroger grocery store on Oct. 1, ’75. Ruth Martin disappeared on June 2, ’76, and, like Mansfield, she disappeared 6 days prior to her scheduled court testimony against Smrekar. Neither Mansfield’s nor Martin’s remains have been found.

After receiving Det. Doucet’s email, I called the RMPD and spoke with him on the phone. He told me his department had purchased my screenplay, “Process of Elimination.” I gave Doucet information and we discussed both cases.

Then, not long after that, I was contacted via email by Smrekar’s former girlfriend, Melissa Smith. Smrekar had two girlfriends at the time of the murders of Mansfield, Martin, and the Frys. Missy Smith was a few years younger than Russ and lived in Joliet. His other girlfriend, Patti Gunther, was a Lincoln College student from Skokie. Missy gave me information about Smrekar and the circumstances pertaining to the day and night of New Year’s Eve ’75. She relayed information relating to the home belonging to Smrekar’s cousin at 1113 Barber Lane in Joliet. Back in ’75, Russ and Missy lived a short distance from Barber Lane and the home of Cheryl and Jim Pasdertz. Russ was known to hang out at Barber Lane, and he would also stay with Cheryl when he wasn’t getting along with his mother. Russ lived with his mother at her home on Vernon Ave. When Melissa gave me the information about Barber Lane, it was profound and disturbing and definitely needed to be checked out. It was particularly suspicious because in ’76 Cheryl and Jim Pasdertz had given Russ an alibi for the Oct. 9, ’76 shotgun slayings of Jay Fry and his pregnant wife, Robin. Mansfield’s disappearance had preceded the Fry murders. Jay Fry was the produce clerk who’d seen Smrekar leave Kroger with the ribeyes tucked under his coat. Fry had testified against Smrekar in the first shoplifting trial, and he would have testified again on Oct. 18, ’76, if he hadn’t been murdered 9 days prior. Smrekar, Patti Gunther, Melissa Smith, and a boyfriend of Smith’s were all at the Logan County Courthouse on Oct. 18th when Smrekar was arrested for the Fry double homicide.

I sent a letter to the RMPD on October 16, 2006 with an attention to Det. Robert Doucet, and then I spoke to him again on the phone. Despite the critical information revealed to me by Melissa, in which she strongly insinuated that Mansfield could have been taken to 1113 Barber Lane on NYE ’75, and he may have never left there, Doucet and the RMPD did absolutely nothing about investigating Barber Lane. Not only did they ignore the Pasdertz property, they also virtually ignored Melissa despite my emphasis that she’d given me dramatically inconsistent versions of her accounts of the extending hours she was in Smrekar’s company on NYE day and night ‘75 through to New Year’s Day ‘76. These were the critical hours surrounding Mansfield’s disappearance.

The end of July of 2016, I phoned the RMPD again. I spoke to Det. Barrile who was the new leading detective assigned to the Mansfield case. Doucet had left the department in approximately 2009. I spoke to Barrile at length and gave him an abundance of information pertaining to facts and evidence I’d gathered over the years relating to the Mansfield and Martin cases and also the triple homicide of Lincoln residents Lloyd, Phyllis, and Terri Schneider. The Schneiders had been murdered on August 19, ’76; the 3 victims were stabbed 90 times, and Michael Drabing was arrested and convicted for their murders. Prior to their convictions, Drabing and Smrekar had shared the same Macon County jail cell in Decatur, IL pending their trials.

Det. Barrile claimed there wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t think about Mansfield. His department’s ongoing neglect to investigate the Pasdertz property certainly didn’t support his claim. My silent thought to Barrile was, “Well, instead of just thinking about Michael, why don’t you get off your butt and do something . . . like investigate Barber Lane!”

In September 2016, I wrote a lengthy letter to the IL AG’s office – a very detailed letter explaining new information and facts I’d developed since the time of the former 1976 investigations, including my discovery of the monumental blood evidence in the Martin case which had been concealed since ’76 and was suspiciously MISSING from the Lincoln PD.

In November 2016, I joined Twitter, and in December I began mass tweeting (particularly Chicago area media) about the warranted need for further investigation of the Mansfield cold case. On January 23, 2017, many investigating agencies, including RMPD, Will County Sheriff’s Department, and the FBI, began digging for Mansfield’s remains at 1113 Barber Lane. The home was still owned by Cheryl Pasdertz, but it’d been vacant for a number of years. Jim Pasdertz had died. The digging was widely publicized. Several tents were set up in the Pasdertz’s backyard, and crime scene technicians were shown going in and out of the house (and from down in the crawlspace) with thick mud caked on their tall rubber boots. The dig lasted up to Feb. 1, 2017.

Prior to the dig at Barber Lane, Russell Smrekar had died at Menard Penitentiary in October 2011 from a “terminal illness.” Before expiring, authorities claimed he made a “deathbed confession” to murdering Mansfield and Martin. They say Smrekar said he buried Ruth Martin’s body under the new construction of Interstate 55 in the Lincoln area, but Smrekar didn’t say what he did with Mansfield’s body. I had communicated with Smrekar in 2007, and he’d added me to his visitors list. I planned to meet with him at some point, but after my meeting with Michael Drabing at Menard in August of 2004, and the frightening experience that happened that day, I was somewhat reticent to meet with Smrekar. In his 4-page letter to me, Smrekar had made it clear he wasn’t about to confess to anything. In fact, his exact words in regard to the murders of Mansfield and Martin were, “Everybody likes a good ‘Whodonnit’, [sic] and reality is they are and will remain unto eternity – ‘Unsolved’ . . . There is no constitutional right to be free from police suspicion. My strategy in hindsight is, inaction defuses any reaction(s) . . . Why tamper with success.” Russell’s history and personality was that he loved toying with people, especially police, and having a one-up on everyone. Because of this and because he was a true sociopath, I have a hard time believing he made a “deathbed confession.” Barrile wouldn’t tell me how Smrekar’s alleged confession was recorded. He also wouldn’t reveal the location of Russell’s remains, claiming that revealing that information could interfere with the investigation into the Mansfield case. That, I didn’t understand. The last photo of Smrekar shows him in, what looks like, an oversized, yellow padded coat with a white terry towel wrapped around his neck. It’s an odd IDOC photo, and I can’t understand why they didn’t have him remove the towel momentarily while the picture was being taken.

Apparently, the Rolling Meadows PD told the Chicago area media that Smrekar’s alleged deathbed confession had led them to 1113 Barber Lane and had prompted them to start digging for evidence of Mansfield’s remains. In 2011, authorities said Smrekar didn’t say what he’d done with Mansfield, only that Smrekar was “involved” in his murder. If this was what the RMPD told the media, they were being disingenuous, to say the least. My irritation and fear is that for 11 years this department possibly ignored my suggestions and pleas to check out Barber Lane because I’m a female civilian investigative writer who had information that was not gathered or obtained by them. At the conclusion of the dig, RMPD said Mansfield’s remains weren’t found, but they’d developed “new leads.” I heard from reporters who’d contacted me that some kind of evidence was supposedly found during the dig and black bags were hauled off the property. It’s now been two years since the dig, and only silence has followed. It’s almost as if this silence will allow the Mansfield case to slip into the background, again, and be forgotten.

Through this passage of time since 2006, it seems Melissa Smith has also been ignored. She admitted she lied to the police in ’76, and I’ve caught her in numerous significant inconsistencies and contradictory stories. I feel she knows much more than she’s telling, and my best guess is that Patti Gunther does as well. Both women should undergo intense interrogation. From 1976 through to 2017, and possibly also to today’s current date, neither woman has been questioned properly or thoroughly, to my knowledge. I find it especially interesting and odd that background information relating to Melissa indicates she may also go by the surname “BARBER.” I don’t know if this information is accurate, but I’ve found nothing reasonably connecting the name “Barber” to Melissa. If this is an assumed last name she’s chosen for herself as an alias, of all the last names that exist, why choose “Barber”? This possible AKA seems far too ironic to be a coincidence.

Two days following the conclusion of the dig at Barber Lane, which in reality was prompted by the information Missy Smith provided me that I, in turn, relayed to Doucet and the RMPD, my website was maliciously HACKED on Feb. 3, 2017. There’d also been a news article in relation to the Mansfield dig that was released in the Joliet Patch on Jan. 30, 2017 entitled, “‘Incompetent’ Cops Told 10 Years Ago to Search House for Serial Killer’s Victim, Says Crime Writer – A true crime author said she told the police – and gave them the reasons – to search the Joliet house.” I discovered following the hacking that my BURIED TRUTH TRILOGY eBooks had also been tampered with and compromised. I was forced to put my website “Under Construction” in order to prevent further infringement of my intellectual properties. The hacking created a huge financial burden for me. It kept me from revealing information to the public because I couldn’t sell my books, and because I wasn’t making any money, it took me until September of 2018 to fix everything and to relaunch my website.

A lot of suspicious and maddening circumstances occurred in between the hacking and the relaunching of my site. I discovered the name and email address “robert.doucet@ymail.com” buried in my website records. Robert Doucet was identified as a “user” and “customer” who’d purchased my trilogy. Problem is, I never received any money for Doucet’s order. It seemed I wasn’t meant to find his order – it was out of place, and I found it by accident. I then communicated with Doucet, although there was a delay in his responding to my emails. He admitted ordering my entire trilogy, but he refused to tell me the exact date he placed his order. The information concerning his order and the date he’d ordered my trilogy had been omitted from the website records (highly unusual). Someone can only be classified as a “user” and a “customer” if his/her order and transaction was completed and sent to the email address provided. I’ve sent Doucet many emails since his refusal to give the date of his order, but he won’t respond. Doucet is now listed as being a fraud investigator for Capital One.

There’s plenty of investigation the RMPD and Lincoln PD could be AND SHOULD BE conducting into the murders of Mansfield, Martin, and the Schneiders. There’s an unmistakable COVER-UP taking place in Logan County, a cover-up that seemingly began with the concealed and now missing blood evidence in the Martin case – the partially, burned bloody T-shirt found in Kickapoo Creek Park (across the highway from the Martin residence) on June 8, ’76. It’s interesting that the RMPD ignored the Pasdertz property (only 40-some miles from their department) for so many, many years, yet Doucet traveled all the way south to Lincoln, IL in the spring of 2006 to become involved in the dig for Ruth Martin’s remains. Apparently, the RMPD was hoping to find Mansfield’s remains in the same location, a flat, wide-open area of grass stretching between the Lincoln High School parking lot and the Immanuel Lutheran Church. There was/is no way Smrekar, or anyone, could have buried anything, let alone one or two bodies, in that area without being seen and/or without anyone ever discovering that the soil had been disturbed. In my opinion, the dig was conducted specifically to create a media event in order to make it appear as if the Lincoln PD and RMPD were being responsible in carrying out their so-called investigations into the Martin and Mansfield cold cases. It was a ridiculous waste of time and money, and all they produced from that dig was a “clinker,” an enormous hunk of coal.

Having reinvestigated the 1976 Logan County murders and the Mansfield case for many years, I can confirm that there’s critical information, facts, and evidence supporting – overwhelmingly so – that Russell Smrekar and Michael Drabing did not act alone in their crimes. It’s not like there’s no supporting information and/or evidence pointing to other named individuals who could have been involved in these crimes – there’s extremely compelling information and evidence implicating others, and they remain at large. There’s a strong probability that these unsolved/unresolved murders could be solved and justice could be served. This is why the spotlight of the media needs to shine on these cases to break through the ongoing cover-up.

Michael Mansfield, Ruth Martin, and Lloyd, Phyllis, and Terri Schneider all deserve justice no matter how many years authorities continue to ignore these murders and the demand for further investigation and DNA testing of existing physical evidence.

Truth and Justice,
Bonnie J. Thompson, Investigative Writer/Author (Copyright 2018. All rights reserved).

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