On September 9, 1974, Mary Ann Becker was found beaten and strangled on the living room floor of her family’s home in Atkinson, Illinois.Screenshot/WQAD
The 16-year-old high school student’s murder shocked the small town of 1,000 and as Master Sgt. Chris Endress of the Illinois State Police explained to The Associated Press nearly 40 years later, the brutal details of her death stayed with the community for decades to follow. The reportedly “shy and quiet” A-student had been found tied to a piano and strangled with an electrical cord and a clothesline.
Atkinson residents speculated as to who may have murdered the teen — from a known transient to someone who lived in the town — but Becker’s case turned cold when officials never caught her killer.
As the AP reports, the case is the oldest unsolved case in East Moline. Now, nearly 40 years to the day of Becker’s murder, Illinois police believe they have just about determined who killed her.
As WQAD reports, the Henry County State’s Attorney’s office announced Robert Clark as the “likely suspect.” He was 24 years old at the time of Becker’s death and worked with her father. Becker lived in an apartment just half a block away.Screenshot/WQAD
In an interview with WQAD, Becker’s sister, Theresa Yarger, said her father had befriended Clark and helped him get a job at the nearby coal mines. Clark also knew that their parents worked second shift. As Becker’s other sister, Sue Desmith, asked:
“Who else would have known our parents’ whereabouts but Bob Clark?”
During police questioning, Clark alleged he was working in the mines on the night of Becker’s death. However investigators were reportedly told years later by Clark’s brother, who had never been interviewed following Becker’s murder, that Clark confided he wasn’t working that night.
In 2014, investigators reopened the case in order to conduct interviews with people who had never been questioned following Becker’s murder. Officials also hoped the use of new technology such as DNA testing and forensic evidence would develop new leads, according to the AP.
Becker’s body was exhumed for forensic testing, but the results were unsuccessful because of the condition of her remains. A local funeral home offered to provide a new casket, funeral, and burial service for the young woman.
According to WQAD, investigators also discovered that in addition to those individuals who had never been interviewed, many others stayed silent out of fear of retribution. Henry County State’s Attorney Matt Schutte claimed his office now believes they have enough circumstantial evidence to indict Clark for the murder of Becker before a grand jury. However, there’s a twist — Clark died in 2015.
As Schutte stated:
“Upon reviewing the thousands of pages of new interviews, the State’s Attorney believes the circumstantial evidence is strong enough that it would warrant presentation to a grand jury if Mr. Clark were still alive.”
As WQAD reports, Clark died two years ago in Bloomington, Indiana, and in the wake of his death, a troubling history of violence and mental health issues have come to light.
Six years after Becker’s death, Clark was convicted of the rape of a 15-year-old girl and sentenced to jail, but only served two days after winning an appeal in a higher court.
Throughout his life, he had married and divorced three times, and at one point during his second marriage, he allegedly admitted he had killed before and would do it again, then he threatened to bury his wife’s body in the coal mine.Screenshot/WQAD
Although charges can’t be formally brought against Clark for their sister’s murder, Becker’s siblings are glad the suspect is deceased. As Desmith told WQAD:
“I’m relieved actually that he’s dead because I don’t have to worry about him hurting anyone else or hurting my family.”
Her other sisters agree — they’re thankful for the closure and that their sister wasn’t forgotten. “It’s good to have this closure but we still miss our sister.”
WQAD adds that many people who were interviewed by investigators after reopening the case had previously been reluctant to speak about Clark until they learned about his passing.