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'I miss you, that would sum it up': Reitler family hopes for closure in her disappearance 30 years later

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Posted at 10:39 AM, Apr 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-04 09:30:55-04

MARION — A local college student had her whole life in front of her, when she vanished.

That was 30 years ago.

Her family is hoping this tragic milestone can bring them closure.

Tricia Reitler, 19, was studying to become a psychologist with a goal of putting families back together.

The freshman Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) student was on an academic scholarship and training to join the track team.

Tricia was from Olmsted Township, a small town in Ohio, not far from Cleveland, about four and a half hours from IWU.

On the afternoon of March 29, 1993 investigators say Tricia took a break from studying and walked to the local Marsh for a root beer and a magazine.

She was seen at the store, but no where since.

Tricia's father Garry Reitler said, "I will never forget what was said she said this is Lieutenant Dunn from the Marion police department, 'do you know where Tricia is?'"

That day is still vivid in the minds of Tricia's parents.

"As soon as I saw his face and heard him say she is not here, she's at college. I immediately knew that something was really wrong," Tricia's mother, Donna Reitler said.

Tricia wasn't reported missing until a few days after she was seen at the Marsh, her parents say.

The dreaded phone call her parents got turned into a days long search.

Reitler File

"It was the longest drive of my life, it was drizzling, it was cold. It was raining. I guess that was the start of a 30-year journey," Garry Reitler said.

Detectives say, two days later, across the street from Marsh they found the bag of goods and receipt from the supermarket, her clothes were found with small amounts of blood on them too.

At the time police said they didn't have a case until they had a body.

That sentiment still holds true, 30 years later.

"I would tell myself I could do this for some more day, I could do this for one ore day. I could get through hone more day, never ever imagining 30 years later we would still be here," Donna Reitler said.

As the years have passed, Tricia's family says they don't think she is alive.

"As time passes by the hope that we will ever find her begins to dwindle," Garry Reitler said. "You have to put it into perspective, or it will wear you down, it will destroy you in time."

The family's hope has changed from finding Tricia alive, to finding her body.

"Our goal now is just to bring her home," Garry Reitler said.

The time that passes doesn't make it easier for the Reitlers. They says they feel guilt and a since of failure daily.

"As a parent you always wonder did, I make the right choices, did I do the right thing," Donna Reitler said. "You second guess yourself. Did I make the right choices here, did I make right choices here, could I have done something different. Still, are we doing enough."

In her parent's eyes, Tricia is still the young freshman they sent to IWU, 30 years ago.

"Tricia will always he 19 years old in our eyes, we don't know what she was like at 30 or 40 or soon to be 50. She will always be that 19-year-old, that bubbly girl, that hard working girl. In our minds and in our hearts she's 19 forever," Garry Reitler said.

IWU has a small memorial in place on campus. Tricia's parents say they visit it when they are in town.

Arrests in the case?

A year after her disappearance the case appeared to be near an end after a scull of white woman was found under a railroad trestle in Marion.

That didn't end up being Tricia, it was a much older woman. Which left police again, with nothing new in her case.

A year later police searched through an Indiana cornfield and found the body of 15-year-old Jessica Roach of Georgetown Illinois.

About 6-months after Tricia's disappearance Larry Hall, 32, a janitor from Wabash confessed to the FBI he killed both Jessica and Tricia as well as two other women from the Midwest.

Marion police at the time, said the evidence against Hall in Tricia's case was too flimsy to file charges.

"At this point, of course, we don't have a body. A lot of other things would have to come into play. But to really speculate as to what all we would do, would be premature at this point," Deputy Chief Avern Owensby said in an interview with WRTV reporters a year after Tricia went missing.

In addition to the confession, investigators said they found evidence linking Hall to Reitler in a search of his his van.

Hall's attorney, at the time ,tried to suppress the confession and the evidence saying it was illegally obtained.

In a WRTV report from the time it shows police found the following in Halls' van:

  • Hatchet
  • Rope
  • Fingernail
  • Hacksaw
  • Masks
  • Duct Tape
  • Blood-stained Napkin
  • Student ID Photo
  • Extra License Plates

Police also said Hall hasn't said anything useful in leading police to Tricia's body. They added he gave them a lot of vague information at the time.
Since Tricia's disappearance Marion police have said they still get tips on the investigation, even 30 years later.

Where is the investigation in 2023?

In March of 2023, the Marion police department told WRTV this has not been deemed a cold case.

"The investigation is still active," Captain Mark Stefanatos from Marion PD said.

Capt. Stefanatos is the Capt. of the detectives with the Marion Police Dept.

He said they are actively following up leads.

Stefanatos said in the last three months their detectives have traveled to re-interview everyone that had a name mentioned in the case.

"We decided to go back because some of us weren't even born when this happened," Stefanatos said. "We decided to go back to the very beginning and re-interview everybody in case something wasn't documented, or we missed it, or something may have been lost."

Stefanatos said the Reitler case is "cold" because it's so old, but it's not a case that isn't being worked.

"Technology has changed so much since that happened, and education for police officers has changed. We did things a lot different back then," Stefanatos said.

Detectives said going back to the beginning has been productive because they were able to get some new information that could give them a different perspective on the case than one officers had in 1993.

"Is there new technology, is there anything out there that can be done that wasn't there 30 years ago? It's unfortunate on some things because it's like we have all been through training and stuff and were taught to do certain things. We say, 'oh this wasn't done, I wish this could have been done because it would have helped us out.' But at the same time, those tools weren't available and that education wasn't available," Stefanatos said.

He said there are challenges to working an older case;

  • Technology is different today than 30 years ago
  • Camera weren't as prevalent
  • People weren't on cell phones
  • Not investigating from the beginning and begin at the crime scene
  • Harder to pick up pieces and gather them together

Stefanatos compared the case to a large jigsaw puzzle.
"We learn something about it every time we go through it," He said.

He said some of the offices who originally worked the case are no longer here.

Stefanatos added that they have invited the old detectives who are still alive to meetings so they can have conversations about the case and get their input.

"The whole thing has been a challenge, but it's worth every minute of it because the Reitler's child is missing and I can't imagine what they've been going through for 30-years.

Who was Tricia?

Tricia Reitler was the oldest of four Reitler children.

"She was a strong-willed child, she was our first born. So she had all of the characteristics of a first born child," Garry Reitler said.

Her family says she adored being a big sister, and when her brother was born she would pretend to be his mom.

The Reitlers say Tricia didn't want to go to IWU at first, but the school's Christian values aligned with theirs and they convinced Tricia to go.

The first half of the school year, Tricia's parents say, changed her mind.

"She was a beautiful girl," Garry Reitler said.

She loved the school, and the following year her younger sister was set to join her at the same college.

The Reitler's remembered the day they brought Tricia into this world, February 9, 1974.

"It was magical, as far as she was so little and just so cute. And I knew my life would never be the same," Donna Reitler said.

Tricia's father said he had a special relationship with his daughter.

He said they were similar in a lot of ways, but even when Tricia wet to college the pair continued their strong bond.

"Even when she [Tricia] was at school, we'd talk on the phone all the time. Sometimes until 2 o'clock in the morning.

Her goal was to become a psychologist, hoping one day to put families back together.

The 19-year-old was an avid runner, and was training to join the IWU track team.

"The world was robbed, she had so much to offer everybody," Donna said.

Detectives said they still receive tips regularly on the case.

They are urging anyone that might have a tip to come forward.

"The only bad tip is no tip," Stefanatos said. " Think about where you were 30-years-ago, and if somebody has something that jogs their memory we need to know."

Stefanatos said they want you to put yourself in the Reitler's shoes.

"Our goal is to solve this before we can't do the job anymore," Stefanatos said.

If you have any information on the Reitler case you are asked to call the Grant County Crime Stoppers' Tip Line: 765-662-TIPS