A child playing in the park told authorities that he believed he saw Corrine speaking with an unidentified man during the evening. The boy said that he saw a girl matching her description petting the man's dog. It has never been verified that the girl was in fact Corrine.
Authorities viewed Corrine's family's friend Robert Guevara as the main suspect in her disappearance from the onset of their investigation. Guevara often stayed overnight at the family's home at their invitation when he was intoxicated. Witnesses told authorities that Guevara often slept in the same bed as Corrine. Corrine's mother, Mona Williams, stated her daughter had accused Guevara of molesting her on the day of her disappearance. Williams did not tell the police about this until several days after the child disappeared; she claimed she had forgotten about the incident until then. Guevara was at Corrine's home the day she was reported as a missing child, and police dogs tracked her scent to his home after her disappearance. He was charged with her kidnapping, rape and murder on June 5, 1992, four days after Corrine disappeared.
Authorities discovered a dress identical to the garment Corrine was last seen wearing and a pair of girl's underpants inside Guevara's locker. The items of clothing had been stained with blood and semen. Bloodstains were also discovered on a shower curtain inside Guevara's trailer. DNA testing showed that the fluids could have come from both Corrine and Guevara. Defense witnesses argued at Guevara's trial that his locker and trailer were not secured and that the evidence could have been planted by unknown person(s) in order to frame Guevara for Corrine's disappearance.
Guevara's attorneys theorized that Williams wanted to sell her daughter or arrange for her kidnapping to collect the anticipated ransom. Corrine's home life was troubled. Her family moved frequently, their only income came from welfare payments, and Williams had been treated for cocaine abuse and emotional problems. Minnesota law did not allow full usage of DNA evidence at trials in 1992; the law has since been revised. As a result, Guevara was acquitted of all charges in connection with Corrine's case. He has continued to maintain his innocence throughout the years.
Corrine's case remains unsolved, although she was declared legally dead in 1994. She has never been located.
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: June 1, 1992 from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: February 17, 1987
Age: 5 years old
Height and Weight: 3'2, 40 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Brown hair, brown eyes. Erstad has scars on her forehead, lip, left ring finger and near her left eye.
Clothing Description: A white sundress imprinted with watermelon designs.
Man arrested in kidnapping of missing 5-year-old girl
INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. -- A 24-year-old friend of the family was arrested Friday in the kidnapping of a missing 5-year-old girl. Robert Guevara of Oakdale was arrested Friday morning as he was driving about 70 miles north of Minneapolis. Authorities issued an arrest warrant for Guevara earlier in the morning when they found blood- stained clothing belonging to Corrine Erstad in a suburban rental locker registered to him. The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also found what appeared to be human blood on the seat of a van belonging to Guevara. Corrine has been missing since Monday when she failed to return from a park a few yards from her home. Inver Grove Heights Police Chief Stanley Troyer refused to speculate on whether the youngster still was alive but said the investigation would continue until the girl is found. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said Guevara would be charged with kidnapping and depriving another of parental rights. Authorities said Guevara is a long-time friend of Corrine's mother, Mona Williams. The criminal complaint said Guevara was at the Williams home on the night the girl disappeared and left shortly after the girl went out to play. The complaint said Guevara was intoxicated and had established a pattern of sleeping in the family's basement on nights when he was too drunk to drive home. The complaint also said that on several of these occasions he got into bed with the 5-year-old girl. Police had initially ruled out family members and friends as suspects and concentrated instead on reports from playmates that Corrine was seen talking to a stranger in the park. On Thursday, they began questioning family members and friends. Guevara was interviewed, but he denied any knowledge of the disappearance. Guevara's car was spotted by a Minnesota State Highway Patrol officer northbound on Interstate 35 near Hinckley and the suspect was arrested without incident. A woman traveling with him was also taken in for questioning. Guevara was expected to appear in Dakota County District Court Saturday. Dead? Missing? Victims’ families cope in different ways.
Corrine Erstad, 5, never had a funeral. The girl was kidnapped from Inver Grove Heights in 1992 and hasn’t been found, but a man was charged with her murder. “There was nobody to put anywhere,” her father, Jim Erstad, said this week. “She was cleverly disposed of where no one could find her.” When a loved one is missing and law enforcement arrests or charges someone in the case, families cope in different ways. For some, without a body discovered, it’s hard to give up hope their relative will be found alive. Others move forward but are missing many answers. This nightmare has played out in the past week for the family and friends of Kira Trevino, 30, of St. Paul. Her husband, Jeffery Trevino, reported her missing Sunday, Feb. 24, but prosecutors charged him Thursday with her murder. Police said Friday, March 1, that they were seeking help to find her body and had established a tip line.
“In general terms, when they talk about the stages of grief, one stage is acceptance, but how can a family accept a loss when there’s still so many unanswered questions?” said Alison Feigh, Jacob Wetterling Resource Center program coordinator. “Some families don’t want to accept the loss because what if this person is recovered or comes back? It’s a very complicated place to be.” There’s no such thing as a “normal” response to trauma, Feigh said. In the Trevino case, police concluded Kira was dead because they found so much blood in the couple’s Payne-Phalen home and because it was unlike her to disappear without warning, the criminal complaint said. After Trevino’s arrest, Kira’s sister, Keri Anne Steger, said she and other relatives were still hopeful she would be found alive. On Thursday, the day Jeffery Trevino, 39, was charged, Steger, of Wausau, Wis., said her family wants to find her sister’s body. “It’s inconceivable to think me and my family will never see her again,” she told the Wausau Daily Herald. A vigil to pray for Kira Trevino to be found was held near Wausau on Friday. The Rev. Aaron Winowiski, pastor at New Day Christian Church in Weston, Wis., said he has officiated at tragic funerals, but the circumstances of the Kira Trevino case are unique. “It’s unnerving to be in a situation where we don’t know exactly what happened and all we know is something is very, very wrong,” Winowiski said.
‘TOUGH TO SAY GOODBYE’
When Katie Poirier, 19, was abducted May 26, 1999, from the Moose Lake, Minn., convenience store where she worked, the search for her lasted more than 100 days, even after Donald Blom had been charged with kidnapping her. “We held out hope; you have to,” Patrick Poirier, Katie’s brother, said Friday. “You’d wake up, search, come home, and hopefully you could get a couple hours of sleep. You got up and searched, and did this over and over. There was no break.” Blom confessed Sept. 8, 1999, that he had kidnapped and killed Katie Poirier.
The only remains found were a tooth and bone fragments in a fire pit on Blom’s rural Carlton County property. Katie Poirier’s memorial service was Sept. 18, 1999. “We really didn’t have a body to say goodbye to,” her brother said. “People in my situation, Ms. Trevino’s family, they’re going to hate the word ‘closure’ because there never is any when you lose a loved one in a tragedy like this. It’s really tough to say goodbye at first, but you have to bring yourself to accept it.” Still, Poirier said he thinks of his younger sister, his only sibling, every day and sees her in his young daughters. He marked what would have been her 33rd birthday Thursday. Blom, of Richfield, was sentenced to life in prison. Poirier’s remains had been stored in an evidence room and couldn’t be released to her family until Blom had exhausted his appeals in 2004. Katie Poirier’s mother keeps the remains in a wooden box on her dresser, Patrick Poirier said. When Pam Poirier dies, she will be cremated and buried with Katie’s remains, something that’s “extremely important to her,” Patrick Poirier said.
‘SHE’D WANT US TO CARRY ON’
Corrine Erstad had been missing four days when Robert Guevara, a family friend, was arrested. He was first charged with kidnapping the girl. The girl hadn’t turned up in searches, and her mother, Mona Williams, wrote a letter to Guevara in jail after she’d been missing for three weeks: “The minutes, hours and days spent waiting and praying seem like an eternity. … Our only hopes are that you know where she is and that she is OK. But if she is dead she deserves a proper funeral and good-bye. Not knowing if she is dead or alive is worse than death.”
Guevara was tried on kidnapping, rape and first-degree murder charges; he was acquitted of all
counts. Although Corrine wasn’t found, her father came to see “more and more” that she was gone. “I had to just kind of face that’s what happened,” Jim Erstad said. “There was no closure. It helps to me know that she (Corrine) wouldn’t want me to suffer too much. She’d want me to be concerned, but she wouldn’t want me to be lost in grief. Some people would be crippled too much by such a thing, but she wouldn’t want that to happen to us. She’d want us to carry on.” Erstad said that without the body of Corrine, who would be 26 now, he didn’t feel a funeral was needed. “I figured if she was gone, she was gone,” he said. “Whatever happens to a spirit when they leave a body happened to her. We loved her and honored her because she was who she was.”
Mara H. Gottfried can be reached at 651-228-5262. Follow her at twitter.com/MaraGottfried or
Brother of suspect in Corrine Erstad’s 1992 disappearance arrested in separate case
|Jerry Guevara Jr., 52|
“It allows us the opportunity to talk to Jerry about our investigation into (Corrine),” Otis said. “I wouldn’t call it a crack in the case yet because we don’t know what he’ll say … but we want to see if he can provide any information to us about some of the questions we still have about what happened.” A family member of Jerry Guevara disputed the charges facing him and accusing authorities of trying to “set him up.” Corrine Erstad vanished from outside her Inver Grove Heights home on June 1, 1992. Police found the little girl’s dress inside Robert Guevara’s storage locker in the days after her disappearance. It was stained with blood and semen. Robert Guevara was a longtime family friend of Corrine Erstad’s parents. Robert Guevara’s defense argued during the trial that the clothing could have been planted to frame him.
A search warrant, filed in recent months related to the allegations Jerry Guevara now faces, stated that issues over DNA evidence from Corrine Erstad’s case was likely the “main concern” jurors had with delivering a guilty verdict against Robert Guevara, the affidavit said. Jerry Guevara also was arrested in the days after Corrine Erstad’s disappearance, on suspicion of aiding and abetting his brother, but was released from custody without charges. In the decades since Robert Guevara’s acquittal, tips about the young girl continue to come to the Inver Grove Heights police department, Otis said.
It was investigators’ follow-up on one such tip that led to Jerry Guevara’s recent arrest. Police had heard from bondsmen searching for a fugitive at a home in Stearns County that a 31- year-old woman was discovered there who appeared to match an age progression photo of Corrine Erstad, according to the criminal complaint recently filed in Washington County. She was living in the home with Jerry Guevara, along with several children found in “various stages of undress,” the complaint said.
The residence was reportedly in “disarray” and smelled of “feces and urine.” There was little clothing or food for the children, the complaint said. Police confirmed that the woman was not Corrine Erstad, who investigators still believe is dead, Otis said. But a subsequent investigation into findings in the home uncovered additional information that suggested Jerry Guevara’s involvement in other, unrelated criminal activity, the complaint said.
Jerry Guevara is accused of having two of the nine children he has with the woman while she was still underage. The first was allegedly conceived while the woman was 16 and he was 37. She was reportedly 17 when the second was conceived. During an interview with police, the woman told investigators she has been in a romantic relationship with Jerry Guevara for more than a decade and that the two are engaged. He was arrested Thursday at his father’s Woodbury home. Charges were filed against him in both Washington and Olmsted counties, where authorities believe the criminal sexual conduct took place, Otis said.
He added that investigators are well aware that even if Jerry Guevara does end up offering them information that verifies his brother’s culpability in Erstad’s death, Robert Guevara can’t be
charged by Minnesota authorities again with her murder because of double-jeopardy laws. A criminal conviction in the case is not his agency’s ultimate goal, he said. “Our primary goal is to find Corrine,” Otis said. “Kind of like the Jacob Wetterling case. They wanted to find Jacob, I think our main goal is to find Corrine and to give the police department and her family some sort of closure.” Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said the allegations facing Jerry Guevara are “egregious” and “beyond immoral” and that it’s too early to see if he was willing to consider lesser charges against him in exchange for information about Corrine.
“Right now I would have to evaluate the information. I don’t want to make any commitment that if you give me X, I’ll give you Y. It’s way too speculative right now.” Jim Erstad, Corrine’s father, said it’s too soon to say whether Jerry Guevara’s arrest could crack back open his daughter’s long-unsolved case. “We’re in a situation where it’s possible, but I don’t know what will happen,” Jim Erstad said. “I’ve got to wait and see.” An employee at the Washington County public defender’s office said Jerry Guevara had applied for a public defender at his first appearance Friday but that one had yet to be appointed. His father, Jerry Guevara Sr., said the allegations against his son stem from events more than a decade ago and referred to the case pending against him as a set-up.
“This is all bulls—. They made the thing up,” Jerry Guevara Sr. said. “What happened is, what, 16 years ago? But the thing is it was resolved and there is obviously a statute of limitation and other stuff. … They are just trying to set him up.” No phone number could be found for Robert Guevara. Jerry Guevara’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 2.
Dakota County beat: Legacy of Guevara trial still resonates
Twenty years ago next week, Robert Guevara was acquitted in a Dakota County courtroom of kidnapping, raping and murdering 5-year-old Corrine Erstad, who disappeared out the front door of her Inver Grove Heights home on June 1, 1992, and was never seen alive again. The case has haunted Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom, who prosecuted it.
Corrine’s body has never been found. Her story has been back in the news recently as searchers hunt for the body of Kira Trevino, a missing 30-year-old St. Paul woman whose husband, Jeffery Trevino, has been charged with her apparent murder. The Guevara trial changed a lot of lives. Neither Mona Williams, Corrine’s mother, nor Guevara responded to recent requests for interviews.
Backstrom still keeps a framed photo of Corrine next to his desk in his office. “It’s a terrible tragedy that I was not able to obtain justice for the victim’s family,” he said. “That’s something that will haunt me for the rest of my life. There’s not too many days that I don’t think of this case.” But, he said, “It’s made me a better prosecutor. I think it’s helped me seek justice in other cases down the road.” Corrine’s blood-stained sundress, a shower curtain stained with blood and semen, and numerous other pieces of evidence were seized from Guevara’s storage locker and found to be consistent with the DNA of the victim and the defendant.
But, at the time, Minnesota didn’t allow prosecutors to argue that statistically it was almost impossible for the DNA to have come from anyone else. Not long after the trial, that was changed. Defense attorney J. Anthony Torres, who evolved from an unknown lawyer to one of the Twin Cities’ most notable criminal defense attorneys, called the case “the defining moment” in his career. He believes the verdicts would be the same today.
The case ultimately became about the credibility of the state’s witnesses, Torres said. The scientific evidence, too, “was open to some interpretation and [jurors] followed the law.”
Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284