Saturday, August 1, 2020

Victoria Jane Owczynsky: Missing Since August 26, 1990

Owczynsky was last seen at approximately 13:00 at her residence in the vicinity of the 1800 block of University Avenue NE in Minneapolis, MN. Vicky had been living with a girlfriend in northeast Minneapolis when she disappeared. She had moved to the house, four blocks from her mother's, about a month earlier. When she woke up on August 26, other members of the bustling household were filing out to church. At 09:45, Vicky called her mother and said she'd stop by about noon.

About 15 minutes later, she had a three-way phone conversation with her boyfriend, who was in the Ramsey County jail, and a girlfriend, who she agreed to meet at the park at noon. She said she had just stepped out of the bath and needed to dress and fix her hair. While she was still talking to her girlfriend, Vicky abruptly began laughing. She explained that a man had just walked in with two black eyes and he looked funny. It was the father of the family she was living with, who had been ordered out of the house by Hennepin County two years earlier after being accused of sexually assaulting his daughters. Vicky then called her stepfather and asked for a ride to the park, but he said he was busy painting a neighbor's house. He heard her ask someone in the house for a ride. About 10:30, two neighbors saw Vicky leave in a pickup truck with the man who had appeared at the house during the phone conversation. About 20 minutes later, the man returned to the house, and began unloading scrap metal from the truck. Vicky never arrived at the park or her mother's house. Police spoke with the man who neighbors say Vicky left with and ordered a search of his truck and apartment in a building he manages. The man acknowledged that he had seen Vicky and that they had talked outside, but says she never was in his pickup.

Foul play is suspected.

Physical Description

Date of Birth: April 23, 1973
Age: 17 yrs old
Race: White
Gender: Female
Height: 5'0"
Weight: 110 lbs
Hair Color: Brown
Eye Color: Brown
Nickname/Alias: None
Distinguishing Marks/Features: A birthmark under her left eye and when she was last seen, her hair was highlighted.

The Case

Victoria Jane (Vicky) Owczynsky was 17 years old when she disappeared without a trace.

Vicky lived in Minneapolis, MN, where she was a student at Edison High School. Her parents, Eugene Owczynsky and Larene Larson, were divorced, and her mother had since remarried.

In July 1990, Vicky moved out of her mother’s house to live with a girlfriend, Naomie Rondo. Naomie’s house was only four blocks away from Vicky’s mother’s house.

On Sunday, 26 August 1990, Vicky woke up while everyone else in the house was leaving for church. At 09:45, she called her mother and promised to stop by around noon.

About 15 minutes later (10:00), Vicky had a three-way telephone conversation with her boyfriend (who was in jail) and a girlfriend. She agreed to meet her girlfriend at noon, at a park about 2.5 miles away (Garfield Street and 18th Avenue NE).

Vicky said that she had just stepped out of the bath and needed to get ready. Then she abruptly began laughing. She explained to her friend that a man had just walked into the house. The man had two black eyes, and Vicky said he looked funny. That man was Darrell Rea, Naomie’s stepfather. Rea had been ordered out of the house by Hennepin County, MN, authorities in 1988 for sexually assaulting Naomie and her sister, Monique Stevens. He now lived in an apartment complex at 1911 Central Avenue NE, approximately 0.80 mile from Naomie's house and 1.5 miles from the park where Vicky was going to meet her friend.

After hanging up with her friend, Vicky called her stepfather and asked for a ride to the park. Her stepfather said he couldn’t give her a ride since he was busy painting a neighbor’s house. He then heard Vicky ask someone for a ride.

At about 10:30, two neighbors saw Vicky leave in a pickup truck with Rea. About 20 minutes later, Rea returned to the house and began unloading scrap metal from the truck.

Vicky never arrived at the park or at her mother's house.

She had left her purse, money, jewelry, and cigarettes in Naomie’s house, indicating that she hadn’t run away. Furthermore, family members and friends said that Vicky seemed happy and hadn’t mentioned going anywhere. The case was referred to Sgt. Dayton Dunn of the Minneapolis Police Department’s juvenile division, where it remained open as an unsolved missing-person report. Police did search Rea’s truck and apartment, but they found no substantial evidence.

When Vicky's 18th birthday passed in April 1991, her case was turned over to Sgt. John Baade and Sgt. Ron Ottoson in the Second Precinct's property crimes unit.

The sergeants strongly suspected Rea was responsible for Vicky’s disappearance. After all, Rea had a history of sexual violence. In 1977, he’d been convicted of assaulting a 27-year-old woman. Police had found the woman covered in blood, crawling toward the road. She told them that she had been picked up and then attacked by a man wielding a large knife and a glass Coke bottle. Rea was identified as the perpetrator and was tried for first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He argued that the sex was consensual, and the jury acquitted him of criminal sexual conduct. They convicted him of simple assault, for which served a short jail sentence.

Eleven years later, in 1988, police learned that Rea was sexually abusing his stepdaughters. Monique, the older sister, used to babysit Vicky, who often stayed at their house. At some point, Vicky directly witnessed Rea raping Monique. While police were convinced that Rea had murdered Vicky, prosecutors weren’t. They told the investigators that they couldn’t press charges without a body or more concrete evidence. The case stagnated for years.

In late 2007, Sgt. Gerry Wehr came across Vicky’s missing person file. Given Rea’s criminal history, Wehr believed that he was a repeat offender. With the help of the FBI, Wehr developed a criminal profile and researched cold cases until he uncovered one that could possibly be linked to Rea. In 1988, a 23-year-old homeless prostitute named Barbara had been sexually assaulted and attacked at the same location as the 1977 attack. And Barbara’s case had DNA evidence.

Rea’s and Barbara’s DNA samples were both still in storage. In 2013, the Minnesota crime lab reanalyzed the samples, confirming that Rea’s DNA matched the sample from Barbara’s case. The lab then uploaded Rea’s DNA profile into a database. The system hit on an unexpected match — semen from the autopsy of Lorri Mesedahl, a 17-year-old girl who was murdered in Hennepin County, MN, in spring 1983.

On a Friday night, Lorri had returned home from a party but then snuck out to visit her boyfriend, who lived with his grandparents. She arrived at approximately 03:00, but the grandmother wouldn’t let Lorri into the house. The next morning, Lorri’s bloody corpse was found by some railroad tracks. After finding the match to Lorri, investigators increased their testing of old rape kits. In 2014, the system hit on another match to Rea’s DNA — the 1987 rape of Mary-Scott Hunter. Still, it took an additional 2 1/2 years before Hennepin County prosecutors felt confident enough to charge Rea for the murder of Lorri Mesedahl.

In September 2017, Rea was taken into custody and charged with second-degree murder. He waived his right to a jury trial. Hennepin County Judge Tamara Garcia presided over his case. Barbara and Mary-Scott were not allowed to give testimony against him. Rea was convicted of second-degree murder with intent, and Judge Garcia gave him the maximum sentence of 10 years and one month. Rea could be released from jail as early as 2022.

Vicky’s body has never been found, and Rea has never been charged with her murder. It’s possible, even likely, that Rea raped and killed even more women than the seven known victims (Vicky, Mary-Scott, Barbara, Lorri, Monique, Naomie, and the unnamed woman from 1977).

Mpls. police renew search for dying woman's daughter last seen in '90
Minneapolis police hope to satisfy a dying woman's wish to know the truth about her daughter's disappearance in 1990.

At age 59 and dying of lung disease, all Larene Johnson wants is to have a proper burial for her daughter Vicky, who disappeared from northeast Minneapolis one summer Sunday morning in 1990 and has never been heard from since. Victoria Jane Owczynsky, a soon-to-be high school senior at Minneapolis Edison, was living with a girlfriend's family when the missing person report was filed.

"Results have been minimal" from the pursuit of various leads, police said in a statement Friday.

Police Sgt. Stephen McCarty said that some of the impetus for reviving publicity about Owczynsky's disappearance is that her mother is gravely ill. "Wouldn't you like to know if you were in that woman's shoes?" McCarty said. Moreover, advances in DNA technology give investigators hope in locating Owczynsky, the sergeant said, adding that samples have been taken from both of her parents.

While police even now publicize Owczynsky's case in terms of her being alive -- going so far as distributing a composite sketch of what she might look like as a 39-year-old -- Johnson said she knows better. "I know if she were alive, she would try to contact one of us in her family," said Johnson, speaking barely above a whisper because of what her illness has done to her vocal cords. "I've got the feeling that she's gone because it's been more than 20 years."

Johnson, who lives about 30 miles north of Brainerd, said what motivates her now is "closure. I want to find her body, bring her home and give her a decent funeral." About 14 months after Owczynsky was last seen, police suspected the father of the family she was living with, given that he saw her in the home that morning of Aug. 26, 1990. Two years earlier, he had been ordered out of the house by authorities on accusations that he sexually assaulted his daughters. The man has never been charged, but Johnson said, "I know in my heart it was him."

Police on the case back then said Owczynsky left behind items people normally take along when intending to leave for any length of time: clothing, what little money she had and cigarettes. She agreed that day to meet a friend at a nearby park.

But she never showed up. John Baade, a police sergeant on the case early on, said, "That's not somebody who elected to be gone. ... Basically, what we're talking about is a potential homicide."

A homicide unit sergeant is leading the renewed investigation, which McCarty said is standard in missing-person cold cases. He declined to talk about any potential suspects. Anyone with information is being urged to call police at 612-673-3406 or CrimeStoppers (1-800-222-8477), which is offering a reward of up $1,000 for help in solving the case. Along with the composite image, police Friday also released to news media a photo of Owczynsky from 1990, the same one authorities distributed upon her disappearance. Owczynsky is described as white. At the time, she was 5 feet tall, 110 pounds, with brown hair, brown eyes and a birthmark under her left eye.

"Vicky was always smiling, happy and adventurous," Johnson said. "She liked to play football with the guys. She'd arm-wrestle her brother." Long resigned to believing her daughter met a violent end, she said, "I'm still doing the crying. Very hard."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

A Minnesota Killer and Serial Rapist Will Serve Less Than Six Years for the Murder of Lorri Mesedahl
Mother Jones’ recent investigation revealed the details of the multiple other attacks for which Darrell Rea will never serve time.

Madison Pauley

A Minneapolis murderer and serial rapist, Darrell Rea, slipped through the fingers of local law enforcement for decades after killing 17-year-old Lorri Mesedahl in 1983—sexually abusing his stepdaughters and raping two more women in the years that followed. On Tuesday, in Hennepin County District Court, Rea was sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison for the second-degree murder of Mesedahl with intent, under Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines from the early 1980s. He will likely serve just over five years before being released under supervision. He is 64 years old. Rea denied involvement in Mesedahl’s death and did not express remorse in the courtroom. (Through his lawyer before the sentencing, Rea broadly denied the criminal accusations against him and declined to answer specific questions or comment further on allegations.)  

As detailed in my investigation published this week, Rea could be not be charged for either the rape of Mary-Scott Hunter or that of another woman, Barbara, even though there is DNA evidence linking him to the assaults, because of the three-year statute of limitations in effect when the attacks took place. (A similar situation is facing magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll, who last week accused President Donald Trump of raping her in a New York department store in the mid 1990s, according to former Bronx sex crimes prosecutor Roger Canaff.)

Hennepin County prosecutors also declined to charge the sexual abuse of Rea’s stepdaughters, Monique Stevens and Naomie Rondo, which started in the late 1970s. “Darrell won the game,” said Del Young, Mesedahl’s half brother, through tears in his victim impact statement to Judge Tamara Garcia on Tuesday morning. “No matter what happens in this court here today.”

In coming to Rea’s guilty verdict last month, Judge Garcia considered evidence from the 1988 attack on Barbara, whom Rea raped and stabbed in the neck. Still, Barbara was not permitted to read her victim impact statement aloud in the courtroom this week, but she shared it in writing with the judge. “I have come to the conclusion I will never see justice,” she wrote. “This 10 year sentence is just enough to get him madder. A slap on the wrist.” She signed it: “scarred, sad, and feeling hopeless at times.”

Stevens and Rondo, Rea’s stepdaughters, gripped each other’s hands tightly in the courtroom. They too submitted victim impact statements to the judge, but were not permitted to read the statements aloud. “I get out of bed every morning and tell myself I am going to face the day,” Stevens wrote. “I am not going to let this man define me. I am not going to let what happened to me, define who I am.” 

“The abuse I suffered changed who I became and shaped my personality,” wrote Rondo. She added, “I am a fighter and refuse to let the abuse control me.” Just before she read Rea’s sentence, Judge Garcia acknowledged their statements, telling the courtroom, “I would like all of you who wrote to me to know that I have heard each and every one of you.”

Hunter, who was raped by Rea in 1987, told me she is glad she did not have to deliver a victim impact statement in court. “I am not afraid to be vulnerable with people, but I consider it a sign of trust (or a leap of humanistic faith) when I am,” she wrote to me recently. “I believe that when folks are willingly and honestly vulnerable with each other, it’s a real gift. And, for obvious reasons, he doesn’t deserve that from me.” Though Rea’s sentencing concludes the Mesedahl murder case, the law enforcement team that investigated the crime—and other crimes by Rea—isn’t done. “I think any investigator who worked, even touched this case, or knows anything about it, would agree that the probability that there are other victims out there, either living or dead, is probably pretty good,” Minneapolis Police Sergeant Chris Karakostas told me. As I detail in the investigation:

Now that Rea has been convicted of murder, he will be legally obligated to hand over a new DNA sample. And unlike the bloodstain from Barbara’s shirt, this one will be uploaded to the FBI’s national database. From now on, it will be automatically compared to unknown DNA from crime scenes across the country. When Rea’s DNA enters the system, Karakostas will be waiting to see if more hits come back from cases outside Minnesota. One day, he speculates, there could be another prosecution. In that future case, a judge could rule that the experiences of Hunter and Stevens count as corroborating evidence. Maybe they could still get some kind of day in court. “There’s a lot of women out there that really don’t have some justice for what happened to them,” Karakostas says.

Just before Rea entered the courtroom Tuesday, Karie Gibson, a member of the FBI’s behavioral analysis unit and part of the law enforcement team that worked on the Mesedahl case, leaned over to speak to me. “I don’t think today’s the last day we’ll be hearing about him,” she said.

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