SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: Unsolved Murder of Lisa Staes

By: Dana Brueck with Photojournalist Brad Trummer Email
By: Dana Brueck with Photojournalist Brad Trummer Email

Posted Monday, March 13, 2009 --- 6:10 p.m.

Her identity remained a mystery for more than a year. Now, more than three decades later, who killed her is still a mystery for Sauk County investigators.

"She was just full of energy and life," Michele Rambeau says, "I was always the shy one. She was the daredevil."

"Everybody loved her."

Michele Rambeau and her cousin, Lisa, were like sisters.

"We were real close."

These decades-old pictures capture the pair's visits to one another.

"I think she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when she came to see me."

At 20-years-old, Lisa left home in Kansas City to come to the Chicago area to visit Michele.

"She was bored there. She wanted to come up ... see city life."

Lisa was on a winter break from school. It was January of 1976.

"We went to a lot of clubs where they played music."

But one evening Lisa never returned home.

"Every day, I don't know for how long, I waited for that phone call. And it never happened."

Then, 11 days later...

"I remember this particular night the body was discovered, it was very cold."

January 24th, 1976, a trout fisherman walked into Poor Nate's Tavern in rural Sauk County. His face - pale - after finding the naked body of a woman under the Harrison Creek Bridge. Then-Chief of Detectives Ed Borski and and Chief Deputy Butch Steinhorst worked the case.

"We had no leads at all, did we? The mushroom tattoo on the body was the only thing we had... a lot of legwork went into that."

A small mushroom tattoo on the woman's upper hip would prove to be a big break. But, in the meantime, the unknown young woman was laid to rest outside of Baraboo. Investigators looked to reports of missing people.

"We sent out teletypes about every 3 weeks or so, nationwide."

It would take investigators more than a year to identify the body found under this bridge. Back in '76, a local high school senior remembers investigators circulating pictures of the unknown woman who was eventually linked to Chicago.

"She was identified as Lisa Christine Staes out of Leawood, KS," Capt. Kevin Fults of the Sauk County Sheriff's Office says.

Desperate for answers, Lisa's parents in Kansas went to their local police chief - who managed to make the connection. With a positive ID and a new lead, Borski and Steinhorst turned to one of the last people to see Lisa alive... her cousin, Michele.

"They went into this bar called Mother's ... "

Michele says Lisa went to Mother's, a downtown Chicago bar, the evening of January 13th with another cousin. Without a license, he never entered the bar... but instead, waited inside of a nearby coffee shop for Lisa.

"Even if she'd found people and was partying, or whatever, she would've called me," Michele says.

And she never would've abandoned her new puppy, Mika.

"Who I knew she would be wondering about too."

But, in Chicago, Sauk County investigators find few, if any, leads.

"I mean we were shooting in the dark, maybe, sometimes."

Where Lisa's body was found offered few other clues. Investigators believe Lisa likely was suffocated. Marks indicated her body was put into a trunk... then dumped under the remote bridge.

"We have no evidence foul play happened right there."

Capt. Fults hopes old evidence combined with new forensic technology will lead to justice.

"I believe wholeheartedly that if we hit the right piece of information or the right person comes forward, with a piece of information, we can solve this case."

Today, Lisa Staes still rests outside of Baraboo.

More than 30 years have mellowed the pain of losing a first born...

"She had beautiful hair," her mother says, "and then this is a trip to Alaska... We traveled a lot."

But Lisa's always in her parents' thoughts...

"All of the time. She's a part of our family, part of our lives," her father says.

Susan and Jack Staes come every year from Kansas to visit their daughter's grave. Susan believes whoever put her daughter here has ties to the area.

"The location where her body was found is, you know, pretty remote for anybody that's not familiar with the area."

She wants answers but knows nothing will erase their loss... their loss of a history.

"It's a whole lifetime she's missed out on."

The loss of a lifetime full of possibility.

"I could see her being like an actress, or something you know," Michele says.

"This was last Thanksgiving," her mother says, "She would've loved to see her brothers marry and have children... She would've been a good aunt and I presume would've had children of her own."

The state Department of Justice is helping Sauk County take a closer look at this case, and investigators want information!

If you know anything about it, call the Sheriff's Office.

Sauk Co. Sheriff's Office
(608) 356-4895
Crime Stoppers
1-888-TIP SAUK

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