Rachel Runyan was three years old when she was murdered. Her body was found in a creek bed just north of Mountain Green in Sunset, Utah, more than 40 years ago, and the person responsible for her death has yet to be brought to justice.
At around noon on Aug. 26, 1982, Rachael and her two brothers, then 5 and 18 months old, entreated their mother, Elaine Runyan, to let them play at the school playground behind their home.
It was also adjacent to a park at 200 West and 975 North, according to KUTV 2.
Elaine stated that she wasn’t too thrilled about letting her children go alone, but she eventually gave in after seeing their smiling faces.
While they were playing at the playground, she stayed behind to prepare a meal called sloppy joe.
Rachael’s older brother told law enforcement officers that while they were at the playground, an African-American man approached them and asked if they wanted ice cream and bubble gum.
He said Rachael was playing in the sandbox at the time, but she got up to follow the man. That’s when he told her to come back, as he remembered his parents admonishing them about the dangers of strangers.
As Rachael was starting to head back to her brothers, the man grabbed her and ran to his medium-sized blue vehicle with wood paneling and sped off.
Rachael’s brother then went home and told his mom what happened to Rachael. She immediately contacted the Sunset Police Department and reported her daughter missing.
Police officers set up a roadblock to begin a search throughout the area, but the man, who was believed to be between 25 and 35 years old, was never found.
During those times, they didn’t have the Amber Alert system, so, therefore, relatives had to rely heavily on handing out flyers in an effort to spread the word to the community about Rachael’s disappearance.
On the evening of Sept. 19, 1982, Rachael was found dead. Morgan County News reported that a man from Ogden, Utah, drove his family in the Trapper’s Loop area.
He pulled over next to a turnout near Mountain Green to stretch and enjoy the scenery.
His children climbed out of the vehicle and ran toward a nearby creek bed. When they got there, they called out to their father, as they had uncovered something unusual floating in the water.
After examining it with a stick, he realized it was a human body that had been hidden underneath a bush and a log. The individual was naked and hogtied.
“It was a complete accident that the body was ever found,” said Morgan County Deputy Sheriff Bob Hastie. “She was well hidden.”
Authorities removed the unrecognizable body from the water around 10:19 p.m. that night and transported it to the State Medical Examiner’s Office for identification.
Although the body wasn’t completely decomposed, some physical markings on it had been removed due to the effects of the water.
An autopsy revealed that the body was that of a young girl, but her identity could not immediately be determined.
Since the body matched the description of Rachael and was found about 20 miles from where she was last seen, law enforcement thought there was a strong possibility that it could be the missing girl.
They then brought Rachael’s parents to the medical examiner’s office.
After viewing her chipped teeth and pierced ears, they were able to make an identification.
Due to the body’s condition, the medical examiner was unable to determine how Rachael died, but evidence suggested that she had been murdered.
Elaine told the Salt Lake Tribune that her daughter’s death “changed the course of our lives. It changed how each member of our family looked at everything, looked at life.”
“Just the reality of a family member being taken out of your home and then never to see them again, to try and live without them,” Elaine added.
“It’s not like grandpa lived to 80 and died. It’s like a 3-year-old child that had no disease, was not sick, and literally was stolen right out of our clutches.”
Investigators interviewed several people, some of them multiple times, but no arrests have been made in connection with Rachael’s death, leaving her case unsolved for nearly 40 years.
The Chief of Sunset Police, Ken Eborn, stated that he believes the “killer is still out there, and he has confided in someone about abducting Rachael and killing her—and that person has yet to report him to the police.”
Eborn added, “I will go to my grave insisting someone has information on this case.”
In March 2020, Utah authorities confirmed that they may have a suspect in the case. Eborn told ABC 4 that they received a tip from someone who stated that their relative should be investigated for Rachael’s murder.
Eborn said, “This person went so far as to say that other family members even talked about him in 1982 but may have been reluctant to come forward because in 1982 the composite that went out and the description that went out was of a black man.”
Sunset police worked closely with the victim’s mother and her private investigator to create a new description of the suspected killer. They also said they created a new composite sketch, as the previous one appeared to have had some inaccuracies, such as the mustache.
Investigator Jason Jensen said, “The mustache in the sketch was not accurate. That (Runyan’s son) remembered there being a gap in his mustache where the philtrum is.”
“We’re not just focusing on this person being African-American. We believe that he’s non-Caucasian and that the person of interest responsible for Rachael’s death is likely to have a dark brown complexion.”
An investigation into the nearly four-decade-old cold case continues.
Anyone with information regarding the unsolved murder of Rachael Runyan is encouraged to contact the Sunset Police Department at (801) 825-1620.