Officials excavate site in reopened 1976 murder case

From the [Springfield IL] State Journal-Register--

Officials excavate site in reopened 1976 murder case


Published Thursday, April 20, 2006

LINCOLN - Authorities began sifting through soil near a Lincoln church
Wednesday for clues in a 30-year-old case of suspected murder.

Lincoln real estate agent Ruth Martin disappeared in 1976 shortly
before she was scheduled to testify in a shoplifting case against
Russell Smrekar. Smrekar, a native of Joliet and a student at Lincoln
College in 1976, now is serving a 300-year sentence for the October
1976 shotgun slayings of Lincoln bait-shop owner Jay Fry and his wife,
Robin, who was pregnant at the time.

Smrekar also was suspected of killing Martin and college classmate
Mike Mansfield, both of whom have been missing for 30 years, to
prevent them from testifying in separate burglary and shoplifting

On Wednesday, state and local authorities began meticulously removing
layers of dirt near Immanuel Lutheran Church in the search for
Martin's remains.

"This was one of the suspected areas back in 1976. Records indicated
this is where the body (of Martin) could have been buried," said
Lincoln detective Paul Adams.

Lincoln police reopened the Smrekar investigation more than a month
ago, hoping new technology would help solve the case, Adams said.A
cadaver dog searched Kickapoo Creek Park and the Immanuel Lutheran
property in late March. Adams said the dog indicated "some type of
material out here," at the church grounds.

A crew from the Illinois Geological Survey also checked the site with
radar and found an area below the surface that was inconsistent with
surrounding soil. An anthropologist from the Illinois State Police
also has been called in.

"We're just going to exhaust all of our resources," said Adams.

Authorities suspect Smrekar killed Martin and Mansfield to prevent
them from testifying against him on charges of stealing a guitar from
a college dorm room and three steaks from the local Kroger store.

Mansfield has been missing since Dec. 31, 1975 - six days before he
was to testify against Smrekar for the dorm-room burglary. Martin
disappeared six months later. She also was slated to testify against
him for shoplifting.

In 1977, Macon County Jail inmates Jimmy Cooper Jr. and James Kennedy
testified Smrekar bragged that he had killed Jay Fry and Martin.
Smrekar killed Robin Fry because she was with her husband at the time,
they said.

At the time of his arrest, authorities said Smrekar also was plotting
the murders of a Kroger store manager and the sister of Jay Fry.

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