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Does arrest offer new lead in 30-year-old Rachael Runyan case?

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 1:36 p.m. MST

In this August 26, 2007, file photo, Maureen Benson (Davis County Sheriff Lieutenant) and Kelly Kent (Salt Lake City Sgt.) listen during a news conference regarding Rachael Runyan, who was abducted and murdered in 1982. To the right is a drawing of Racheal Runyan.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News archives

SUNSET — Could the arrest of a man in Pennsylvania who was the subject of an Amber Alert provide any clues into a nearly 30-year-old cold case in Utah?

This August marks the 30th anniversary of when 3-year-old Rachael Runyan was abducted from a playground in Sunset just 50 feet from her home. Her body was found in a stream near Mountain Green 21 days later.

No one has ever been arrested in connection to the killing. Rachael's mother, Elaine Runyan-Simmons, has been an active advocate of finding missing children since her daughter's kidnapping.

Utah's Amber Alert system was still called the "Rachael Alert" — in honor of Runyan-Simmons' daughter — when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped in 2002. The name was later changed to the Amber Alert to conform with alerts in other states.

In 2007, the case was officially reopened by Sunset police and a reward of more than $50,000 was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible.

During an announcement about the reopening of the case, Jeff Runyan, Rachael's father, said a man living at the time in New Mexico was the prime suspect in the case. Runyan said he was asked by law enforcement not to reveal the man's name so the ongoing investigation would not be compromised.

"He's at the top of our list," Sunset Police Chief Ken Eborn told the Deseret News in 2007. "Somebody that we've watched over the years and tried to get more information on, but obviously not enough to make an arrest."

Now, police and Elaine Runyan-Simmons are looking into whether that same man was arrested in Pennsylvania last year after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend and taking his 5-month-old son, a move that sparked an Amber Alert. The man was arrested and the child safely recovered.

The man has the same name as the person Sunset police were looking at, is the same age and has many of the same descriptive features, Runyan-Simmons said. A records check by the Deseret News showed the man had ties to both New Mexico and Utah.

Runyan-Simmons said Monday she was waiting to hear from local investigators whether it was indeed the same man who was a suspect in her case. If it is, she said it would be worth having Utah authorities investigate.

"I don't see why not. As the leads come in, we have to review them," she said. "You can't just let them go by the wayside. You have to check on them anyway."

Sunset police said Monday they were just hearing about the case and starting to look into it and did not have any additional details to share.

Runyan-Simmons said she has gone through 1,000 other possible leads in the past. She said she has to continue living her life, but understands that her daughter's case is one of, if not the biggest unsolved murder mysteries in Utah.

"You just gotta have hope," she said.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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