ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KMSP) - Before the abduction of Jacob Wetterling, it was one of Minnesota's most notorious unsolved mysteries: the 1974 murders of Mary and Susan Reker in St. Cloud. The Fox 9 Investigators have uncovered new information about a similar crime that begs the question – could they be connected?
The road to find justice has been brutally long. But even after four decades of wrong turns and dead ends, Rita Reker remains hopeful the murders of her daughters can be solved.
"I feel that there are people out there who know," Reker said. "I'm 80 years old, so it's got to come pretty quick."
The girls, who were just 12 and 15 when they were killed, were last seen alive by their parents on Labor Day in 1974.
They left their home on foot to go buy school supplies at the Zayre discount store about a mile away.
"Anybody that can look two young girls in the face and stab them to death is not a normal person," Reker said.
Twenty-six agonizing days after they disappeared, the girl's bodies were discovered in a quarry outside of the central Minnesota city.
Susan was covered with brush and had been stabbed 13 times. Mary was underwater and there were six puncture wounds on her body.
All these years and still no leads? Maybe not
The Fox 9 Investigators recently learned of another crime, one with haunting similarities to the Reker case.
It happened almost two years to the day after the girls' bodies were found.
Using Minnesota's open records law, Fox 9 obtained police and court files about this case that were never made public before.
The accomplice agreed to an audio interview with the Fox 9 Investigators as long as his voice was disguised.
"I just have dreams all the time of this poor girl," he said.
In the fall of 1976, when he was 17, he hung out with a classmate named Herb Notch.
One Saturday evening they were driving around St. Cloud and stopped at a convenience store called "The Dairy Bar."
"He says let's just go in and knock over this store, no big deal," recalled the accomplice.
They went into the store with a gun.
14-year-old Sue Dukowitz was at the register while her dad, the owner, was doing work next door. They ordered her to hand over money from the till and told her to go with them to the car.
Notch drove south of town on a dirt road which, at that time, led to a secluded gravel pit.
"He always had this knife and he was playing with it," the accomplice said.
Notch parked the car off the road. Dukowitz was tied up with tape and Notch used his knife to slice through the front of her sweater. He also cut off her bra and underwear.
After sexually assaulting her, he stabbed her.
"He had no remorse at all, none, like hitting a bug on your windshield," said the accomplice.
Notch and the accomplice believed Dukowitz was dead, so they hid her body under some brush.
What happened in this attack has striking similarities to what is known about the stabbing deaths of the Reker girls.
They too were taken to a remote location outside St. Cloud, but it was a quarry, not a gravel pit.
Mary Reker also had her sweater cut down the front and her bra cut off. The body of her sister was hidden in the brush.
But, there is one significant difference between the cases.
Sue Dukowitz lived to give police a description of her kidnappers by playing dead.
After Notch and his accomplice drove off, she managed to walk half a mile through the darkness towards a light and knocked on the door of a house.
Ralph Thole's parents helped her inside, laid her on their couch, and called for an ambulance. Dukowitz recovered from the attack after a few days in the hospital. She died at age 34 from cancer.
"That really shook my folks up, it really did," Thole remembered.
Hours later, police found Notch and the accomplice. Notch admitted he was the one who stabbed Dukowitz.
When asked why he did it, Notch said "I still haven't got an answer for that."
A judge ordered Notch to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Court records show doctors determined he had "a fearlessly savage quality about him,” was a “very dangerous person” and “in the right situation, a homicidal individual."
"[He] seems to lack any significant remorse regarding his alleged offenses,” the court records showed.
Notch was offered a deal. He pleaded guilty to robbery and kidnapping, but the charges of attempted murder and sexual assault were dismissed. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
His accomplice served seven years in prison for his role in the crime and has stayed out of trouble ever since. He told the Fox 9 Investigators he knows nothing about what happened to the Reker girls.
The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office knows of Herb Notch, but would not say if he is now a suspect in the 42-year-old investigation.
"I can agree with you that there are similarities in both cases," Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold said.
Multiple sources tell the Fox 9 Investigators Notch was questioned previously about the Reker case.
Retired investigator says crimes too similar to ignore possible connection
Denny Sigafoos periodically worked on the Reker homicides before retiring from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in 1994.
Fox 9 asked if he was working on the case today and knew about the other case what he would do. Sigafoos responded, "I would have been all over Notch and anybody that he knew and everybody that he knew."
Sigafoos said the two crimes are too similar to ignore the possibility of a connection.
"When you say about, you know, the cutting off the bra and the sweater up the front, that's a pretty big coincidence," he said.
Herb Notch served 10 years of the 40-year sentence for his attack on Dukowitz.
In 1988, after being released from St. Cloud prison, he got into trouble again.
A former girlfriend accused him of breaking into her home and raping her at knife point. He was acquitted of the sex charge, but found guilty of false imprisonment and burglary.
In 1992, another female acquaintance claimed Notch drove her to a remote location, tied her up and raped her in the back of his pickup truck.
The Minnesota fugitive task force spent 14 months tracking him down after charges were filed. They found him in Phoenix, Arizona where he was living under his brother's name.
That brother, Steven Notch, was in prison at the time for fatally shooting his sleeping roommate.
Herb Notch returned to Minnesota to stand trial on rape charges, but was acquitted.
No comment from Notch
He still lives in Minnesota, is married and has children.
Notch would not speak with Fox 9 about the Reker case.
The Fox 9 Investigators sent him two letters, including one by registered mail, asking him to talk about the striking similarities between the knife attack on Dukowitz and the stabbings of the Reker girls.
When called to follow up, Notch commented, "Let me tell you something, don't bother me any f***ing more."
Mary Reker may have known killer
Sigafoos believes the murders were, in his words "inept" – likely committed by a young person or persons because the crime scene was "sloppy."
"Who's ever done that I think had contact with them and knew 'em," he said.
Notch was employed at the Zayre store where the Reker girls went shopping the day they disappeared.
Notch's family lived outside St. Cloud in Luxemburg, the same small town where the girls would visit their grandparents.
Notch and Mary Reker were the same age.
In one of the last entries to her diary, Mary wrote a chilling message: "If I am murdered, find my killer and see that justice is done. I have a few reasons to fear for my life and what I ask is important."
"She wrote it to our family and she said see that justice wins over," Rita Reker said. "That's hard, that was my child."
Anyone with information on the Reker case is asked to call the Stearns County Sheriff's Department at 320-251-4240 or crime stoppers at 320-255-1301. Tipsters can remain anonymous and maybe eligible for a reward.