The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.
At around 12:30 a.m. Monday morning, July 3, 1973, Shirley Ann Rardin, a 20-year-old sophomore art major at Eastern Illinois University, finished her shift at Hardee’s at the corner of 4th Street and Lincoln Avenue in Charleston, changed clothes, and said goodbye to her coworkers. She was 5 feet 7 inches tall, 125 pounds, with shoulder-length blonde hair and blue-green eyes. She was wearing wide flare jeans, a black halter top, and blue tennis shoes, with $5 in her pocket.
Shirley was a local girl, having graduated from Charleston High School in 1971, and a young divorcee. She had been previously married to a former manager at Hardee’s named Rich DeWitt.
Shirley was renting Apt. 203 in the Lincolnwood building at 2210 9th Street, exactly one mile from the Hardee’s, and was believed to be heading there after work. She usually rode her bike to and from work, but that night she walked. If she ever arrived, no one knew. Medication she needed to take four times daily for a serious medical condition was later found in her apartment.
Her boyfriend, David Thomas, a fellow EIU student, reported her missing to Charleston police at 1:14 a.m Tuesday. The search dragged on for almost a week, but police were hampered by the fact that Shirley was a legal adult and could do as she pleased. As the days passed without any leads, however, they began to assume the worst.
On the afternoon of Saturday, July 7, four teenage boys were camping in Barrett’s Woods approximately five miles south of unincorporated Logan, northeast of Paris, in Edgar County not far from the Indiana state line. At around 4:00 p.m., they were tubing in Brouilletts Creek and decided to cut through the woods back to their campsite.
About 15 yards from the creek, near an isolated party spot, they stumbled upon Shirley Ann Rardin’s nude body lying face down across a rough trail, partially decomposed in the summer heat. She was later identified by a ring she wore and other personal items found at the scene.
The Rardin case caught local law enforcement by surprise. Charleston Police Detective Ed Kallis told the Decatur Herald and Review “I don’t think in 16 years of police work in this area that I’ve ever seen anything like this involving a girl.” EIU’s Head of Security John Pauley agreed, saying, “In my experience as a law enforcement officer of more than 20 years in the Charleston area, I know of no Eastern student being murdered…”
After initial confusion over her cause of death, forensic specialists in Springfield determined she had been shot in the head at close range, but the bullet was never found. Because of the crime scene’s isolated location, police believed her killer must have been familiar with the area.
They interviewed several people but there were no suspects. In 1982, Shirley’s name was mentioned in the trial of Randy Wright, who was accused of murdering Edgar County Deputy Sheriff George Redman, Jr. in 1974. Several witnesses testified that Wright had bragged about killing Shirley for being a “narc”.
Wright, however, was acquitted and the judge threw out testimony about Shirley’s murder because it was irrelevant to that case. To this date, no one has ever been charged with Shirley Ann Rardin’s murder.
- “Police search for coed.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 6 July 1973.
- “Coed found dead.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 9 July 1973.
- “Violent death indicated.” Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale) 9 July 1973.
- “Woman Had Been Shot in Head: Sheriff.” Decatur Herald (Decatur) 11 July 1973.
- “Jury verdict murder.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 18 July 1973.
- “Reward offered by city.” Eastern News (Charleston) 18 July 1973.
- “Grisly Slayings Shock, Baffle Area Lawmen.” The Terre Haute Tribune (Terre Haute) 22 July 1973.
- “Coles authorities continue investigations into deaths.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 13 August 1973.
- “‘No news’ latest report in Rardin murder case.” Eastern News (Charleston) 29 August 1973.
- “Murder of EIU coed remains unsolved.” Herald and Review (Decatur) 1 January 1974.
- “Drop murder charge.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 11 April 1974.