April of 1986 was unusually warm, in contrast to our never-ending winter this year. Songs such as "Sara" by Jefferson Starship and the Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" were playing on the radio top 40. Organizers were making a big deal out of "Hands Across America" and news was trickling out of the Soviet Union about the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
It was a normal weekend on the last Sunday of that month 25 years ago as I made my way up our front walk with the Mansfield News Journal. Glancing at the paper, I saw headlines that roared:
"BULLET-RIDDLED BODY FOUND IN WILLARD MARSH"
Reading the accompanying news story, I was shaken to see this discovery not far from our home didn't involve an unknown victim. This was about the murder of my co-worker and friend, Brian Studer.
The article told that Brian, 18, had been shot once in the head and chest with a large-caliber weapon and his body left in the bed of his Chevy pick-up truck near a pond in that marsh area where it was found by game warden Jerry Duckworth. Suspected motives and scenarios, the search for evidence and other details of the investigation by Huron County Sheriff Tom Dunlap and his deputies were reported during the ensuing days in the News Journal, the Plymouth Advertiser and what I recently found in the Reflector archives.
In their weekly edition, the New Washington Herald had only the obituary with the heading "Brian Studer Passes Away."
Sheriff Dunlap was quoted in the Advertiser that week, saying "we know pretty much the story surrounding the death ... we have a good idea who committed the murder." Huron County Prosecutor Michael Fegen said in the Reflector that "Without (fingerprints), there goes the case."
But a quarter century after that murder on April 26, there has been no arrest and no conviction of anyone for the crime. A sad commentary on an injustice that was never prosecuted.
Brian was a good "kid," about 10 years my junior, and had been to our house on a few occasions when I had asked him to help me cut wood or clear brush. He also came by one time to proudly show me his new .357 Magnum revolver and we both took target practice at a brushpile in my back field. After one work session, Brian had a frown on his cherubic face when he learned that my bride had prepared meatloaf for supper, because he didn't like ketchup. So we all had meatloaf -- sans-ketchup garnish -- with no ketchup on the table, either.
Arriving at work on that Monday after Brian's murder found a somber crew in our little factory in our little town. We talked uncertainly about what had happened that weekend, not knowing or understanding. I expected that all of us might be routinely interviewed by the sheriff and am surprised to this day that we were not.
Brian was the son of Bob Studer, my boss and the owner of the company. Several of Brian's siblings and a few cousins also worked there, but not on that Monday. I couldn't begin to comprehend Bob's grief when he talked to me for a moment later that morning at the plant. I knew that no words could properly express my sympathy that day, or to Bob and his family at the calling hours the next day, or to any of them in the months ahead.
After 25 years, I still don't know how to properly convey that sympathy to Bob and his wife, Delores, or to Brian's sisters, Char and Annette, or to his brothers, Rick, Keith and Kevin, or any of their families. But I want them all to know that I remember Brian for everything he was and miss everything that he could have become.
Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Brian Studer rest in peace.
Richard Russell is the Reflector business manager. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reflector articles about the murder of Brian Studer will be covered in our "Blast from the Past" feature next week.