A woman sits in a crowded chapel, in the company of family, friends and strangers. She glances at the floor and notices a single autumn leaf. As the congregation progresses past her to receive the sacrament, their shuffling feet stir the leaf, causing it to spin and dance.
At the conclusion of communion, the leaf rests so that its tip points at the woman, and she is reminded of another autumn leaf she saw three decades ago—a leaf pursed between the lips of her teenaged daughter, whose body was discovered buried under foliage following her murder.
That woman is Carmen Mader, formerly Guenther. Her daughter’s name was Christine, and this year marks the 30-year anniversary of Christine’s unsolved murder.
Fifteen-year-old Christine Guenther disappeared from the bus stop at Donaldson’s Crossroads on Oct. 26, 1981, after she was given an early dismissal from school at Peters Township High School. Her intended destination was a doctor’s appointment in Pittsburgh, but she never made it there.
Instead, she ended up somewhere far worse. Her body was discovered on Oct. 31, 1981, by a hunter scouting the area around Cecil Sturgeon Road in South Fayette. She had been bludgeoned to death in the head.
What happened to Christine during the five days she was missing? Who killed her and why?
Despite diligent investigative efforts on the parts of police departments in both Washington and Allegheny counties, these questions have gone unanswered for 30 years. Christine’s murder remains unsolved. But it is definitely not forgotten, and many questions are still being relentlessly asked.
The chapel where Mader sat and watched the leaf dance was in St. Benedict the Abbot Catholic Church in Peters Township, where she was joined by more than a hundred people for a mass in Christine’s honor on Saturday morning.
The mass was part of a weekend-long memorial orchestrated by a number of people dedicated to promoting awareness of the murder and bringing Christine’s case to justice.
Other memorial events included a caravan from Pizzaz Italian Restaurant to Christine’s burial site at Queen of Heaven Catholic Cemetery on Sunday morning, and a gathering underneath the billboard at the intersection of Washington Road/Route 19 and Valleybrook Road on Monday afternoon.
Each of the events called together large numbers of people, many of whom knew Christine and many of whom did not. Fond memories were shared. Tears were shed. But most of all, hope was spread—hope for a break in Christine’s case, for answers to the questions that have haunted too many people for too long.
It was this sense of hope that made the memorial events possible in the first place.
Chris (Patrizio) Wallace, Christine’s best friend, has never given up hope that Christine’s murder would one day be solved. She has dedicated a lot of her time to following up on Christine’s case and has put to use a valuable tool that was not available at the time of Christine’s murder: the Internet.
Through the Internet, Wallace, a resident of Tampa, Fla., was able to find a Facebook page about Christine’s murder. The page she found, however, was highly speculative and has since been deleted at her request.
While that particular page didn’t give Wallace any answers, it gave her an idea.
Wallace started the Justice for Christine Guenther page on Facebook approximately one year ago. Since that time, it has been visible to others whose curiosity spurred them to surf the net in search of information on Christine and her murder.
Diane (Hartman) Postrech was one of the curious people who clicked her way to Wallace’s page. Postrech is a Peters Township High School alum who was in college at the time of Christine’s disappearance and murder. Though she did not know Christine personally, she nonetheless could not escape the gravity of the murder.
Another person wrangled in on the web was Nicole Mayor, Christine’s cousin, who flew in from Dallas, Texas, to take part in the memorial.
Mayor was 8 at the time of the tragedy. She told us that she was unable to comprehend what had happened at the time, and that her parents and other family members sheltered her from the unsavory truth. Her search for information on her dearly missed cousin was what caused her to find the Justice for Christine Guenther page.
Wallace, Postrech and Mayor were largely responsible for the coordination and execution of the memorial events that took place this past weekend. They also attribute credit to numerous other people who have contributed to their newly-launched website, www.chrisguenthermurder.com, or have provided informational, financial or motivational support in any way.
The purposes of the events themselves were twofold. Remembering Christine was one of the goals, but it was not the most pressing one. The main goal of the events was to promote awareness of Christine’s murder, to remind people that it happened and call for any information that could lead to solving the case.
With respect to this goal, Wallace and Postrech both stressed that they are not interested in solving the case themselves but, rather, are interested in gathering information that the proper authorities can use to solve it.
To that end, Wallace and Postrech, on behalf of their group, Friends of Christine Guenther, have issued a public request: Anyone who has any information on the events surrounding Christine’s disappearance and murder is asked to contact the Allegheny County Police Department 24-hour tip line at (412) 473-3000 or the Allegheny County Homicide Unit at (412) 473-1300.
Wallace explained that it is crucial for those who submitted tips 30 years ago to resubmit them at this time, since the case was initially looked at as a missing persons case and has since become an unsolved murder case.
Postrech said that people should report information regardless of how insignificant the details may seem, an opinion shared by Peters Township Chief of Police Harry Fruecht, who was present at the billboard gathering on Monday.
“If you take a look at how many people reside in the community and how many people pass through (the) intersection (where Christine was last seen), somebody had to have seen something that could help us,” said Fruecht.
“Sometimes people have a bit of information and they don’t even realize they have it… All they have to do is come forward and provide that information. It may be the small piece we need to complete the puzzle.”
Also in attendance at the billboard gathering was Jim Morton, assistant superintendent for the Allegheny County Police. Like Wallace, he stressed the importance of resubmitting tips, noting that the classification of the case is not the only thing that has changed over the years.
For instance, Morton provided, Megan’s Law was not in place at the time of Christine’s murder. Though there were no indications of sexual assault on Christine’s body, the registrar of sex offenders would have been a possible starting place for the case had such a thing been around when Christine was murdered, he said.
Another key change Morton noted was technology, the very thing which brought the Friends of Christine Guenther together and the very thing they hope will crack the case.
“Technology allows us to break down the barriers that would otherwise confine us,” Wallace said. “We can reach people across the country and across the globe, and remember things we think we’ve forgotten.
“We’re optimistic that technology will reach someone or stir a memory… and help us uncover the truth.”
And perhaps technology has already begun to work this magic. Morton said that the Allegheny County Police Department received information over the weekend from a caller who found out about the case online, which is exactly the type of result the Friends of Christine Guenther set out to achieve.
* Anyone who has any information on the events surrounding Christine’s disappearance and murder is asked to contact the Allegheny County Police Department 24-hour tip line at (412) 473-3000 or the Allegheny County Homicide Unit at (412) 473-1300. *