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Daughter of Native American woman abducted and murdered in 1989 is hopeful new leads will solve cold case

"It was so violent and horrific," the victim's daughter said. "Who could do something like this?”
Rhys Pocan and her daughter Charlee.png
Posted at 1:07 PM, Nov 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-09 14:07:12-05

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — The Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Office says it’s closing in on a 34-year-old cold case.

A Native American woman named Rhys Pocan was abducted on Milwaukee’s south side in 1989. Tragically, she was murdered and dismembered.

"My mom meant everything,” said Charlee Russ.

A picture and a postcard sit on Charlee’s nightstand. For the past three decades, they’ve reminded Charlee of her mother every night she goes to bed and every morning she wakes up.

"‘I was thinking of you and thought I'd send a card to say how much I love you and miss you. Love, mom,’” the postcard reads.

“No matter how many times you read that, is it still tough?” reporter Ben Jordan asked.

"It is really tough, but it's also a little heartwarming to know that even though she's not here I know she still loves and misses me."

Charlie was just 8 years old when she saw her mom for the last time.

"I remember her getting on her bike and I said, “I want to go with her. Why can't I go with you?’ And she said, ‘No, you can't come with me this time,’” Charlee said. “I watched her ride away on her bike and that memory will always be ingrained in my head."

That day was August 10, 1989. Police say Rhys was last seen near 34th and National Avenue in Milwaukee, not too far from her home.

Rhys Pocan.png

"I didn't understand why they couldn't find her,” Charlee said.

Authorities learned a few weeks later that Rhys was abducted and murdered.

"It was so violent and horrific that it was also another layer of, who could do something like this?” Charlee said.

A tape deep in the archives takes us to the disturbing scene in Sheboygan County that revealed disturbing details. An anonymous man called 911 after finding a torso.

“Investigators were hoping dogs might track down the body’s head and hands, which were missing when the remains were found,” a former reporter said in his story.

WATCH: Archived news story on Rhys Pocan's abduction and murder

Ben - Sheboygan cold case web extra

Those body parts were later discovered by hunters in Vernon Marsh in Waukesha County.

“How traumatic was that for you?” Jordan asked.

"It was really hard for my family,” Charlee said. “So many questions. What did she do to deserve this?"

Those questions remained unanswered as days turned into months, months turned into years and years turned into decades after the case went cold.

Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Detective Nathan Hatch was assigned the case in 2017. He says investigators believe that Rhys knew her killer, but the motive remains unknown.

"In the last year and a half the case has started to heat up,” he said.

Detective Hatch says evidence was recently sent to a lab and more is on the way. He said he couldn’t share what that evidence is to preserve the investigation.

“This year alone we’ve had 35 interviews which have taken us to Gays Mills, Black River Falls, Kohler, Green Bay, Fond du Lac, East Troy, Milwaukee, Plymouth, etc.,” he said.

“Do you believe the person who did this is still alive?” Jordan asked.

“I do,” Detective Hatch replied. “Out of all the suspects that we have currently developed, all of them are still alive at this point."

“Do you believe someone you have already interviewed may have done this?” Jordan asked.

“I do,” Detective Hatch said. “We're inching forward and certainly focusing on certain people."

Charlee says it makes her more hopeful than ever that she will finally get answers and justice for her mother that’s long overdue.

“For somebody to walk around thinking that they got away with it is not OK,” she said.