Every Valentine’s Day, Juliet Rundle tries to put on a happy face.
The West Virginia woman doesn’t want to ruin everyone’s day so she puts on an act, she admits.
The truth is that Valentine’s Day haunts her. Feb. 14, 1985, marks the day her 37-year-old step-daughter Cassandra Rundle and Cassandra’s two young children were found brutally killed in their Ivywild home. The triple slaying is one of the more horrific crimes in Colorado Springs history — and no one was ever arrested.
“I have nightmares about that day every year,” Juliet Rundle said.
Now, after 27 years, the number of people with direct knowledge of the case is dwindling.
Cassandra Rundle’s mother, father and sister have all died. So has Lou Smit, one of the detectives who revisited the case years after the killings.
“There aren’t a whole lot of us left,” said retired Colorado Springs Police Sgt. Dick Reisler, who was the lead detective for the case.
Juliet Rundle said she makes sure to keep her phone number listed so people can call her with information about the case, and holds out hope that one day there will be justice.
That day in 1985, Cassandra Rundle’s ex-husband visited the home on LaClede Avenue to bring her a record album as a Valentine’s Day gift. Inside he found the bodies of Rundle and her two children: 12-year-old Detrick Sturm and 10-year-old Melanie Sturm.
According to Gazette articles from the time, the killer first attacked Cassandra Rundle between 5 and 8 a.m. that day by beating her with a hockey stick. He tied her up with her own clothes, raped her, then strangled her to death.
Next, he went to Melanie’s room where evidence showed she tried to fight off the attacker. She was beaten so badly that her skull was fractured and she too was raped and strangled.
Police believe Detrick walked in on the killings that day and he too was beaten. Police found him face down on his bedroom floor, a bloodied hockey stick nearby.
John Holiday, an investigator for the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office at the time, said the crime immediately became a top priority for his office and for police. He spent that day outside the Rundle house interviewing neighbors.
“To this day I’m glad I didn’t go in,” he said. “I don’t want that picture in my mind.”
Reisler said the slaying of a mother and her two children “tugged at the heartstrings,” of investigators.
Rundle was described by her step-mother as a kind and caring woman who loved poetry and loved her children. She had married her childhood sweetheart Steve Sturm, the father of her children, and they later divorced.
She also married and divorced tattoo artist Douglas Peltzer, who found her that morning. Her kids, Juliet Rundle said, were kind and smart – both enrolled in gifted programs at their school.
Reisler said police inside worked meticulously to preserve evidence, and even called in the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for help.
“We locked that house up for more than a month,” he said.
The problem wasn’t finding a suspect, he said, it was narrowing down a long list of possible suspects.
Before she died, Rundle took out two personal ads in the “Colorado Springs Sun,” a daily newspaper that has since gone out of business. In those ads, she described herself as a “free spirit,” “independent,” and a “modest lady.”
Police at the time said that she had more than 80 responses and had replied to several of the men.
“The problem with the case is that there are a multiple number of suspects. Some are known and some are not known,” Reisler said. “That’s why it’s an unsolved case today — we have a pool of suspects but we can’t eliminate them all and some we don’t even know who they are.”
A grand jury was called to help investigate the crime and decide if there was enough evidence to charge someone. No charges were filed. Reisler said there is a person he strongly suspects, but there isn’t enough evidence to convict. He would not name the person.
“If I were on the jury with the suspect in my mind, I wouldn’t convict him either,” Reisler said. “And I know more than the jury will ever know.”
He hopes the evidence he helped collect, aided by advances in technology, will someday lead to the killer.
The case haunts Holiday, who was on a team of investigators, including Smit, who were called in a few years after the killings to give the case a new set of eyes.
“It wasn’t just a homicide,” Holiday said. “It was all kinds of heinous crimes that went with it.”
His team, too, was unable to find enough evidence to charge anyone. Since then, police have continued to investigate, Juliet Rundle said. DNA collected has been submitted to a national database in hopes of finding a match. She has faith that police are doing all they can and has confidence that someday the family will have its answers.
Police, too, had that confidence at the beginning of the case.
Joe Kenda, now a retired Colorado Springs police lieutenant, was quoted in a Gazette story two days after the slaying: “I believe this case will be solved, and relatively soon.”
—Contact Maria St. Louis-Sanchez: 636-0274Twitter @mariastlouis Facebook Gazette Maria St. Louis-Sanchez