I belong to a lot of “murder” Facebook groups. One of the questions I have been asked is, “What was the first thing that sparked your interest in true crime?” Not surprisingly, it didn’t take me long to remember what it was. I was only 9 when the Minnesota murder of Sara Rairdon happened.
I remember clipping the story out of the newspaper and keeping it in my room (I may have even taped it to my wall…..). I don’t know if my parents ever noticed it, but looking back it was *sort of* a strange thing to do. How many 9-year-old girls do you know of that hoard newspaper stories of murdered children in their bedroom? Ugh. Anyway, the story probably resonated with me because the victim was a young girl, who lived in my part of the universe and was close to my age.
Her name was Sarah Rairdon, she was 13 years old and she was from Underwood, MN. The town only had 300 people and was a little over an hour away from where I grew up. It was 1985 and Sarah was living with her father, stepmother and 10 step-siblings. Her mother, Glenda, had long been out of the picture. There were some strange family dynamics and Sarah was clearly her father’s favorite. The stepmother, Marilyn Rairdon, resented Sarah’s father, John, and took opportunities to make Sarah’s life unpleasant. Sarah also did not get along very well with her stepbrother, Jeff.
Sarah was a normal, small town girl who loved to write, play with her friends and wears shirt with teddy bears on them. By all accounts she was a popular girl. Sarah Rairdon was a good student and everyone loved her.
Where Is Sarah?
May 20, 1985 started like any other day. Sarah went to school and waited outside afterwards for her father to pick her up. She waited and waited. When he didn’t show, she made the few mile walk towards home on Whiskey Road.
She never made it home.
Marilyn and her stepbrother drove around looking for her, but to no avail. John also looked for her before calling the police. Search parties were formed, flyers were mailed out. The entire community was heavily involved in her search and emotionally attached to the outcome. This was in the 80s during the hey day of missing kids appearing on milk cartons, but instead of milk cartons Sarah’s face was put on Pepsi bottles. I remember when she went missing and seeing all of this on the news.
The news conferences. Her family and friends spoke out, crying for help. Ongoing news footage of the search parties. John became heavily involved and even joined forces with the Attorney General of MN.
John Rairdon worked on a task force to raise awareness of missing children.
Detectives interviewed many: Sarah’s stepbrother, who she did not get along with. They searched tirelessly for a green Chevrolet that was seen on Whiskey Road that day. There were continuous dead ends.
Fast forward to July 6, 1985. A farmer in Rothsay, MN finds the remains of a body in an overgrown ditch. It was quickly realized who the remains belonged to when it was noted that the remains were wearing a shirt with teddy bears on it.
John Rairdon: Murderer
Detectives reinterviewed family after Sarah’s body was found.
Then, two of Sarah’s stepsisters told detectives that their father, John, had been sexually abusing Sarah for years.
Up until this point, John had a solid alibi stating that he was at work the night she went missing, complete with evidence of him punching out at 7 p.m. To make a very long story short, John Rairdon eventually confessed to the murder, stating that he had picked her up on the day she disappeared.
Sarah refused his sexual advances, and he stabbed her with a pick-like tool in the stomach. John left her to bleed to death.
He returned to work and punched out. He then drove her body near Rothsay, MN and threw her in a ditch.
John drove home and played the part of distraught father.
I was so afraid of kidnappings (this was the 80s, after all) and this just heightened my terror at the time. When it finally came out that her father murdered her, it went against everything I believed to be true about families. You love one another, you take an interest in seeing your children grow. Parents are supposed to hold their children close. If a father, who by all accounts appeared to love his daughter could do this, then what? What kind of psychopath acts like this? Who can kill their own child, throw them in a ditch and walk around pretending to care? This was my first introduction to trying, but failing, to get into someone else’s mind.
And it always stuck with me.
John was sentenced to life in prison and is still incarcerated at the MN Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights. He is now 71 and has been denied parole at least 4 times. Not much is heard from him, but he did give a TV interview for a show called Confessions of a Crime in which he said about his daughter, “I don’t really think of Sarah very often.”
What a fucking asshole.
What was the one thing that sparked your interest in true crime?