Editor's note: This story was originally published on July 14, 2000
More than 20 years have passed since Richard Beard and Mary Leonard disappeared, and 15 years have gone by since the remains of the North Hill teens were found.
Now Akron police - buoyed by new leads and evidence - have decided to reopen this famous murder investigation. Police will hold a press conference this morning to make a new plea for help from anyone who might have clues to help bring the case to a close.
"This has been a multistate investigation, and we have received a ton of information," said Akron Sgt. Edward Moriarty. "This has us in a definite direction - a direction that was identified early on, but people were not in the position to talk."
The families of Richard "Ricky" Beard, 19, and Mary Leonard, 17, have never given up hope that whoever murdered their children would be brought to justice.
"We always hope that someone said something or someone heard something," said Connie Leonard, Mary's sister-in-law. "These people possibly have their own families now, and, having kids of their own, they know the hurt never goes away. It doesn't matter whether it happened 20 years ago or it happened today."
The disappearance of Beard and Leonard sparked one of the most intensive missing-persons investigations in Akron police history.
In 1979, Leonard was an honor student who was to start her senior year at North High School. She worked as a cashier at the Acme store on Cuyahoga Falls Avenue and came from a large family.
Beard graduated from North High in 1979 and worked for William Ley Co. as a laborer. There was speculation that he was involved in minor drug activity and had had run-ins with motorcycle gangs.
The couple was last seen on the night of Aug. 24, 1979, when they went to see The Amityville Horror at the Ascot Drive-in on Akron-Cleveland Road.
The next morning, Beard's dark-blue-over-white Chevrolet Impala was found on a farm lane at Northampton Road and Portage Trail in an area then known as Northampton Township. (It is now part of Cuyahoga Falls.) The car had a bullet hole through the windshield, but there was no trace of blood inside the vehicle.
For days, police and volunteers, along with an Ohio National Guard helicopter and bloodhounds, searched the wooded area where the car was found. False reports poured in to the families and police from people claiming to have seen the couple.
Police hired psychics, and the Leonard family enlisted the help of William Dear, a nationally known private investigator, to help find the teens. Every avenue met with no success.
Six years passed before the skeletal remains of the couple were found. It was May 29, 1985, and a backhoe operator was digging in Northampton Township. The site was about two miles from where Beard's car was found.
The coroner ruled that both teens had been murdered, likely within hours of when they were last seen. Beard suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the chest and neck; Leonard was stabbed at least once in the chest and shot multiple times in the chest and left arm.
An intense investigation followed, but police were unable to determine who was responsible.
Police - spurred on by inquiries from the families - decided to take another look at the case last August on the 20th anniversary of the couple's disappearance.
Moriarty enlisted the help of Ed and Janet Mathews, two patrol officers who are also brother and sister and grew up in the North Hill area. The results the trio have come up with have been surprising - even to them.
"Twenty years later, people are telling us things that 20 years ago they weren't in the position to tell us," Moriarty said. "Some were involved in illegal activities (at the time) and were around people they were afraid of. But they fear them no longer and are now willing to talk."
Moriarty, a longtime detective who works in the crimes-against-persons unit, said police are not necessarily close to making an arrest. But he said they have developed several suspects.
"We have been narrowing it down to a list of viable suspects," he said. "It is 21 years later, so the information we are receiving we have to check out very carefully."
Police are hoping that announcing the reopening of the case will encourage others who have information to come forward.
"Hopefully, something more will come in to us," Moriarty said.
Moriarty was with the department when Leonard and Beard disappeared, and the case has stuck with him through the years.
"Everybody remembers this case," he said.
The Leonard family is happy that police are taking another look and are hoping that the passage of time may make people more comfortable in providing information. More than a dozen family members are expected to attend today's press conference.
"I'd like to be able to tell my kids why their aunt's gone," Jerry Leonard, Mary's youngest brother, said yesterday as he choked back tears. "It would be nice to know why she was taken from us."