Metro-East News

30 years later, victim's mom finds an overlooked detail in murder investigation

Former News-Democrat intern Audrey Cardenas was killed in 1988.
Former News-Democrat intern Audrey Cardenas was killed in 1988. Provided photo

Belleville News-Democrat intern Audrey Cardenas died on Sunday, June 19, 1988.

For 30 years, that’s what police, prosecutors, a judge, an appellate court, Cardenas’ mother, Billie Fowler, and those who knew of Belleville’s most notorious murder have always believed.

A two-page police report that somehow went unnoticed for three decades changed all that in an instant. Four lines in that report took Fowler’s breath away.

Her Audrey had still been alive that following Monday morning.

"It just jumped off the page at me," Fowler said in an interview from her home in Texas. "It just shocked me. All these years I have been told she was killed on a Sunday. Now she was alive and cashing a check on a Monday?"

The report, written by retired Belleville Police Detective Mike Boyne, was dated June 23, 1988, and detailed an interview between detectives and a Boatmen’s Bank teller, Susan Jasiewicz. She told police that Cardenas was at the bank walk-up window, cashing her paycheck, producing her Texas driver's license for identification, at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, June 20, 1988. Jasiewicz told police she remembered because she'd just bought a cotton, short-sleeved Madras shirt just like the one Cardenas was wearing that morning.

Three decades later, Jasiewicz is still sure she cashed Cardenas’ check on that Monday morning.

"I'm certain that the information we gave the detectives was accurate," she said. "First of all, we had records to look at."

The bank’s director, Louie Tiemann, now deceased, told detectives the same thing.

Jasiewicz said she knew Tiemann well and described him as a "pillar of the community. He would have been very careful of the information we gave out."

Bank personnel turned the check over to police.

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Audrey Cardenas Provided

The bank was just a block from the News-Democrat, where Cardenas, 24, had been supposed to report for work at 10 a.m. She never showed up.

Fowler discovered the police report in a packet of photocopied Major Case Squad reports sent to her Texas home by California-based freelance writer Bill Christine, who is researching a book about the murder. He said he sent the records as a courtesy to prepare Fowler for an interview of the long-ago personal tragedy.

The first thing Fowler did after she read the report was to call Christine, a former Belleville resident and Los Angeles Times reporter for 25 years.

"Even over the phone, she was breathless," he said. "She had noticed, as I hadn't noticed, the Mike Boyne police report."

Fowler wants the case to be reopened, she said in a telephone interview with the BND.

Christine, who also believes the case should be reopened, said the information that Cardenas was alive on Monday is believable, because the bank director and teller confirmed it.

It raises essential questions about the original police investigation, he said.

"Investigators went about their business on the basis that Audrey's last day alive was Sunday," Christine said. "If they hewed to the Boyne report, they should have been asking suspects and persons of interest about the Monday, June 20. The Sunday — June 19 — shouldn't have meant much. Instead, June 19 was the focus."

James Rokita was Belleville police chief of detectives at the time of the murder. He has amassed a huge collection of Major Case Squad reports, documents and news accounts of Cardenas' death and murder investigation. But Rokita, who is semi-retired and now conducts criminal background checks for the department, said he had never seen the Boyne report.

Boyne, who is now an investigator for the county public defender's office, did not respond to a request for comment.

Also among those police reports was an interview with an employee at a Fairview Heights modeling school and agency, the former John Casablancas Modeling Center. Cardenas completed an application at the agency at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 18, according to police reports. In a headshot photograph attached to the application, Cardenas is wearing the same Madras-style shirt.

Casablancas employees told investigators that Cardenas was supposed to call their office on Monday. She didn’t.

Fowler was surprised to learn about the visit to the modeling agency. She described her daughter as someone not interested in make-up or fashion.

The modeling agency interview didn't come up when Fowler talked to her daughter on the phone that Saturday night. Cardenas was lonely and homesick. Cardenas was "miserable" and wanted to come home, Fowler said. She'd been in Belleville about 10 days.

Fowler encouraged her daughter to stay on the job and finish the intern program.

Fowler found a series of similar photographs on Cardenas' dining room table at the newspaper intern's apartment in Belleville. In each photo, Cardenas is wearing the same pastel multicolored shirt that Jasiewicz remembered. Fowler recalled the shirt because a friend of hers had given it to Audrey as a gift when she graduated from Texas A&M a few weeks before she left for Belleville. Fowler used one of the pictures she found for the missing person poster that was printed before Cardenas' body was found.

Although Christine and Fowler think the report warrants new attention from investigators, Rokita said the existence of the Boyne report does not alter his belief that homeless drifter Rodney Woidtke was the murderer.

"I'm absolutely sure of that. He's the killer," Rokita said.

Woidtke, of California, was 27 when he ended up in the metro-east after his car broke down. He was charged with first-degree murder in Cardenas' death. The charge stated that on June 19, 1988, he killed her by hitting her with a pipe.

But Woidtke was found incompetent to stand trial and was sent to the Alton Mental Health Center in September 1988. Woidtke would not allow his public defender to raise a defense of mental illness and, after he was found fit to be tried, was found guilty following a bench trial. He received 45 years in prison.

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Rodney Woidtke was initially convicted of killing Audrey Cardenas. He died in 2014. News-Democrat file photo

Woidtke came to the attention of police on June 26, 1988, the day the body was found in a ravine near Belleville East High School. He ducked under police tape, kept walking and was then arrested on a minor charge. Investigators soon found numerous residents near where the body was found who told of Woidtke's odd behavior.

He had been sleeping in abandoned buildings and hung around playgrounds. The father of a 7-year-old girl said Woidtke handed his child flowers and said, "Here you go, babe."

Woidtke confessed twice to police on the day he was arrested, but some details of the confession did not match the crime scene. For example, he told police Cardenas was wearing high heels when she was killed. She was found wearing running shoes. Woidtke recanted those confessions.

While in custody, Woidtke was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and was required to take medication. He also made a tape-recorded statement to police admitting some involvement with Cardenas but then allegedly erased part of the tape when an investigator stepped out of the room.

No physical evidence tied Woidtke to the Cardenas murder.

During an interview at the Menard Correctional Center in 1998, Woidtke denied ever meeting Cardenas. He said he was preoccupied with sex because he heard voices in the trees telling him he must mate with a woman or be considered a homosexual.

In 2000, he won a new trial after reporting by Post-Dispatch investigative reporter Carolyn Tuft raised questions about Woidtke's rights. He was found not guilty.

Tuft, who worked at the BND at the time of the murder, and a Post-Dispatch photographer rode with Woidtke and his brother's family to Las Vegas.

Woidtke was charged with assault and a hate crime shortly after his return to California after he attacked a black man with a bicycle lock and chain. That charge was finally dropped in 2009, and Woidtke was directed by the court to live in a halfway house because of his mental illness. He died of cancer in 2014.

Part of Tuft's reporting included speculation about whether Dale Anderson, who killed a Shiloh woman and her son in 1989, was the real Cardenas killer. Anderson was preoccupied with the Cardenas case. He forced his victim, Jolaine Lanman, to write a false letter stating that Anderson's bosses at the Belleville Public Aid Office conspired to murder Cardenas.

But no evidence linked Anderson to Cardenas. He is serving life without parole for the Lanman murders.

Fowler recalled the last time she spoke by telephone to her homesick daughter, who was more than 1,000 miles from home without a friend and trying to start a new career in newspapers. It was Saturday night, June 18.

"I told her that she would start the real job on Monday and then she would be busy and she would only be there three months and she would then go to Fort Worth, back to Texas," Fowler said. "And this would all be over."

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