Mata Weber: 'Nothing is worse than murder'
Mata Weber’s daughter, Karen Weber Hock, was bludgeoned and drowned 34 years ago in rural Madison County.
At the time, Weber didn’t know Hock had been beaten up. She didn’t know her daughter had what she described as “a hole in her head.” She didn’t know she had been held under water. And she especially didn’t know what was to come next.
It’s a story the metro-east mother has told publicly from beginning to end for nearly half her life in an effort to remember her 21-year-old daughter. But Weber also does it to support parents, such as herself, who find themselves entangled in the justice system after the murder of a child.
Hock’s death in 1982 made Weber a lifelong member of a national organization called Parents of Murdered Children. The nonprofit has a chapter that serves the St. Louis and metro-east area. It holds monthly self-help meetings in an old Alexian Brothers hospital in St. Louis. The chapter says it’s a group no one would ever want to become a part of, and yet, there are more than 300 members.
Weber served as longtime chapter leader and has been a part of the group for nearly 30 years. Now, with the 78-year-old undergoing health issues, the group is looking to bring new life into the St. Louis Area Wide chapter of Parents of Murdered Children.
“Time has just flown by,” Weber said in April, two days after the anniversary of her daughter’s murder.
Weber lives in rural Waterloo. The mother of seven moved in with one of her surviving daughters as her health declined late last year. She then suffered a stroke in March and was unable to come home up until late April.
“Over the years, this is what I’ve done since 1989 — sending people articles, having meetings once a month,” Weber explained, sitting comfortably in the living room of her daughter’s house. “I invited them (families) to come, gave them people to talk to because that’s the only thing that will help you.”
“It doesn’t matter how your child died, how old your child was,” Weber said. “Nothing is worse than murder.”
The last family photo taken of Hock was captured on Easter in 1982, just 16 days before her body was found. It shows a tall and slender blond-haired woman, resting her arms on her two boys, Jason and Jeremie. The three posed in front of a red Studebaker in rural Pocahontas. Hock had been living there at her mother’s home for the past year.
Hock was working another employee’s shift on April 26, 1982, at Home Stretch Inn, a tavern near Alhambra. Weber watched Hock’s 2- and 3-year-old children while her daughter was at work. The family lived in a farm community, Weber said.
“I got them dressed for bed and I kissed them goodnight and I went to bed. The next morning I get up, the telephone rings,” Weber recalled. The tavern owner was looking for Hock, whose car was left in the parking lot.
Weber said Hock wasn’t in bed, the person on the phone said she wasn’t at work. That’s when Weber and her husband, Fred Weber Jr., called the authorities.
“’I’m telling you, she’s dead,’” Weber recalled telling police the morning of April 27, 1982. “’I know Karen, and Karen wouldn’t leave these two little boys here at home, go out partying and not call anybody.’”
’I’m telling you, she’s dead. I know Karen, and Karen wouldn’t leave these two little boys here at home, go out partying and not call
Mata Weber to police in 1982
Police later found out that the 21-year-old woman was taken from her workplace, bludgeoned and drowned in a reservoir on the night of April 26, 1982. Hock’s purse was found on a highway the next morning, and her body was discovered later that day by a fisherman. Divers later found a tire iron in the water — what they believed to be the murder weapon.
Weber didn’t go to the scene to identify her daughter’s body.
“I didn’t want to remember her like that. I didn’t know what happened to her,” Weber explained. “I wanted to remember the way she was when she left the house the night before to go to work.”
A man was arrested three days later in connection with the murder.
The suspect was Charles Hudson Reisinger, a 37-year-old Staunton man. Weber’s daughter, Diane, said her sister, Hock, knew the man from the tavern and had refused to go out with him.
Blood evidence linked Reisinger to the case and led a Madison County jury to convict him of murder September 1982. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison. But three years later, Weber said, there was an appeal. Reisinger asked for a new trial. Weber felt she had two choices: undergo another trial with the chance that her daughter’s killer would be found not guilty the second time around, or agree to a plea deal and a reduced sentence of 25 years. Weber said she opted for the latter.
The man served nine years out of the 25-year sentence and was released early in June 1994.
“That’s the part that really aggravated me,” Weber said, shaking her head.
Soon after a second trial was held, Weber said she found out about Parents of Murdered Children. She said she read about the grief support group in a Sunday newspaper and started attending meetings on a regular basis.
“I’m a good Catholic, I think. I don’t know what God says, but I haven’t forgiven him (Reisinger). He didn’t have any right to do what he did,” she said. “Nobody has a right to take another person’s life.”
‘You never really get over it’
Weber revisits the story of her daughter’s murder just as several families do when they go to a Parents of Murdered Children support group meeting.
As a longtime chapter leader, Weber often offered help to victims’ families going through intense personal grief. Families are encouraged to come and stay a while; sometimes, they visit just one time. The group holds meetings at 7:30 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month at St. Alexius Hospital in St. Louis, and it said they will continue those meetings in Weber’s absence. The chapter is also looking to fill leadership positions.
Butch Hartmann, the chapter’s co-leader, is the St. Louis contact for POMC. The 73-year-old started attending POMC meetings in 1995 after the shooting death of his stepson, Zachary Sharp.
Hartmann has been in a relationship with Zac’s mother, Betty, for 35 years and treated Zachary as a stepson for 14 years out of his 18-year life. The teenager had received a GED diploma and enrolled in junior college at Forest Park, Hartmann explained.
Hartmann said Zachary and two friends visited East St. Louis the night of Sept. 1, 1995, to celebrate at a teen club, but they couldn’t find it. Instead, Hartmann said, they went to a gas station where they purchased beer, despite being underage. The three pulled up in Zachary’s 1985 Nova at 8th Street and Trendley Avenue to drink. That’s where the boys were robbed at gunpoint by three men. The suspects took cash, cheap jewelry and the Nova.
“(Zac) went over and said, ‘Man, don’t take my car,’ and they shot and killed him, drove the car on the highway and torched it,” Hartmann recalled.
No charges were filed in connection to Zachary’s murder. The case went cold, leaving the family with a heavy sense of dissatisfaction and little closure. But in the past 20 years, Hartmann and Zachary’s mother, Betty Sharp, have found some relief through Parents of Murdered Children. They both met Weber.
“The first time I came, the first time I met Mata, was in a room full of people, and Mata came with open arms and a smile on her face and embraced me. I didn’t know what to expect. And she said, ‘Hi, how are you? You’re welcome here and you belong here,’” Sharp said during a recent group meeting.
She added, “When you’ve had a child — my son was 18 years old, murdered — you go back to work, you walk on the streets, you go to the grocery store, but you don’t belong any place there because nobody there has any understanding of what you feel, about your loss, and you’re almost resentful and angry about it because you are so isolated, but in full sight.”
When you’ve had a child — my son was 18 years old, murdered — you go back to work, you walk on the streets, you go to the grocery store, but you don’t belong any place there because nobody there has any understanding of what you feel, about your loss, and you’re almost resentful and angry about it because you are so isolated, but in full sight.
Betty Sharp, whose son was murdered in East St. Louis
Nancy Dees understands the feeling.
Like Zachary, Dees’ own son, 32-year-old Robert Stogsdill, was also shot and killed in East St. Louis after a drug deal that went wrong. Dees said her son “made bad choices,” but he didn’t deserve to die. The killing happened in 2003.
Stogsdill worked at Scott Air Force Base and was a U.S. Navy petty officer. When the case went to court, Dees said, Weber went with her. A 21-year-old man, Willie Green of Cahokia, was convicted by a St. Clair County jury in 2006 of first-degree murder in the death of Stogsdill.
“If it wasn’t for this group and Mata reaching out, I couldn’t have made it,” Dees said. “You never really get over it. She made it acceptable and she was just so dedicated. There were many times I would come and it would just be her and I — just a small group.”
Victims’ rights moving forward
Longtime metro-east cops and prosecutors recognize Weber for her work with Parents of Murdered Children and as a victims’ rights supporter, advocating for victims on both sides of the Mississippi River.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said he first met Weber when he was an assistant state’s attorney. He remembers Weber attending two homicide trials with victims’ families.
“When I became state’s attorney several years later, we immediately began a dialogue about what we could do better for victims in St. Clair, particularity the parents of folks who had been murdered. (Weber) has always had a very active and strong voice for victims of violent crime — or really any crime.,” Kelly said.
Kelly said his office now has a victim and witness coordinator thanks to a grant from the state attorney general’s office. A victim and witness coordinator’s job is to check in with families, notify them of the court process and make them aware of benefits they may be eligible for under state law. One benefit, for example, includes crime victim compensation. Under the Illinois Crime Victims Compensation Act, a victim, such as the spouse or parent of a person killed or injured as a result of violent crime, is eligible for up to $27,000 in financial assistance for certain “out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the crime,” according to the attorney general’s office.
Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn, formerly a sheriff’s detective, said major changes were also made in Madison County in a way to better assist victims and their families after a crime. He said victims and their families are “absolutely kept in the loop” — a notable difference from 1982 after Weber’s daughter was killed. Nonn was a detective at the Madison County Sheriff’s Office investigating Hock’s murder in 1982.
“That was a tragic meeting of Mata. She was a remarkable woman with remarkable strength during that entire investigation, through that entire trial,” Nonn said. “She looked for ways to try to make it better for other people to deal with such a horrible tragedy.”
More than 30 years later, Nonn said law enforcement and the state have made significant strides to keep victims and their families in the know after a murder or other violent crime.
“They’re always educated about what’s going on and they’re always in contact,” Nonn said. “The communication is outstanding, and that’s just something through the years that has gotten better.”
And Weber has sought to ensure that — beyond the local level.
She has testified before legislative committees. And Weber, along with other members of the St. Louis chapter of POMC, received an invitation to visit with inmates as part of Missouri’s Restorative Justice program. According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, offenders take what is called “Impact of Crime on Victim Classes” in an effort to increase their sensitivity toward victims “to prevent further victimization.”
For a few years, Weber said, she talked with inmates and got to know them through their stories, and many got to know her. About seven months before Weber became ill, she attended the 2015 Crime Victims Rights Awareness Ceremony at the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri. The maximum- and medium-security prison is located on No More Victims Road. The annual ceremony was led by male inmates, some of whom are serving time for murder.
In a video from the ceremony, Weber addresses a room full of inmates.
She shakes their hands. And she looks them in eyes. Sometimes, she returns a hug. But in the eyes of victims, like Weber, they are not forgiven.
“I look forward to this every year,” Weber said at a podium, standing inside the prison. “Something ... something good has to come out of what a horrible thing it was. Nobody asked me if I wanted to lose my daughter.”
Want to attend?
Meetings for the St. Louis Area Wide chapter of Parents of Murdered Children are open to parents and other family survivors.
Here is some information about the group:
When: Third Tuesday of each month
Where: St. Alexius Hospital, 3933 S. Broadway, St. Louis
Contact: Butch Hartmann, (314) 487-8989
Parents of Murdered Children: http://www.pomc.com/
Illinois Attorney General: www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/victims/
St. Clair County Victim/Witness Services: www.sao.co.st-clair.il.us/victim/Pages/default.aspx
Madison County Victims Services: www.co.madison.il.us/departments/state_s_attorney