It was near midnight on May 19, 1979. Michael Renk drove his girlfriend, Janet Richardson, along Route 3 in Massachusetts, near the New Hampshire border. She was slated to work the night shift as a nursing assistant at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Bedford, MA.
As Renk drove past Middlesex Community College, a white Chevrolet Monte Carlo pulled out and followed him. The vehicle soon drew parallel to Renk’s car and several gunshots rang out.
Michael Renk was struck in the chin, shoulder and back. He hunkered down in the driver’s seat and headed for a police station. Less than a mile from the station, the Monte Carlo broke off its pursuit.
The next day Janet Richardson drove by the home of her ex and saw a white Monte Carlo parked out front.
Her ex was John Kalhauser.
Massachusetts court documents related to later proceedings against Kalhauser drily detail what happened next:
When questioned by the police as to his whereabouts on the occasion in question, [John Kalhauser] claimed to have been with “Debbie in Lawrence, so [he] couldn’t have done the shooting.” He stated further that after his date with Debbie, he went to Litchfield and then to Hudson, New Hampshire, where a police officer stopped him for driving on the wrong side of the road and gave him a verbal warning. He asserted he arrived home in Tyngsborough at around 2:30 A.M. and worked on his motorcycle through the night. He claimed that he “wouldn’t own” a .25 caliber pistol.
Eventually, the investigation led the police to conclude that the defendant’s story concerning his whereabouts was unsupported. When Deborah Florence was located, she turned over several letters written by the defendant to her approximately three weeks after Renk’s shooting. In them, the defendant proposed that she confirm being with him on the night in question and keep their statements to the police consistent. Eventually, in August 1979, the defendant was indicted for the assault on Renk.
After the indictment, Kalhauser decided he was done with jail. He jumped bail and he was gone.
On the morning of August 10, 1995, Tucson resident Diane Van Reeth disappeared without a trace. As reported by the Arizona Daily Star, Van Reeth, a 35-year-old 5’7″ brunette, didn’t show for work one morning. Police found her maroon, 1992 Ford Aerostar near an intersection, no keys, no sign of a struggle.
But Stecchi was arrested for old charges, including forgery. He’d been Donald Stecchi while living with Diane Van Reeth at their home on North Lost Horizon Drive. When he and his wife had signed a marriage certificate in Clark County, Nevada on September 4, 1986, he’d used his birth name, John Joseph Kalhauser.
The revelation that Stecchi was really wanted fugitive John Kalhauser led a reporter from the Daily Star back to New England, and to Janet Richardson. In the years since Kalhauser went to ground Richardson had married Michael Renk. When she spoke to journalist Ann-Eve Pedersen, Janet Renk was ready to tell what it was like to be close to Kalhauser, and the story she told was chilling. It implied that until she disappeared, Diane Van Reeth’s life may have been hell.
Janet Renk first met Kalhauser at a Tyngsborough, Massachusetts skating rink. His conviction for killing Paul Chapman was public knowledge, but she was willing to believe it had been a youthful moment of impulse. She was only 16 at the time.
Soon enough, Kalhauser revealed his true self. He was intensely possessive, Renk told the Star reporter. He didn’t allow her to attend parties at friends’ houses and kept her isolated from her family. And he was physically and psychologically abusive. “While I was in high school,” Renk said, “he told me he was going to take me to some woods in New Hampshire and tie me to a tree and leave me there to starve.”
She tried to break up with him, but Kalhauser’s abusive ways left her feeling trapped in a “Catch-22.”
“He always told me if I left him,” said Renk, “he’d go after my family.”
In May, 1999, the Tucscon Citizen reported Ardythe Van Reeth’s words in a courtroom statement to John Kalhauser. Referring to her daughter Diane, she said,”May a day never pass that your thoughts don’t torment you with what you’ve done.”
Though Van Reeth’s body has never been found, Kalhauser was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murder in the 2nd degree. He pleaded no contest to her murder. He would serve 26 years concurrently for his attempted murder of Michael Renk. Kalhauser is serving time in a Massachusetts institution.
Investigators believe Diane Van Reeth was buried somewhere north of Tucson.
Now that John Kalhauser has been named a suspect in the murder of Pima Jane Doe, it may be that the still unknown young woman from that desert back road has something to say about the fate of Diane Van Reeth.
John Kalhauser’s years between fleeing the charges for what he’d done to Michael Renk and his arrest in Arizona aren’t well-documented, but the Star article in which the Renks were interviewed indicated he’d been seen in Tyngsborough with Van Reeth as recently as 1994. It was clear from the use of his real name on their marriage certificate and from court papers Van Reeth filed seeking a divorce that she’d known some truth about him. She had known his real family.
He’d kept the truth about who he was from both the known missing woman and perhaps from the recovered unknown concealed until it was too late.
Below, a drawing of Pima Jane Doe, from CanYouIdentifyMe, compared to the mystery woman from Kalhauser’s photograph.
*Note: I had trouble completing this second post (hence the two+ week lag) because I realized there would be no sense of resolution. There has been minimal coverage of this case apart from the burst of publicity on December 5th. Additionally, one of the largest outlets misreporting Kalhauser’s name (WBZ’s article still refers to him as “Jack,” a name not found anywhere regarding this case except in their post) could skew search results about the case, which means these posts might not trigger a result for searching “Jack Kalhauser” at all. Then I decided I had to commit to the fact that writing about existing cold cases, unresolved crimes, missing and unknown people is inherently a study in hanging cadences. The stories can’t be ignored because they remain in suspension. The reason to report on unsolved cases is to keep that tension–and attention–alive.
UPDATE: Read “Pima Jane Doe: Her Name Was Brenda Gerow.“
- This post was originally published at coldpapers.blogspot.com.