Arrest made in student’s 1981 murder

By Gus Bode

A 23-year-old mystery of the slaying of an SIUC student may have been solved with the arrest of a suspect by police in Michigan in recent days.

The Carbondale Police Department and the Jackson County State’s Attorney’s Office will hold a press conference today to announce the arrest of a suspect stemming from the 1981 murder of 21-year-old Susan K. Schumake.

Carbondale Police Chief Steve Odum said he could not release any information regarding the suspect until the 2 p.m. press conference, which will take place at the Carbondale Civic Center.


Lt. Jerry Allaire of the Michigan State Police said the arrest of the suspect took place in Michigan and involved numerous departments. He refused to release any information regarding the suspect.

Schumake, who was a senior in radio-television, was raped and murdered on Aug. 17, 1981. She was on her way to meet a friend at the Student Center for dinner and never showed. She was missing for more than 30 hours before two SIUC police officers found her body in a wooded area east of the Physical Plant between U.S. Hwy. 51 and the railroad tracks.

Her body was found near a trail students then called the “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” located below the pedestrian overpass, which was built as a result of Schumake’s murder.

Three years ago, Carbondale police acknowledged they were using advances in technology and using DNA information in hopes of identifying Schumake’s killer. Schumake’s brother, John, said he hopes DNA will finally solve his sister’s case and provide help in others as well.

John Schumake said after more than 20 years of not knowing who murdered his sister, he was glad police found a suspect.

“It’s been very difficult for us over the years,” he said. “We are all very happy and thank God, they got this man off the streets.”

Even though a suspect has been arrested, John Schumake said he is still concerned with future trial proceedings.


“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” he said. “It’s a dual feeling and very complex.”

The Carbondale Police Department suspected convicted murderer John Paul Phillips was to blame for Schumake’s murder. Phillips died of a heart attack in 1993 while on death row but was never charged with Schumake’s murder. Police believe he raped and murdered five women, including three SIUC students between 1974 and 1981.

At the request of police, Phillips body was exhumed in 2001 in order to conduct DNA testing to try to connect him to Schumake’s death. However, the following year, Phillips was ruled out as Schumake’s murder because his DNA did not match DNA found at the scene.

John Schumake said his family was critical of police during the investigation because they believed Phillips was to blame all along.

“I felt Phillips did it. I was wrong and I am glad that I was wrong,” he said. “I was wrong about the police, too. I realized that later. I am so thankful that they continued to work on this case.”

Michael Wepsiec, Jackson County states attorney, thanked Carbondale Police Sgt. Paul Echols, who worked on the case. John Schumake said he is also thankful to Michigan Police.

Schumake said he is unsure if he will attend the trial, but said he “will be doing what is helpful to the prosecutors.”

The last time John Schumake was in Carbondale was with his family to identify his sister’s body. He said he doesn’t have anything against Carbondale, but said his “last feelings of being there, weren’t good.”

If he does return, he said he would like to visit the Susan Schumake Memorial, which is the pedestrian overpass near the Physical Plant. After his Schumake’s death, her father, Frank sued SIUC and the railroad company for negligence. University administrators deemed the trail unsafe and built the overpass as a result.

Shortly after Schumake’s death, her father died and her mother, Caroline, had a stroke leaving her in a wheelchair. She is now living in a nursing home near Chicago Heights.

John Schumake said after hearing a suspect was arrested, “she cried.” He said most of his family responded the same way, but that everyone was glad police caught him.

“For me and my sister, it initially brought back a lot of anger,” he said. “It was a fresh memory of what we were robbed of.”