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But Rachel, who went by the name La Baby Smiley, was at a career crossroads on March 24 when she went to visit her friend Valeria Garcia in east Denver. Part of the problem was that Rachel, who was 21 years old and lived in Longmont, was conflicted about her devotion to a violent gang life. Her friends and family say she felt it was time to move beyond it in both her lyrics and her future. She never had a chance to see that through. At one point, the two decided to walk to the corner of Valentia Street and Colfax Avenue and bum a couple of cigarettes from people on the sidewalk.

Nearly eight months have passed since Rachel was shot dead that day. In that time, La Baby Smiley has become something of a cult icon among Latin rap fans, with a popularity that has exploded in part because of an album released posthumously by her producer. The sudden fame seems surreal to her parents and siblings.

Online, the Baby Smiley Facebook page has doubled in the number of followers, from 9, to 18, fans, since her death, and includes communications from people in more than countries. The Aboytes family receives messages from people in Brazil and Chile, even messages in Japanese characters. Sometimes they come from countries the family has never heard of. Some tales are apocryphal, such as the ones from fans who claim to have seen her perform at shows that she never participated in.

Others are real, like the one about a man pulling a gun on her during an argument in the parking lot of a Longmont 7-Eleven. Although they are proud that her talent is being recognized, they feel torn as they watch that image, one that Rachel may have no longer wanted, spread among a global community of Latin rap fans. She was no stranger to the streets. Rachel Aboytes was born in in El Paso, Texas , but spent the majority of her youth in a small town on the plains of Kansas. Home to 21, residents, Liberal is a regional hub for Midwestern truckers, cattle ranchers and farmers.

The fourth of five children, Rachel lived with her parents in a three-bedroom unit in the Western Mobile Home Park. There never was much excitement to be found in Liberal, but Rachel and her siblings managed to create their own fun. By the time she was nine years old, Rachel had already adopted a wild lifestyle. At night, groups of young Hispanic kids from the two parks would gather to drink, smoke and dance to cumbia music.

Because they were younger, Rachel and her sister Rebecca were not supposed to participate, but their older sister, Eunice, never tried too hard to stop them. By this time, Daniel, the oldest sibling, had moved to Colorado, and their little sister, Naomi, was too young to know what was going on. But the middle Aboytes sisters developed a reputation as a hard-partying pack — with nicknames based on seniority. Initially, Rachel was seen as the shy one. At parties, she would drink quietly, sitting and observing the others. She also became known for her distinctive laugh, a high-pitched cackle that people still mention with fondness on her Facebook page.

Besides, there was more going on at the mobile-home parties than general revelry. Both factions grew over the years and spread to other states. Rebecca still remembers seeing sparks fly off the shoes of one of the fighters. The exposure to gangs only intensified as the girls grew older. The two younger Smileys saw people get jumped, saw older friends hit hard drugs. More and more, the girls felt drawn to the gang.

It provided an adrenaline rush. It was exciting. Most important, it meant support from people with similar Hispanic roots, a group affiliation that gave them purpose in white middle America. Of all the girls, Rachel seemed the most unassuming. By the time Rachel was fourteen, her parents had had enough. Eunice had already run off to Minnesota once, and Rebecca had been sentenced to a juvenile boot camp, so when they caught Rachel trying to escape through a bathroom window and run away from home for the third time, they knew it was time to leave Kansas.

They decided to move to Longmont, where Daniel lived. They hoped the move would steer their daughters away from gangs. She liked her life in Kansas and was bitter about leaving her friends behind. Still, even she had to concede that there were some upsides to living in Longmont: the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, the many things there were to do.

Her parents recognized this as well, and hoped that access to things like movie theaters, shopping centers and nature would keep Rachel out of trouble. Given the turf wars in Kansas, it was what Rachel expected. She rushed her classmate, tackled her to the floor and started pummeling her face. Rachel was suspended from school and charged with assault. But that was just the beginning of her troubles. Days later, she and her sisters were walking near the school when they came across another classmate.

The verbal threat violated a restraining order that had been filed against Rachel by her victim, and so once the story worked its way back to school administrators, the police were notified and Rachel was arrested. At first, Moreno says, it was hard to believe the story. Everyone is making a big fuss about this little thing? Regardless, the two clicked. She and Rachel also fashioned themselves in a similar style.

Rachel had never seen a professional who applied makeup the way Moreno did, using dark eyeliner and dark lipstick, with her hair slicked in an old-school Latina style. Moreno could also tell that Rachel was extremely loyal as long as you earned her trust She was unusually sharp and clever with words. The two began meeting in , after Rachel had served a short stint at the Platte Valley Youth Services Center in Greeley and was transferred by the state to the Betty K. Marler Youth Services Center in Lakewood, where she served a two-year sentence in the Rite of Passage program, a military-style boarding school designed for juvenile offenders.

The living quarters at the center comprised four units of ten girls each, all between the ages of 13 and One was the mental-health unit. Another was the high-risk unit, which housed girls deemed likely to attack staff members, including a girl who was rumored to have killed her mother. Despite the rigidness of the program, Rachel did well with routine, even liked it. She worked out regularly. Moreover, she rediscovered an interest in academics. She had long been a rap fan, and she would occasionally freestyle in Kansas when she and her sisters were at parties, but she had never dedicated much time to it.

And if there was anything she had in abundance at ROP, it was time. Not that rapping was allowed in the facility. It was a routine visit, with people clustered around tables, when suddenly Rachel stared intently at her sisters and began knocking on the table to provide a beat. By the time she finished, all eyes in the visiting room were upon her.

The elder Smileys were stunned. She even began rapping for Moreno when she checked in for visits. Once back in Longmont, it was freestyling all the time. Rapping at parties. Rapping at home.


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It just seemed to come naturally to Rachel. Eunice remembers how her sister would ask her to write lyrics with her. Not that Rachel knew much about music terminology or how the industry worked. That left only one or two songs that Rachel could work with. There, Rachel found access to professional audio equipment — this time without any restrictions on lyrics.

The studio charged by the hour, so Rachel would split the payments with her sisters, sometimes cleaning a house or two to cover the fee. It was unusual to see a Chicana rapper in Colorado, and a good one at that. By this time, Rachel was also cultivating a character for herself, blending chola-style makeup, Dickies pants and pencil skirts with a more retro, pachuco look that incorporated suspenders and fedora hats.

Baby Smiley was like the classic Mexican gangster reborn, complete with the old Spanglish slang with which she peppered her lyrics. It sounded like no one else. Since starting the label Cirkulo Asesino in , the California-based producer had primarily recruited older male rappers from Mexico, Spain and Brazil for his roster. He knew it was time to find some younger talent, a female artist if possible.

He saw tremendous potential, and because another label executive from Chicago had shown him the video, Cardenas raced to represent Rachel before any of his competitors. It was Eunice who first saw his Facebook message, while Rachel was taking a shower. She pounded on the bathroom door.

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But she never signed a contract, nor would she ever sign one. Instead, he promised to cover her recording costs and return 20 percent of whatever he made on her songs, his going rate. My artists understand that they can leave if they want to. Rachel was fine with the arrangement, grateful that Cardenas had plans to make her a star.

Triste was responsible for filming the video, as well, and he asked Rachel to assemble some friends, a lowrider, a pit bull and some interesting locations for shooting ahead of time. There, they lived on a hobby farm replete with animals of all kinds, indoors and out, and a massive garden. They didn't want anything to do with the rest of us. It was like a little jungle corner, with all these houseplants," Tricia said. These were just two of the many attributes that made up Rachel, remembered for her eclectic taste in music, magnetic personality, her love for books and Scrabble and photography and the spectacle of nature, particularly thunderstorms, meteor showers and the northern lights.

Everyone who spoke of her remarked on her intelligence. Sister Connie said that contributed to her restlessness in settling on a vocation. She worked a number of jobs over the years, from driving instructor to mall Santa, but her true passion came putting pen to paper. Poetry, journalism, short stories, a children's book about her farm animals—she wrote it all. She freelanced whenever she could, and won a poetry award for a poem about the drought in the southwestern United States and Mexico. She once wrote a piece for Coventry Village News, a newsletter for a Cleveland Heights neighborhood, addressing women's safety in the wake of two stranger rapes.

In hindsight, her words have taken on an eerie quality.

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In about , having divorced her second husband a few years earlier, Rachel moved to the lakes area to be closer to her daughter Jessica. A few years later, when she applied for the last job she'd ever work, Kim Terhaar said she liked Rachel immediately. She became a trusted, reliable employee of Ultimate Liquors.

Star student athlete asked repeatedly for protection before she was murdered

A really cool lady, and a good friend. Since the discovery of Rachel's body, an autopsy of which revealed she died of asphyxia due to homicidal violence, investigators have worked to determine who was responsible. Theories vary on who killed Rachel and why, and with no major suspects ever identified, the debate continues. Generally speaking, however, law enforcement officials leaned toward the likelihood the murderer is, or was at the time, a local.

Dave Bjerga was a BCA agent tasked with death investigations at the time. A native of the area who once worked at the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office, Bjerga has since retired from the agency and returned to living up north. Bjerga said the location of Rachel's body played a major role in the suspect profile. While used by locals as a shortcut, avoiding county highways, Nelson Road is not one most people from out of town seem to know.

Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch, who was chief deputy at the time of Rachel's death, said he thinks it's important not to get too hung up on the local suspect theory. You have to make sure you're including all possible suspects. Among those investigated were people considered suspects in another unsolved murder case in the Pine River area.

In , Clarence and Marge Paulson, a father and daughter, disappeared from their home. Six years later, a worker dismantling a 19th-century farmhouse in rural Pine River discovered their skeletal remains. So we ran those folks down, and we put them down on the night and time that Rachel was taken, and we weren't able to make a strong connection either way.

How do you keep someone in your vehicle against their will, unless you have a way to restrain them or to cause them enough fear where they're afraid to try and flee? Just like investigators, Rachel's children have spent many years going over their mother's disappearance, in search of answers. So there's always that question if that was the person.

I personally think that that last customer had something to do with it, being that that person never came forward. Because everybody else did. My mom stood like , was a butterfly swimmer in college. I've heard stories of my mom lugging feed sacks from when I was a kid. So you know what, when I hear those things, when I know those facts, and you look at that they can't determine how much a struggle, I know she didn't go without a fight.

That just wasn't my mom. It still bothers me that there's somebody out there that took her life, and maybe has—hopefully not—but maybe has taken somebody else's life.

The Murder of Rachel: A Stranger Murdered My Daughter When She Was 21. This is the Whole Story

That makes me angry sometimes. Will Rachel's case ever be solved? Bjerga is confident it can happen, particularly in light of advances in DNA technology and the proliferation of genealogy databases. Famously, the "Golden State Killer," suspected to be Joseph James DeAngelo, was arrested in April after allegedly evading justice for four decades.

DNA found at crime scenes was compared with those profiles willingly uploaded by people to these databases—often in search of long-lost relatives—and distant relatives of DeAngelo revealed the connection. I'm convinced of it now, unless somebody just comes forward. If I was a person or persons that did this, knowing the advances in technology we have, I wouldn't be super comfortable right now. Because all you have to do is read the news. People are turning up that they thought were dead, people are being arrested that had no known connection to their victim.

Rachel's children's book was never published. Her grandsons, 3 and 4 years old at the time of her death, barely remember her. She never met grandchildren born later.


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  5. Jessica and Tricia long to share their lives with their mother, to talk to her, to be with her. Robert carries his pain deep, describing it as a wound that each February is mounded with salt, never allowed to heal. It's kind of surprising some days when I can get through the day without thinking about her.

    But there's things, hurdles in your life or whatever, when you want to talk to your mom about it and she's not around anymore to talk to her about it. She's not just somebody who got murdered. She was somebody who had a life and she had people that loved her. She meant a lot to us, she meant a lot to me. Robert, whose birthday falls just days after the anniversary of his mother's disappearance, said he hasn't celebrated it in 18 years. This time of year is dark for him. He recently composed an essay—reminiscent of the poetry his mother once wrote—expressing his pain. Terrible, terrible grief.

    I cannot let go of it, I can't make it diminish. Every passing year that the anniversary comes and goes, that hole is open wide and salt is poured in. Every year the sadness makes its presence known.

    Every year a reminder I was robbed, my children robbed, my siblings and their children robbed. All the rage I cannot express, all the hate I cannot let go. When does it end, when will there be peace, when will the culprit be revealed and justice served? In Pine River, the fate of Rachel Anthony echoes through the lives of residents. Her photo can still be seen on billboards and in what was until recently Ultimate Liquors, now Barstock Liquors.

    Bonnie Christensen said the murder so close to home changed how she raised her daughters, and made her think twice about working alone at night. Bjerga, who drives by the site of Rachel's disappearance regularly these days, said her case is one that haunts him. You want to know who and why," Bjerga said. But it's always in a way that, they never solved that murder of the lady from the liquor store. To not have it solved, it just feels like a black mark on your career. Kim Terhaar, Rachel's former boss, said it's an honor to help keep Rachel's memory alive.

    She's confident there will be justice—one way or another. Nobody gets away with this in the grand scheme of things. That is my firm belief and I would love to have the case solved for Jessica and the rest of Rachel's family, but I think justice will be served in the end. If anyone knows anything about the case—even if it seems to be a small, inconsequential detail, Sheriff Burch said—they are asked to contact the BCA at bca.

    The Brainerd Dispatch podcast, DispatchCast, will explore the Rachel Anthony case through the voices of those affected. His abandoned vehicle was found the following day, but Achermann was never found. It remains unclear whether Achermann's disappearance was the result of foul play. He was declared legally deceased on July 24, At first considered a possible hunting accident, Brisk's death was ruled a homicide.

    Investigators later revealed he was killed with his own gun, a Winchester Model lever action rifle. The rifle was missing initially, and was later located by investigators. Greenwaldt was last seen July 4, , in downtown Brainerd. His body was discovered by a search team made up of volunteers and law enforcement Aug. He was last seen near Eighth and Oak streets after attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Although investigators believe Hess' death was not the result of foul play, but rather hypothermia, his body was never found.

    Most of Hess' clothing was found along the railroad tracks, about a mile east of Brainerd. There were no signs of struggle in the apartment, and Lysdale's body was never found. The case did go to court, however, where Jerome Bye, a year-old Pequot Lakes real estate agent, was tried and acquitted of a first-degree murder charge.