Lennon murder haunts residents and investigator years later

Mary Prieur was found raped, beaten and strangled to death in a field behind her Lennon home in 1997. / Chad Britton

It's been 15 years since an elderly woman was brutally raped, beaten and dragged to her death.

The murder rocked the small community of Lennon and still haunts many people today including one investigator who refuses to let the case grow cold.

The quaint and quiet town of Lennon is safe, the epitome of family values. It was the reason Mary Prier moved there but she was dead wrong.

"Obviously somebody and wanted to go and snatch onto her drag her out of the house, beat her, choke her, drag her, molest her, and leave her for dead," said Undersheriff Chris Swanson.

"She was vulnerable person and to have her treated that way was awful," said Barbra BakerOmerod, Mary's neighbor. Barbara barely knew Mary but was horrified by her 88-year old neighbor's cold blooded rape and murder.

She raised $20, 000 as a reward for information that would solve the crime and yet 15 years later it remains unsolved.

"It's really scary that they could still be around somewhere and that they could do be do this to someone else," said Barbara.

For Genesee County Undersheriff Chris Swanson, the case is never far from his thoughts. "I've made it my vow before I leave there will be vindication for Mary Prier"

Mary by most accounts was an eccentric, religious woman who lived alone and kept to herself.

"Every day she had the same routine over and over and over." Swanson says her predictable schedule made Mary the perfect target.

Investigators believe Mary knew her killer and welcomed him in her home sometime on February 26th, 1997.

"Her first attack happened about 50 feet from her front door. She had massive soft tissue injuries like someone had taken her head and bounced if off the ground." Swanson says Mary was savagely beaten, raped and then strangled.

"How she made it from there to the back of the house is the gruesome part because she was dragged by her left hand." Mary's lifeless body was found half naked and her face covered in a field behind her house.

"I wish they would find who did it because they got away with a perfect crime," said 96-year old Fran Palovich, Mary's sister and only living relative in Michigan.

Fran says the two were not close but she is still haunted by her sister's gruesome murder. "I want to know who did it. That was cruel."

Swanson says over the years he's questioned several supects but nothing has panned out.

"It's a very difficult case because the physical evidence we had on scene was washed away by mother nature, said Swanson. In the nearly 24 hours Mary's body laid unnoticed in the field the weather changed considerably from freezing to snow to rain which destroyed many of the clues left on scene.

Still some DNA evidence was collected and Swanson believes someone knows something that will help the pieces of this puzzle fall into place. "I believe people out there know some information. Maybe they don't think it is relevant but we'll take anything."

As time passed Barbara didn't feel right keeping the money she collected and donated it to Mary's church in hopes that by some miracle Mary's killer will be found and brought to justice.

"It's only fair when someone is taken like that from a family and a community like ours," said Barbara.

If you have any information on this case, please contact the Genesee County Sheriff's Department by calling 810-257-3407.