Police meticulously search for 'why' in double slaying
Two years after two best friends were found brutally slain in the Edgar County home of one of the men, authorities remain mystified as to who killed them and why.
Agents from the Illinois State Police, especially Kim Cessna, probably know more about Ryan Riddell and Mark Prasse, both 32, than many of their closest friends did.
Cessna, the lead special agent on a case that has been touched by many detectives, estimates she's talked to more than 300 people since the friends were found in Mr. Prasse's rural Chrisman home on Jan. 28, 2008, the apparent targets of one or more killers.
A self-described obsessive compulsive – "Have you seen the show 'Monk'?" she asks – Cessna has documented every interview, every phone call, every e-mail, every piece of evidence. It takes up a lot of space in the office she shares with other Zone 5 detectives on South First Street in Champaign.
But they need more.
"There's somebody out there who knows. Don't assume that someone else has talked to us. It could be something really simple or very small that will help," said Sgt. Bill Emery in asking for the public's help.
The Illinois State Police tip line, which is not traceable, is 217-278-5004. Callers may talk to a human during the day or leave a message in the evening. Anyone with information can also call the FBI at 217-522-9675 or any local police agency or Crimestoppers. A $25,000 reward had been put up for information leading to arrests.
On Friday, Emery, Cessna, and supervising agents Master Sgt. Mike Atkinson and Capt. Jill Rizzs, all of the state police, shared with The News-Gazette what they felt they could about the murders without jeopardizing any potential prosecution.
How it began
Ryan Riddell and Mark Prasse met each other at the University of Illinois in the mid-1990s.
Riddell, a 1994 graduate of Villa Grove High School, attended the UI but didn't graduate. He was from a well-respected Douglas County farm family and took on that mantle from his late father, Jim Riddell. They farmed in partnership with the Burris family, Cessna said.
Riddell married Amy Black in August 2007. They lived in Villa Grove and had a son on the way at the time of Riddell's death. His son will turn 2 next month.
Prasse, of Wellington in Iroquois County, graduated from Hoopeston-East Lynn High School in 1993. His family also farmed. He received his degree in mechanical engineering from the UI in 1998 and worked at NAACO in Danville for a time before taking the position he had at the time of his death – a foreman at North American Lighting in Paris, a company that makes headlight assemblies.
"He was very well-respected. They loved him as a boss. They trusted him. No one had anything bad to say about him," Cessna said.
Although he had a girlfriend, Prasse lived alone in the nice ranch house he bought in rural Chrisman several years earlier.
Cessna said from everything she's learned, the Riddell family practically adopted Prasse, who often helped out on the Douglas County farm.
"Ryan's dad taught Mark a lot about life and money. He was like a mentor to him," she said.
The last day of their lives was a Monday. It was 35 degrees and clear during the day but got foggy that night. Snow hit later that week.
Driving his black 2008 Nissan Altima, Riddell picked his friend up at his job in Paris about 4 p.m. and drove him to an appointment in Tuscola, something he'd done before. They went back to Riddell's home in Villa Grove and left there about 6:50 p.m. Riddell was going to drop Prasse off and be back in time for dinner. The trip between their homes takes about 35 minutes.
When Riddell didn't return in what his wife thought was a reasonable amount of time, she started calling some of his usual haunts. She also called his stepmother.
It was his stepmother who didn't like the sound of things and called the Edgar County sheriff's office at 10:50 p.m. asking them to check Prasse's house.
What the deputy and, later, the state police investigators saw is being fairly closely guarded.
They will say that the men were found inside the house – they won't say exactly where; that they were shot multiple times – they won't say how many or where; and that it was likely not a robbery or an interrupted burglary.
"We think they were specifically targeted. We do not think it was random," Atkinson said.
What they still don't know, despite the hundreds of interviews, is why.
"These were two good, hard-working guys. They don't fall into the normal patterns that someone targeted with a violent crime would," said Rizzs, adding that police haven't uncovered anything sinister from the pair's past that might have made them targets.
The police also won't say if the "substantial amount of evidence" they collected from the scene indicates that there may have been more than one killer.
Rizzs said being stingy with the details is necessary to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation and to be "good stewards" of the $25,000 reward put up by the Burris family and other Riddell friends.
"When the right tip comes in, we'll know it, because we have vehemently protected some of the information," she said.
Seven months before his death, Riddell had been one of several victims in one of the worst crime sprees in Douglas County history. He and two other people were robbed at gunpoint at his home by two men who then stole two vehicles from his property and shot Douglas County Chief Deputy Tommy "T.K." Martin as they blazed away from Villa Grove, ending up at a bank in Arcola, where they took hostages. The two men were caught that same day.
"We're not ruling that out as a possible connection, but we're not working that as our probable theory," Rizzs said.
"This office worked both of those cases. We've found nothing that connects them other than coincidence," Atkinson said.
Can there be justice?
Family members of Riddell and Prasse are not comfortable being interviewed about their losses. It's safe to say they don't feel entirely safe, given the way their loved ones were taken.
"I wouldn't say we live in fear. It's just the uncertainty of why they both were taken from us. They were just two everyday Joes. Everybody loved them," said a family member who asked not to be named. "They were two guys who were a pleasure to be around. They were fun-loving. That's what's so hard.
"Just getting justice is the thing we really need."