Minot police say a 3-year-old girl missing since 2006 is now presumed murdered.
Reachelle Smith went missing on May 17, 2006, from her home in Minot. Her body still has not been found.
Police say they believe the downstairs neighbor who was living with the family murdered her. Leigh Cowen committed suicide five days following Reachelle’s disappearance.
“Why 15 years later? I think that goes back to the human aspect of all of us, and that’s, much like the parents, the family, we held onto some hope that there was some chance that this would end differently. But upon review, the overwhelming evidence shows that’s not the case. It’s time for closure for the family, the community, the department so we can focus our energy on other cases that are open that we can hope to resolve in some way,” Chief of Police John Klug said.
Reachelle wasn’t reported missing to police for five days.
Cowen told Reachelle’s mother various stories of where Reachelle was for those five days following her not being in the home on the morning of May 17.
When Cowen disappeared with the family van on May 22, Reachelle’s mother reported her missing to police.
An Amber Alert was issued.
“Clearly those days could have provided us access to Mr. Cowen to get answers to the questions that we still have. But hindsight’s 20/20. He was deceptive, trying to cover the fact that he did something. We don’t know his motive, we don’t know the results of what happened. We can say those things pretty clearly now. Those five days would’ve been important just for us to be able to speak with him,” Capt. Jason Sundbakken said.
Searches were conducted throughout the city and K-9s followed her scent to a riverbank in Minot.
That river channel was drained, but she was not found.
A red cooler owned by the family is said to be the key to the case. That information was never released to the public — until Tuesday.
Investigators say Cowen was seen by a neighbor unloading the cooler from the family van the morning of Reachelle’s disappearance.
Ammonia and rags were found in that cooler and were sent to the State Medical Examiner.
Reachelle’s blood was also found.
“Substantial. It was a substantial amount for us to know that something bad, very bad had happened. More than just a cut on the finger…And the location is was found was under the hinge…It was a fairly large cooler…We have no clear motive,” Sundbakken said.
Cowen’s body was found on May 23, six days after Reachelle’s disappearance. He killed himself in the family van by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Police do not believe anyone else was involved in her death.
The case was revisited by two Minot police investigators 15 years later. One had been on the case since the beginning, the other had not.
Police say the case is closed, and there will be no further investigation.