Updated: Jun 25, 2021
Robert Bee Junior, Richard Griener and Mark Helmig may not have been the only children missing in Pekin, but Richard is the only one still missing. Robert was found murdered in 2018. Mark was found murdered in 1976.
Detectives in the area joined in a span of several different agencies of law enforcement across the states to hunt down suspect William “Freight Train” Guatney before finally arresting him. He was never charged in Mark’s murder. The murders stopped however. Was he the killer that took Mark’s life?
Another child, fourteen year old Marty Lancaster of Normal Illinois also disappeared in 1978 and it was assumed the same killer was the suspect. Guatney was charged in yet another boys disappearance, but was found to be unfit to stand trial and was sent to a mental facility, and later died.
I wanted to point out here that there had been several issues reported with the Pekin Police Department prior to Mark’s disappearance, that I feel are relevant to Mark’s life prior to his murder. Allegations of his father being drunk and disorderly conduct in the community, allegations of abuse to Mark where he admits to beating Mark with a belt on his butt, across his mouth and his back. The deep cuts on Mark’s body were confirmed by police in these reports and his father admitted to doing it. Mark had disappeared more than once, with the dad reportedly sleeping on the couch after drinking, but the cops always found him and brought him home. Another report shows the police were called when Mark was locked outside of the house without a jacket on. While the police did find Mark outside without a jacket, the father denied the complaint. It seemed Mark lashed out a bit on his own, but the minor things he did then would never have resulted in a report today.
August 4, 1976 early that morning he was with his dad. They had an argument with his dad telling him he was going be off to camp. Mark didn’t want to go to camp as he wanted to go to the “4H show at the Pekin Park” according to the interview police had with both his mother and father after his disappearance. Mark had gone to camp the summer before and the boys made fun of him. His father insists however that Mark said he had fun at camp. The night before his mother said he wouldn’t go to sleep so she went in to his bedroom and “smacked him aside the face here. I didn’t use my fist”.
That night however, the night before Mark’s disappearance, the sound of a train woke his parents up. She said she always hears it about 4:00 A.M. That morning it was “louder than usual”.
Nine year old Mark left his house at 2005 Broadway Street in Pekin about 5:00 P.M., wearing brown shorts and a white t-shirt with red and blue clubs emblem on the left side. He wore black and white shoes. His mother said he was outside playing all day. According to this interview he was at the door and his mom had just made supper. The father woke up to have supper, but Mark headed toward Mineral Springs Park about 5:00 P.M. Witness saw him out playing but with different description of clothes. Two boys reported they saw him speaking to a hobo by the railroad tracks and asked if they wanted to go on a train ride with him and the stranger hobo. To get to Mineral Springs Park from Marks home, one had to walk past the Pekin, Peoria Union Railway.
Mark’s body was found August 24, 1976 in a boxcar in the same yard he had to cross to get to the park. His body was found laying under a large piece of cardboard. Mark was found naked, and none of his clothes were found in the area. The police report showed that course hemp-type binding twine was wrapped around his neck and the extended downward to his wrists which were bound together and then to his ankles which were also bound.
September 2, 1976 his clothes were found in another boxcar which was parked at the American Distilling Company. Both of these cars were parked at the Railway where Mark was last seen, the day he was last seen alive. The Detectives went to work, identified many pedophiles and victims, but ultimately they found their suspect.
Most of the case file was information on Guatney. July 13, 1979 The Pekin Police Department requested information of other agencies in regard to “any solved or unsolved homicides in your state where the victims are young males between 7 and 15 years of age. Victims found on or near railroad tracks where 4-H shows, State Fairs or any place livestock would be shown. Victims usually meet death by strangulation, a blow from a blunt instrument, or knife wounds. Victims possibly bound and sodomized or forced to commit sexual acts before death.” Several agencies across America came together in search of these types of cases to bring Guatney to justice. The Illinois State Police confirmed Guatney was at the State Fair in Springfield August 1979, and quickly they put together a joint task force. They had around the clock surveillance on him at the time of this letter making sure he didn’t get out of their sight, as he was at the State Fair in Springfield.
During the surveillance, Guatney continued “sounding the freight train whistle and singing ‘if you got the money, honey’ and ‘take me out to the ball park’
Guatney was seen on surveillance when a boy walked up and handed him something, put it in his own pocket, and “walked with the boy pushing his bicycle.” They followed him as “they were headed for the Rail Switch Yards, which are located about two blocks to the east of the tavern lot. This was the direction they were headed. About a block away, a man, believed to be the father of the boy walked up to them. The boy stayed with the man.” I wonder if the man knew he may have saved his sons life.
It should be noted that Guatney failed the polygraph test when he was asked if he killed Mark Helmig and Marty Lancaster.
Reporter David Bill of “The Vidette” news, the student newspaper of Illinois State University is the one that captured the news for Lancaster’s death. Marty Lancaster was just fourteen when he went missing June 11. He was last seen at a neighbor’s house and his friends stated he was headed to Pat’s Billiard Supply at 1203 S Main in Normal. Initially a body was found in Normal near the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad tracks north of Division Street in a “badly overgrown strip of land about thirty by fifty feet with old rusted appliances and assorted junk.” The autopsy results stated Marty died of “multiple skull fractures including a broken jaw bone”. He was identified by a chipped front tooth, clothing found nearby and a key found in his jeans that opened the front door of his home at 1503 N Roosevelt Ave in Bloomington. Later they confirmed his identity with his fingerprints and dental records. During the polygraph, Guatney was showed a picture of Marty and his response was that while he did nothing to the kid, he said “that’s the kid I saw on the bicycle at Division Street Viaduct” He said the bicycle was black and admitted speaking to Marty. When he was shown a picture of the area where Marty’s body was found, he easily identified it with detail. He went on to say “I care about Marty Lancaster. I don’t want anything to happen to him”. Still there was not enough evidence to charge Guatney with Marty’s murder, and on August 21, 1979 the case was closed. Mark Helmig’s case officially closed March 24, 1997 after learning of Guatney’s death.
One of the reports from the mental facility stated that he was clear and cognitive. I didn’t find a report that stated he was insane. Another report had stated he was in “Dementia Preecox”
Guatney was charged with several other murders however, the judge ruled he was incompetent to stand trial. Guatney died March 31, 1996. The murder of nine year old Mark Helmig and fourteen year old Marty Lancaster remain unsolved.
It should be noted that Guatney did admit to being in Pekin, Illinois where Richard Griener disappeared from.