MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — New DNA testing could link the unsolved murder of a Minnesota woman to a notorious serial killer.
Mary Schlais planned to hitchhike from Minneapolis to an art show in Chicago in 1974, but she never made it. Now, 44 years later, new clues that Schlais took to the grave could reveal who killed her.
It’s the face still frozen in Mary Dodge’s mind all these years later.
“It was really frightening,” she said. “I looked at him and I said, ‘You look terrible.’ He looked white.”
A Culligan man delivered news of the horrifying discovery not far from her home in Spring Brook Township. It was around 1 p.m. on a Friday when a man who lived in the area made a grocery store run. It was that man who discovered the body of Mary Schlais alongside a rural road.
“The body was put over the snow bank,” Dodge said.
Schlais was working toward her master’s degree at the University of Minnesota. She spoke several languages and pursued many passions.
“Her life was pretty much about her love of horses and art,” her brother Don said via a video call.
From Arizona, Don recounted how that love of art drew her out of her Uptown apartment that morning in Minneapolis. Mary held a sign for Madison and headed to I-94 with plans to hitchhike on to Chicago for an art show.
“It was common, and Mary was said to do so often,” Sgt. Scott McRoberts of the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office said.
But Mary was dead three hours after she was last seen — stabbed at least 15 times, 90 miles from home. The neighbor who reported the crime said he passed a compact car on the side of the road, only to see a man in his rearview mirror throw a body in the ditch. He’d help police produce a sketch soon after.
For decades, the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office hit too many dead ends of their own until they were finally able to turn to DNA testing in 2009, when Mary’s body was exhumed. Investigators are now ready to reveal what those tests found.
“There’s different types of DNA that can be tested for, and all I’m going to say is we got two profiles,” Sgt. McRoberts said.
The two profiles don’t belong to Mary that were collected from the scene. Beyond that, Sgt. McRoberts didn’t want to say more. But, for the first time investigators are ready to say who those tests haven’t ruled out.
A standout college football player from Portland, the Green Bay Packers drafted Randall Woodfield in the early 1970s. He was cut from the team before he played a game. Woodfield would later be known as the I-5 killer.
“He committed crimes from Washington down to Oregon to California along I-5,” Sgt. McRoberts said.
As many as 44 murders have been linked to Woodfield, all within a few miles of an interstate exit. Investigators now believe it’s possible his killing spree started sooner and farther east than they first thought. They’ve determined Woodfield was traveling from Portland to Green Bay at the time of Mary’s murder. He fits the same description that witness gave, as does Mary — all of his victims were white women, petite and in their 20s.
But a lot more has to happen before anything is proven.
“I just think it’s terribly tragic that this poor family can’t have closure,” Dodge said.
They’re a family forced to grow older without their little sister.
“I think about her all the time,” Don Schlais said.
Randall Woodfield is currently serving a 90-year prison sentence in connection to one murder, but he’s never confessed to any of his crimes. It’s why Dunn County has yet to interview him about Mary’s case.
One thing they still don’t know is the kind of car Woodfield was driving in February 1974. The witness first reported it was a compact car — possibly a Chevy Vega — orange or gold in color. Now, they say it’s possible that car was light green, instead.
If you have any information on the crime, contact the Dunn County Sheriff’s office at 715-231-2917, or go to DunnCountyCrimeStoppersWeb.com to anonymously report a tip.