Cold Case: WLOX revisits the Rose Marie Levandoski disappearance, murder
ST. MARTIN, Miss. (WLOX) - Imagine sending your two children to school for just one of them to return home.
It’s every parent’s worst fear.
That fear became a reality for the Levandoski family in the early 1970s. To this day, there are more questions than answers in the disappearance and murder of 13-year-old Rose Marie Levandoski.
“You have a girl on a school day, go into the classroom and sit her books down, and then leave the classroom and no one ever sees her again,” Jackson County School Superintendent Dr. John Strycker said.
“This incident makes you want to cry,” classmate John Lee said.
“We had a good family life until we went to school, and the nightmare started,” her brother, Alan Levandoski said.
“She was murdered,” St. Martin student, Missy Lucas said. “How did this person get her, abduct her? It’s a mystery, and it’s remained a mystery for almost 50 years.”
“The lack of investigation is unbelievable,” Dr. Strycker said. “I’ve never heard of anything like this.”
“We’re still back at the beginning, there’s not much to go on,” Captain Coley Judy with the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office said.
It was the first of February 1973, a frigid morning. Rose Marie had been sick at the end of January, but on this day, she grabbed her purse and brown poncho to get ready to leave for school. The 8th grader told her mother she had assignments to turn in at St. Martin Junior High.
“Rose was sitting on the first row, and I was sitting on the second row next to her,” classmate Kim Inman Reeder said.
“What we know is she got up and left the class and never came back,” Captain Judy said.
“She leaned over and said I’ll be right back,” Reeder said. “As far as did she get permission? I don’t know if she got permission, if she asked to go to the restroom. She just said, ‘I’ll be back,’ and she didn’t come back.”
“How? How did this happen?” Lucas asked. “It was a school. Did she run away? Did she have a spat with her parents? It was the talk in the hallways. Why did this happen? What was the motive? That’s where the rumors came in.”
In newspapers, she was originally reported to be a runaway. Friends close to her though knew that wasn’t the case.
“She was very grounded, but she was also very shy, so she didn’t make friends easily,” Reeder said.
“She would talk to you, those that she knew,” Lee said. “She would not talk to anybody that she didn’t.”
“We did what normal 12-year-old girls would do,” Reeder said. “We talked about horses. When she grew up, she wanted to train seeing-eye dogs. I was amazed that she was that age and was thinking about what happens when you grow up.”
Something Rose Marie would never get to do.
As weeks passed, loved ones held on, praying she was alive.
“By that time, we still had hope that she would be found somewhere, but after 3 weeks, we kind of thought maybe not,” Reeder said.
“We knew that we were not going to see her anymore,” Lee said.
“Somebody was fishing, and they found my sister in the river,” Levandoski said.
That fisherman, who was also an off-duty Biloxi police officer, found Rose Marie’s body about 75 yards east of the Corso bridge. The coroner’s inquest documents one puncture wound in her back and a laceration on her face. She was found nude. To this day, her clothes have never been found.
“There’s not a day goes by that I drive over the Frank P. Corso Bridge over the Tchoutacabouffa River that I don’t think about it,” Lucas said.
Because there was no autopsy and only a coroner’s inquest, investigators didn’t determine if she was raped, beaten before she died, or how long her body could have been tucked away in those bushes along the sandbank.
Three weeks after she disappeared, her classmates were called into the gymnasium for the gut-wrenching announcement.
“I kind of knew before I left my classroom at the time. I said she’s gone,” Lucas said. “You’re talking about the whole student body; you could hear a pin drop in that gym.”
“That just threw us in for a big loop. We were shocked,” Lee said.
“It was 1973. It’s not like today’s society,” Reeder said. “It could have been any one of us. I do not believe – will never believe – she went off with someone.”
“This was like 4 years after Camille,” Lucas said. “The school was under construction a lot, and we had what was called temporary buildings.”
Rose Marie walked out of temporary building Number Ten. Her friends presumed she was going to the restroom, which would have been a walk with a distance of about one and a half football fields.
Even though she was missing for two classes, she was counted present by her teachers for the remainder of the school day.
“Today, we are more procedural,” Dr. Strycker said. “If a student was gone for a class hour, it would be reported. Of course, you would begin to look for that student, call home, and so on. Those things didn’t happen.”
“I can’t believe all those years ago that somebody did not see something, but everybody was tight-lipped,” Levandoski said.
Witnesses did report seeing a vehicle near the school.
“They said it was a yellow car, maybe a yellow station wagon at the time,” Captain Judy said.
That tip led investigators to dozens of leads over the decades. One suspect, Danny Banner, was a former member of the Banditos motorcycle gang with an eerie link to Rose Marie.
“That was a name they found written on one of her textbooks,” Captain Judy said.
Banner died in a motorcycle crash during the course of the investigation.
“It wasn’t like we were stunned – it was like, this happened at St. Martin Junior High, a small county community on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Lucas said.
“We need more people to talk, more people to come forward to give us answers that we didn’t have back then,” Captain Judy said.
“You killed my friend; and she was very special to us,” Lee said.
“After a while, you lose hope,” Levandoski said. “It just gets really difficult. I’ve lived this nightmare a handful of times. I just wish if there was anybody out there just try to let us know what happened.”
Rose Marie’s mother Georgette Levandoski sued the Jackson County school district for negligence in 1976. The court ruled in favor of the district, saying even if administrators were negligent in designing and administering the absentee reporting system, the negligence was not the direct cause of her death.
If you have any information, even the smallest tip would help investigators. Call the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office at 228-896-0678.
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