Thursday, Aug. 31, will mark the fourth year since a woman’s badly decomposed body was discovered in a wooded area a few miles from Mount Rushmore.
The remains were later identified as those of 38-year-old Meshell Will, who had recently moved from Texas to Custer City, S.D. She was last seen on Aug. 24, 2013, in the town of Keystone, not far from where her body was found. Investigators from four agencies have since been trying to determine how she died – and if she was killed.
I learned about Will’s death only two weeks ago. A friend of hers in Custer, Nancy Herman, left me a voicemail, saying she had an update. It turned out that earlier this month, at Herman’s urging, Will’s aunt in Wisconsin had asked a nonprofit organization to assist in the investigation.
Herman, 67, is convinced Will was murdered by a boyfriend. She has been trying to find evidence that would solve the case. Besides regularly calling up investigators, she created a Facebook page called Help FIND Meshells Murderer @GRANNYGOINNAGETJUSTICE. Will has no more relatives in South Dakota after her sister in Custer died last year.
The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, the lead investigating agency in the case, said Will’s death hasn’t been ruled a homicide because the manner and cause of her death haven’t been determined. But investigators described her death as “suspicious,” and said they had a “person of interest” in Custer. They wouldn’t comment on whether the person is the man Herman suspects of killing Will.
The sheriff’s office told me there’s a $5,000 reward, previously unpublicized, for information that would help solve the case. Not knowing about the police reward, Herman had created posters, offering her own money in exchange for information.
On Wednesday morning, I went to Keystone to see some of the posters. I was prepared for a long and busy day reporting, and didn’t expect to receive kindness from strangers along the way.
After asking for directions at Black Hills Aerial Adventures, a helicopter tour company with a ticket booth on main street Keystone, employees offered to give me a ride to the places where Herman said her posters could be found. I hopped into their off-road vehicle, and a staffer named Bruce drove me to two stores and an inn.
After finding a poster of Will at The Brookside Motel, I asked the manager if he could recommend a place for breakfast in Keystone.
“Breakfast? We have food in there,” the manager, an Indian man named Amit, motioned to one of the motel buildings. “I give it to you for free.”
He offered me their buffet breakfast for guests, which included pastries, cold cereal and fruit juice.
I realized I didn’t have enough time to sit down for a meal, so I just filled a Styrofoam cup with some coffee and began my trek back to town. I needed to file my story for Thursday, the fourth anniversary of when Will was last seen alive.