LINCOLN - Missing since June of 1976, Ruth Martin may have been the victim of one of Logan's County's most notorious killers, according to authorities.
Lincoln Police have always believed Martin was murdered by Russell Smrekar, a convicted murderer currently in prison for the shotgun killings of a Lincoln couple.
But investigators never could find Martin's body and the case has remained unsolved. The only trace of the 51-year-old real estate agent was her car, which was later found abandoned at a Bloomington hotel.
Lincoln Police and forensic team with the Illinois State Police have spent the last month using ground penetrating radar and cadaver dogs to search sites in Lincoln for Martin's body, said Lincoln Detective Paul Adams.
Investigators were hopeful Wednesday when the radar detected an object buried near Immaneul Lutheran Church that was about the size of a human body.
After excavating the piece of land, investigators found only pieces of burnt coal. Adams said it was a disappointing end to their search.
"We took a chance to see what was there," Adams said. "Unfortunately, we didn't find anything. If we could locate the body, we might be able to use technology to close this case."
Smrekar is legendary in Lincoln, supposedly holding the record for most prison time given to a criminal in a Logan County court.
He was sentenced to 300 years for gunning down Lincoln bait shop owner Jay Fry and his pregnant wife, Robin.
Jay Fry and another witness were expected to testify against Smrekar in a petty case where he was seen stealing two steaks from the Lincoln Kroger's.
The other witness was Martin, who disappeared from her home six days before she was going to point the finger at Smrekar.
Lincoln Police also believe Smrekar rubbed out Michael Mansfield, his roommate at Lincoln College. Mansfield also disappeared six days before he was set to testify in a criminal case where Smrekar was accused of burglarizing a dorm room.
Adams said investigators are certain Smrekar killed Martin and Mansfield, but have been unable to find either of their bodies.
Detectives from Rolling Meadows, a Chicago suburb, are investigating Mansfield's disappearance and tried to interview Smrekar, but "he wouldn't talk to them," Adams said.
Martin has a son and daughter still living who would both appreciate giving their mother a proper burial, Adams said.
And although Smrekar would stay in prison until the year 2277 if he served his entire sentence for the Fry murders, his case occasionally comes up for parole.
"That's why we'd like to get a conviction on the Ruth Martin or Michael Mansfield case," Adams said. "Hopefully, nobody would ever parole this guy given the seriousness of what he did, but you never know."