May 24

This Day in History

Crime

May 24, 1989:

Lori Ann Auker disappears from a parking lot

Lori Ann Auker, a 19-year-old pet shop worker, disappears from Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. After failing to show up for work, her car was found the next day in the parking lot of the Susquehanna Mall where The Pet Place was located. Police had no clues as to what had happened to her when she arrived at the mall that morning.

Robert Auker, Lori Ann's husband, was the natural suspect; the two were in the midst of a custody fight at the time of her disappearance and he had recently taken out a life insurance policy on her. Still, even after Lori Ann's body was found with multiple stab wounds two and a half weeks after her disappearance, police did not have enough evidence to charge Robert Auker with the murder.

Finally, it dawned on investigators that there might be some photographic evidence of the crime. A bank's automatic teller machine at the mall had a video camera that captured the part of the parking lot where Lori Ann's car was located. However, there were problems with the tape. First, the camera only shot a couple of frames every 10 seconds. Also, the videotape had been reused so often that it was almost completely worn out.

FBI forensic experts carefully viewed the tape and were able to identify a single frame that captured Lori Ann getting into what was identified as a Chevrolet Celebrity made between 1982 and 1985. This was a critical piece of information, because Robert Auker had been using his father's 1984 Celebrity on the day of Lori Ann's disappearance.

Still, forensic scientists wanted to recreate the video scene to be sure that it was the same car. But Robert Auker's father had sold the car the day after Lori Ann's disappearance. After tracking the car through several owners, investigators found that the car had been bought by a Pennsylvania state trooper. They then managed to recreate the ATM camera video to prove to the jury that the cars were identical. Also, despite the car's many subsequent owners, hairs found in the car matched those of Lori Ann Auker and her pet cat.

Robert Auker was convicted of murder in March 1992 and sentenced to death.

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