Kathleen Keohane came to Tahoe in June of 1976 with dreams of marriage and a fresh start. Escaping memories of her parents' recent divorce, Keohane planned to spend her senior year at South Tahoe High School. Two months later, the shy 17-year-old would be found dead; her body discovered lying face down in shallow water under the Upper Truckee River bridge.
A Tahoe Daily Tribune headline asked "Who would want to murder Kathy?"
A chronicle of the last days of Keohane's life rests on a shelf inside the detective unit of the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. The evidence, leads, and reports fill several binders, and represent the work of numerous deputies and detectives. Still, with no motive, murder weapon, or hard physical evidence Keohane's killer remains as elusive today as he or she did 23 years ago.
On Sept. 2, 1976 Keohane had dinner with her fiance Mike Warren around 6:30 p.m. at Carrows Restaurant, where Warren worked as a dishwasher. After dinner Keohane told Warren she was going to walk to the "Y" to pass some time. They agreed to meet at 10 p.m., at the end of Warren's shift, to walk home. Warren waited and then eventually went home without her. His concern built as the hours passed with no sign of Keohane. At midnight Warren called police.
Twelve hours later a young boy playing near the bridge came upon Keohane's body. Her dark hair matted with blood from a massive skull fracture, police said there was evidence that Keohane had tried to crawl up the bank before she lost consciousness. They could not tell if she had gone under the bridge willingly or had been forced there. Keohane had a connection to the bridge. When she first moved to the lake in June, before she moved into a house on Herbert Avenue, Keohane camped out in a tent near the bridge.
Investigators determined that Keohane had been struck in the back of the head several times with a heavy blunt instrument. She was found fully clothed with her purse lying in the water next to her.
"She never took chances by hitchhiking. She was not that kind of girl," Warren said in an interview shortly after the murder. "She was a very, very nice girl. I don't know of anyone who was out to get her."
According to Bob Rhynes, one of Keohane's five roommates, the day of the murder was the first time Keohane had been out of the house in two weeks.
"Just being with Mike was her main interest in life," Rhynes said in an interview with the Tahoe Daily Tribune a month after the murder. "She had known him for the past two years. They were planning on getting married.
"She was cute, maybe not what you'd call pretty. She had her own special qualities. To look at her she didn't look much more than 12 or 13."
Detective Sgt. Les Scott said cases like Keohane's are never forgotten.
"They remain active. I'd say each of these old cases has been worked by no less than eight or nine investigators. New technology and databases increase our chances. Every time a new lead comes in we look at it again."