Bemidji teen's skull found among belongings of pathologist who conducted autopsy
A 17-year-old boy murdered more than 30 years ago by a Bemidji High School classmate will be disinterred and reburied this month.
Ricky McGuire was killed by three shotgun blasts to the head and shoulders on Nov. 17, 1977. McGuire's body was found April 8, 1978, near Grass Lake just west of Bemidji. George Stewart Dahl, also 17 at the time, was arrested the next day.
Kenneth Osterberg, a Hennepin County pathologist, conducted the autopsy on McGuire. The boy's body was returned to Bemidji in a closed casket for the funeral.
McGuire's family didn't know until this month that Osterberg had kept the boy's skull. Osterberg's daughter, Marin Kooper, was going through her deceased father's possessions last summer when she found the skull, according to an AP report.
Joan McGuire of Bemidji, widow of Jerry McGuire, who died in 2004, received a call April 1 notifying her that her son's skull had been found.
Pam Sanders, McGuire's sister, said her mother doesn't want to go through another burial of her son. So, Sanders and her sister, Penny Peronnet, are trying to accomplish the disinterment and reinterment before their mother comes back May 1 from her winter home in Florida.
"We have said we are glad Dad didn't live to see this," Sanders said in a telephone interview Wednesday from her Twin Cities home. "I guess the good Lord knows what he's doing timing-wise."
On the day of the shooting, McGuire and Dahl were out in the woods near Grass Lake walking through a snowstorm. Dahl was armed with a Remington 12-gauge shotgun, and they were looking for McGuire's pistol, which Dahl had stashed in the woods. They had planned to hunt rabbits and partridge after picking up the pistol.
On Jan. 17, 1980, Dahl pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He said McGuire had become angry as they slogged through ankle-to-knee-deep snow and verbally abused him.
"...Things pretty much, you know, just came to a head and that's when I shot him," Dahl said, according to the court transcript.
For the next five months, Sanders said, the McGuires didn't know where Ricky had disappeared to. She said her parents invited Dahl over for supper the night they missed their son to talk about where McGuire could be.
"My family had him (Dahl) over numerous times," Sanders said.
She said the family searched all over the United States trying to find out where their son and brother might be.
"It gave us lots of months to hope he'd come home," she said.
Hearing about McGuire's skull being found was another shock for family members, Sanders said. Authorities asked them if they wanted the skull disposed of or cremated, but they declined.
"The skull represents him," Sanders said. "It's important to us it should be joined with his body."
She remembers her brother as a superb athlete who had earned a track scholarship to a private college. In an Internet search recently, she found the name of another Rick McGuire, who is an athletic coach in a western state, and who is the same age her brother would have been.
"If he'd lived, it could have been him," she said. "It's just so hard to imagine he won't get any older than 17."
Dahl was sentenced Feb. 13, 1980, and entered prison Feb. 14, 1980.
Shari Burt, Minnesota department of Corrections communications director, said records show Dahl was sentenced to zero to 40 years at a time when Minnesota had an indeterminate sentencing system, rather than the sentencing guidelines now in place.
Burt said Dahl was released from prison on parole on April 26, 1985. He later died.
Sanders said the family was disappointed that Dahl was allowed to plead down to second-degree murder.
"On the other hand, it was the first time a juvenile had been tried as an adult," she said.
She added that Beltrami County Attorney Russell Anderson, who is now chief justice of the Minnesota State Supreme Court, explained to family members that theirs was a test case, and a jury might be uncomfortable sentencing a juvenile to life in prison. She said they were also grateful they didn't have to sit through a long trial and look at evidence and autopsy results.
Sanders said the family is grateful to Kirk Malkowski, current owner of Olson-Schwartz Funeral Home, where McGuire's funeral in 1978 was conducted. Malkowski said he would apply for a disinterment order and assist the family in any way possible.
"Our duty is to the McGuires at this time," he said. "We're asking everyone to respect the privacy of the McGuire family. Any time you're dealing with death it's traumatic. This is a very private and sensitive matter."
Sanders also expressed gratitude to the State Reparations Board, which will pay for the disinterment and reburial, an expensive process.
Sanders said no one knows why Osterberg kept her brother's skull, one of several in the former medical examiner's possession, according to Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker. Baker said his office is trying to determine the reason Osterberg had the skulls, but speculated in a KARE 11 TV news interview, that the pathologist might have thought they would be useful for educational purposes.