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A convicted killer was charged with the murder of a woman who disappeared from a Georgia military base back in 1982.
Marcellus McCluster, 64, was indicted by a Chattahoochee County Grand Jury on March 28 for the murder of René Dawn Blackmore, 20, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced Thursday. Blackmore, who was originally from Arizona, was a U.S. Army private stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia when she disappeared 40 years ago.
Blackmore was last seen leaving her barracks en route to Columbus, Georgia, on April 29, 1982, officials stated. According to an article from the New York Times published that same year, Blackmore was a medic with the 197th Infantry Brigade and left the post on a borrowed motorcycle. The up-and-coming servicewoman was days away from a promotion and was praised by her commander at various stages during the subsequent investigation.
One month after her disappearance, Blackmore’s wallet and sweater were found on the side of a Cusseta, Georgia road, some 15 miles away.
Her remains were eventually discovered on June 28, 1982, off a logging road a few miles south of Cusseta, according to the GBI. It was determined she was shot to death.
During a news conference on Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Schwartz commented that Blackmore never had the opportunity to live out her dreams and goals.
“We know that she would have been 59 years old if she could have been with us today,” said Schwartz. “All of those things got extinguished by a blast from a cheap shotgun about two miles from the middle of nowhere down in south Chattahoochee County 40 years ago.”
Marcellus McCluster was considered a “possible offender” within the first year of the homicide investigation, which was overseen by the GBI and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, the GBI stated. It was unclear why authorities initially narrowed in on McCluster, but the case fizzled out and remained cold for decades to come.
In 2020, GBI Director Vic Reynolds established the GBI’s Cold Case Unit and focused on Blackmore’s unsolved case, enlisting the help of the Army, the Chattahoochee County Sheriff’s Office, and the District Attorney’s Office, according to their release.
Agents did not disclose what connected McCluster to the 1982 crime scene all these years later, but Schwartz said they “look forward to presenting that evidence in court later this year.”
Schwartz also noted that there is no statute of limitations for murder.
“There is no expiration date on that kind of evil,” she said.
GBI agents served McCluster with an arrest warrant for Blackmore’s murder near Augusta, where he is currently serving a life sentence for an unrelated 1983 murder in Stewart County, according to the release. Little could be found about the 1983 murder, but prison records show the crime occurred on Jan. 4, 1983.
Before the discovery of Blackmore’s body, her disappearance prompted sensitivity training concerning how the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division dealt with the relatives of slain soldiers, according to the New York Times. Blackmore’s parents voiced concerns that they didn’t take their daughter’s disappearance seriously.
Blackmore was also mistakenly listed as a deserter when she disappeared.
Days after she vanished, two soldiers, whose names were not released, were questioned when the friend who loaned Blackmore their motorcycle said they found the soldiers with the helmet he lent to Blackmore. The friend reported the pair to police before they were turned over to military police.
After Blackmore’s wallet and sweater were located, the two soldiers were subject to a polygraph test conducted by the U.S. Army, according to the New York Times. They admitted to stealing the helmet at an arcade in Columbus shortly after Blackmore disappeared.
It was unclear whether the soldiers were questioned about Blackmore’s whereabouts.
“Investigators felt that finding the helmet did not reveal any information that Blackmore had left against her will,” the Army wrote Blackmore’s parents in a letter, according to the New York Times.
Blackmore’s parents proclaimed the Army was more invested in the theft of a motorcycle than their daughter’s wellbeing. They had appealed to senators in Arizona when Secretary of the Army John O. Marsh Jr. said he regretted not taking Blackmore’s disappearance more seriously but maintained their investigative efforts “were reasonable.”
Blackmore’s mother, Donna Reitman, expressed her gratitude to the GBI and those involved in finally finding a suspect, according to a prepared statement obtained by Fox 8 News.
“I have lived these 40 years always feeling the pain her absence causes and believing no one outside of her family and friends even cared,” she wrote. “It is with a grateful heart that on March 28, 2022, this belief was shown to be untrue. … Nothing can give René back to me, but I do find solace in learning these men cared enough to search out that justice.”
McCluster was indicted on one count of malice murder and four alternate charges of felony murder. He is scheduled to appear for his arraignment on April 25.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or call 1-800-597-TIPS (8477).
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