CARBONDALE — Ryan Livingston played many roles throughout his life. He was a father, son, brother, friend, artist and much more. On July 14, 2006, he was given a role against his will — murder victim.
Thirteen years later, the question of who killed the 22-year-old — on a summer night, on a well-traveled street in the middle of Carbondale — remains unsolved.
Born on Oct. 29, 1983, to Richard and Denise Livingston, the second of their three sons, Ryan was called “mischievous” by each of his parents. His older brother, Randy, was born in 1980, while his younger brother, Robert, was born in 1991.
Denise said Ryan was a natural entertainer at home. He was always doing something to try to make the family laugh. She recalled a time Ryan called her “Devil Woman” to be funny and a time he made a mock game show video for history class.
“He could be hilarious at times,” Denise said.
He was also gifted at taking care of people.
“He always made a lot of friends, but they weren’t always the kind of friends you’d like,” Denise said.
Ryan went to grade school in Christopher, where Denise said he felt like he didn’t really fit in. He liked to work on his art and wasn’t really interested in sports like many of the other boys in school.
“When we moved to Carterville, he felt happier, more at ease,” Denise said. “Of course he still got in trouble. Ryan was Ryan.”
In Carterville, Ryan met art teacher Marie Samuel, who really encouraged his artistic talent. Denise remembers he did a mosaic with lots of different textures. Samuel submitted the piece to the Scholastic Art Awards, and Ryan earned one of five Best of Show awards that year.
“Ryan was a mischievous soul, but he’d give you the shirt off his back,” Richard said.
He told a story of Ryan extending a helping hand. Ryan was working at Hucks in Carterville when a gentleman he went to school with was hauling a load of papers. The man went around the corner and the tailgate of his truck fell, dumping many of the papers. Ryan stopped to help him pick up the mess.
“He was a really good guy,” Richard said.
“He was a very loyal friend and would stand up for people,” Denise said.
Denise said Ryan had an old soul. He listened to music from the 1970s and 1980s, including one of his favorite songs ‘Burnin’ for You’ by Blue Oyster Cult. Ryan was also interested in the Vietnam War, and made friends with a veteran from Carterville.
On Jan. 16, 2004, Ryan became a father to a baby girl named Hannah. “As a father, he really loved his daughter, probably more than anything in the world,” Richard said. “He wasn’t going to do anything that would hurt her.”
Hannah was just 2 ½ when her father was murdered. She is now a teenager. Denise said she likes to draw and is creative, like her father.
Although Ryan was mischievous, Denise said he only had one instance of real trouble. On Nov. 21, 2005, Ryan was charged with manufacturing or delivery of cannabis in Williamson County. He received 24 months of probation in what she said served as a real eye-opener for the new father.
“After that he would say, ‘I need to get my stuff together’,” Denise said.
Richard said Ryan was looking for a good job, but that it was difficult in Southern Illinois. Denise mentioned that Ryan had started a new job at Arby’s in Carbondale just days before his death.
“Overall, he was a good person. His heart was in the right place, most of all,” Denise said.
‘This seemed like a random attack’
Ryan was in Carbondale on the evening of July 13, 2006, to attend a Sunset Concert on the steps outside of Shryock Auditorium on the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus. BlueGround UnderGrass was the featured act on that warm and sunny Thursday evening.
At around 9 p.m., Ryan got a ride to a friend’s house on East Park Street. Police believe he spent about 20 minutes there, and then left on foot, reportedly walking to his brother’s house on Oakland Avenue.
At some point between 10 and 10:30 p.m., as Ryan was walking along the sidewalk of the 300 block of West Walnut Street — also known as Illinois 13 East — he was approached by two men, who assaulted him. Investigators suspect the men were attempting a robbery and Ryan resisted.
Ryan’s brother, Randy, was expecting him to come to his house after the concert. When Ryan hadn't shown up after 10:30 p.m., Randy called his cellphone. Ryan answered, pleading for help. He said he had been beaten and stabbed on Route 13, but couldn’t give any additional details or a more precise location in his weakened state.
Randy dialed 911 at 10:38 p.m. He told a dispatcher that his brother was in distress, but could only tell the 911 operator what Ryan had told him – he was injured somewhere along Route 13. It took first responders nearly 15 minutes to find Ryan, who was lying injured on the sidewalk.
The first Carbondale police officer arrived on scene at 10:52 p.m. to find Ryan lying on the sidewalk in front of 317 W. Walnut St. Just moments prior, a second 911 call was placed by witnesses from across the street that saw Ryan in distress.
“We were dispatched to a call of someone reportedly injured along the Route 13 corridor,” said Mike Vaughn, who was on patrol for the Carbondale Police Department that night. “Ryan was lying on the sidewalk not far from the curb.”
Vaughn said in an interview with The Southern earlier this year that once he arrived at the scene, nothing in particular stood out to him about the surroundings. Other officers had begun searching the area while Vaughn followed the ambulance transporting Ryan to Memorial Hospital of Carbondale. He stayed with Ryan at the hospital until he was taken into surgery.
Ryan had lost a significant amount of blood due to a stab wound on his left side. He was in and out of consciousness, so police were only able to get limited information from him.
“At the hospital he was able to briefly describe the suspects to us,” Vaughn said.
Ryan described his attackers as two black males. He said one suspect was wearing a hat that was turned backwards and the other suspect had a light complexion.
Paul Echols also recalled the evening of July 13, 2006, in a recent interview with The Southern.
Echols spent 28 years of his career with the Carbondale Police Department. He retired as a lieutenant and the investigations commander. He now focuses on teaching his craft as a criminal justice professor at Shawnee Community College and SIU Carbondale.
“I remember that night clear as can be,” Echols said.
Echols was on duty the night Ryan was killed. He said he was working an unrelated residential burglary near Memorial Hospital of Carbondale that was committed by two juveniles not long before Ryan’s distress call came in.
Echols said he was not far from where Ryan was found at the time of the call. But police didn’t know exactly where Ryan was — only that he was somewhere along Illinois 13, a state highway that runs the length of Carbondale from east to west.
“We were so close to him,” Echols said. “We were right there, but we just couldn’t get there. We couldn’t find him.”
Echols said when he arrived at the scene he began processing it.
“It wasn’t very involved,” Echols said. “This seemed like a random attack. He was alive long enough to tell us he didn’t know either of his attackers.”
Meanwhile, at the hospital, doctors discovered Ryan’s heart had been pierced and attempted emergency surgery. Despite their efforts, Ryan Livingston passed away at 1:51 a.m. on Friday, July 14.
“Some people in the area heard a scuffle that night and were able to give us some information,” Carbondale Deputy Chief of Police Stan Reno said. “We did canvass the area that night and we collected evidence.”
That included some forensic evidence that was taken from the scene.
“This is still a very active case in our minds,” Reno said. “Any information that comes in, we closely follow up on.”
Reno believes detectives only need a small piece of evidence in the case to make an arrest.
“We want to get that key piece of evidence that can lead to an arrest,” Reno said.
Ryan’s father, Richard, said he was driving down the interstate on his way home from work when he got the call that Ryan had been stabbed.
“I had to work overtime that night,” Richard said. “We thought it wasn’t too serious at first, so I stopped by the house to pick up our youngest son, Robert, and then headed to Carbondale.”
Even though 13 years have passed, Ryan’s family is not giving up hope on finding closure.
“I hope someone would come forward,” Richard said. “It would be the most wonderful thing in the world. I’ve been waiting on that call to come and it hasn’t come. It’s just a big void. They are still out there, someone has to know. We would really like to have some closure.”
Ryan’s autopsy was performed by Dr. James A. Petterchak on the afternoon of Friday, July 14.
Petterchak ruled the manner of death homicide caused by a stab wound to the left chest.
Petterchak’s report states the stab entry wound was two centimeters in length with smooth edges and no evident serrations. The wound track passed through the skin, soft tissue and left chest wall, through the lower lobe of the left lung, and into the left ventricle of the heart.
Toxicological analysis was performed by the Illinois State Police Division of Forensic Services. The results showed there were no illegal substances in Ryan’s body, and the amount of alcohol in his system was below the legal limit for intoxication.
‘You will never erase his memory’
About a week after Ryan’s death, his friends had posted and distributed around 1,500 flyers throughout the city of Carbondale and created a memorial in his remembrance on a short concrete wall in front of 317 W. Walnut St. The memorial was written with sidewalk chalk and included the messages “We will miss you” and “RIP Ryan.” Friends and family also placed flowers above the chalk-written messages.
The city had a crew power-wash the wall in the pre-dawn hours of July 27. City officials stated the reason for the removal was one of safety and policy. Then Carbondale Assistant City Manager Don Monty at the time said that the wall is a public right-of-way and that it is city policy to remove “graffiti” from public areas.
Monty said the approach was strictly trying to protect public safety and he was concerned the memorial could cause a traffic accident.
Those who lived in the neighborhood felt otherwise, and were appalled with the removal. Residents felt like the removal was a see-no-evil-hear-no-evil approach. Ryan’s friends said in a previous story that if they wanted to put up “graffiti,” they would have used spray paint.
On July 28, some of Ryan’s friends put their messages back on the wall, including “you will never erase his memory” and “we love you, Ryan.” They even lit candles and placed them on top of the sidewalk wall.
Residents in the neighborhood believed the memorial should have been able to be maintained to keep the community’s attention on the crime.
‘I think these crimes were connected’
Ryan’s murder wasn’t the only serious crime to take place in the historical Arbor District around that time. There were several other armed robberies reported in the area of west central Carbondale — loosely defined as Main to Mill streets and University to Oakland avenues.
On March 31, 2006, a Jimmy John’s delivery driver was allegedly robbed while making a delivery in the 400 block of West Monroe, about a block from where Ryan was killed.
The driver said after he exited his car to make a delivery he was approached by two men who forced him to the ground and demanded money before fleeing on foot, The Southern reported at the time.
One of the suspects was reportedly carrying a gun, while the other wielded a knife. In this case, the suspects were described as a black male, 18 to 22 years old, 5 feet, 8 inches to 6 feet tall, wearing a dark coat with a hood and a red mask covering his face. The second suspect was described as a black male wearing a dark-colored coat with a hood.
Just eight days after Ryan was murdered, on July 21, 2006, another alleged robbery took place, this time near the intersection of Cherry and Rawlings streets. The Southern reported that two residents were robbed while they were walking on Cherry Street, about two blocks from where Ryan was killed.
The victims, a 23-year-old woman and 24-year-old man, were robbed at gunpoint around 1:45 a.m., after they were approached by two black males who were walking west.
The woman’s purse, the man’s wallet and both their cellphones were taken. The suspects were described as two black men in their 20s, both around 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-10 with average builds.
After Ryan was killed, Arbor District residents banded together to help secure the streets. They formed a neighborhood watch with hopes of combating the wave of crime that was taking place in the area.
“We didn’t notice any more police presence after the crimes,” said Arbor District resident Jane Adams. “We were told that there wasn’t a crime problem in the neighborhood at the time.”
During this time, some residents stated they didn’t even feel comfortable walking their dog after dark.
Residents began passing out flyers warning others of “violent criminals” in the neighborhood and speaking to one another more frequently. At that time, Adams said she learned of other robberies and burglaries that had happened in the area.
“The neighborhood watch was working,” Adams said. “People were paying more attention and watching what was taking place around the area.”
Adams believes Ryan’s murder could be connected to the other two robberies.
“I think these crimes were connected,” she said. “It still comes up from time to time. We would still like to see better lighting on Walnut Street.”
The lighting on Walnut Street was a major concern of the group at the time. The neighborhood watch group pointed out what they called “inconsistencies” in the street lighting. For example, they said Elm Street was well lit, but the section of Walnut Street and Illinois Avenue, where Ryan was killed, was not.
When asked if there is any connection between the three cases, investigators say it is possible that the same suspects could be involved. They noted that some facts in the cases are similar, while others are not.
Investigators said the case involving the delivery driver was reviewed and compared during the course of the investigation of Ryan’s death.
Authorities confirmed that no arrests have been made in any of these cases. Much like Ryan’s case, police were left with relatively vague suspect descriptions, which they say makes these types of cases even more difficult to solve.
Adams noted that crime in the Arbor District area hasn’t been a big issue as of late.
“We haven’t had much of a need for it lately,” Adams said when speaking about the neighborhood watch program.
‘Received your letter and it is of Great Interest’
On Oct. 3, 2007, the Carbondale Police Department received a letter that still interests detectives who are working on Ryan’s case.
The letter is dated September 2007 and is from an anonymous writer who used the name Elizabeth. It is typewritten, and the author claims to have knowledge about the crime and its perpetrators.
The writer details her or his alleged knowledge of some specifics concerning the circumstances of the night Ryan was attacked. At the end of the letter, the author requests police to place a small ad in The Southern Illinoisan if the information provided proved helpful.
Detectives did just that, on three occasions, as they hoped for more correspondence from Elizabeth.
The first ad appeared in the Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007 edition of The Southern’s classified section. The same ad also appeared in the Sunday, Oct. 7 and Wednesday, Oct. 10 editions. On all three occasions, the ad was placed in the “announcements” section of the classifieds. It reads: “ELIZABETH Received your letter and it is of Great Interest. Wouldlike to speak with you. Please Call 527-7554 or 457-3200 x433. MIKE”
Investigators say they never heard back from Elizabeth. They wonder if the writer ever saw the tiny classified ad they placed in The Southern.
“It’s important to remind people that have any piece of information to please come forward,” said Sgt. Kevin Geissler of the Carbondale Police Department. “Some people may think we have their information already and not come forward, when in fact we don’t.”
Detectives attempted to follow up on the contents of the letter. They even interviewed a person thought to be its potential author, but have yet to find the writer.
“We don’t know who Elizabeth is, but we are still very interested in speaking to the author of the letter,” Reno said. “If that person would still like to remain anonymous, we would respect those wishes.”
Echols hopes bringing this case back into the public light will encourage the writer to reach out again.
“Elizabeth, write us another letter,” Echols said. “Let us know you are still out there.”
‘I think it just devastated us all in different ways’
The death of a child — at any age, from any circumstance — has a profound effect on a family. Bereaved Parents of the USA calls it “one of the cruelest blows that life has to offer.”
“I think it just devastated us all in different ways,” Denise said.
Now, 13 years later, both Richard and Denise would like some closure. The couple divorced in 2010. They still share a desire to find those responsible for their son’s death.
Denise has been an outspoken advocate for Ryan and a detective of sorts, working with police to dig for information that might lead to an arrest. She set up a Facebook page in Ryan’s memory. She also maintains a blog where she writes about her son.
“I think it helps me take my mind off the pain, plus I’m a person who doesn’t give up,” Denise said.
Richard has chosen to stay behind the scenes, but he still desires resolution. He frequently visits Ryan’s grave in Carterville.
For Denise, anniversaries are hard, including the anniversary of Ryan’s death, his birthday and holidays. She started taking Christmas pictures of her “boys” when they were very young. She tries to continue the tradition, even though Randy and Robert are now adults. They hold a picture of Ryan for the photo.
“I still can’t look at pictures of him. I cry,” Denise said.
Both Richard and Denise believe someone out there has information about Ryan’s murder. They say it is time for those individuals to come forward.
“I’m not sure there ever will be closure. I would like to see whoever did it pay for what they did,” Denise said. “It frustrates me that criminals have more rights than victims. Ryan can’t lawyer up. He can’t speak for himself.”
Investigators say that as time goes by it makes cases like Ryan’s even more difficult to solve.
“There are still people we would like to talk to, we just can’t find them,” said Carbondale Detective Aaron Baril.
If you or someone you know has information regarding Ryan’s murder, you are encouraged to contact the Carbondale Police Department at 618-457-3200 or the Crime Stoppers tip line at 618-549-2677. You can also submit information using the online Crime Stoppers form at explorecarbondale.com/FormCenter/Police-4/Crime-Stoppers-Tips-43.
“In my 28 years we didn’t get denied in following any lead,” said Echols. “The city always gave us a green light.”
A cash reward of $6,000 is offered to anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest and conviction in Ryan’s case. Visit explorecarbondale.com/193/Cold-Case-Investigations for more details.
“Projects like these are helpful, Geissler said, citing The Southern’s renewed interest in the case. “Along with new leads and family inquiries these projects also help us take a new look at things and it’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes on these cases.”