Pekin cold case: Woman looks for answers in brother’s 1986 death

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 8:45 PM CDT
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PEKIN (25News Now) - Nearly 40 years after Scott Beeney was found in the Illinois River near the Pekin Boat Club, his sister is still looking for answers into who killed him and why.

His sister, Tonya Beeney Tribbett, was one of eight siblings and the only girl. She and her younger brother Scott were close to the point where they lived together as young adults with her two young daughters. Decades later, she remembers even the smallest details: his shoe size and pants size, whether he had allergies.

She described him as “mellow” and a loving uncle to her two young daughters at the time.

“We were best buds,” Tribbett said. “He loved my kids. He would just play with my kids. Matter of fact, that was what he was doing before he went to get that pack of cigarettes.”

She’s referring to a night in late February of 1986. Beeney went to buy cigarettes late that evening. Police reports indicate he may have met a friend at the convenience store who invited him to a party. He left Tribbett’s house around 10:30 p.m. She never saw him again.

Tribbett said she and Beeney checked in often, usually through the phone. When he didn’t call, she left the door unlocked so he could slip in when he came home. She woke up the next morning, and he still hasn’t returned. That’s when Tribbett knew something was wrong.

Beeney was reported missing a few days later. Several theories floated around like he had run away and gone to another state. Tribbett was adamant he would not run away. She and other members of the family drove all over town, hoping he would turn up.

Tribbett said she saw everyone with suspicion, and still carries that suspicion with her today.

Beeney was found floating face down in the Illinois River on April 1, 1986. Records show a fisherman caught site of the body near the Pekin Boat Club.

In the 38 years since, Tribbett has followed the case, calling Pekin Police every few months. Recently, the detective she spoke with said the case was closed.

“I thought they were supposed to contact you if something was closed,” she said.

25News made multiple attempts to contact Pekin Police for an update on the case and to address some of the information in the reports. Our emails and phone calls went unanswered. The police reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show the case is “inactive” but not officially closed.

Beeney had to be identified through dental records. The autopsy showed there was no water in his lungs, which made drowning unlikely. However, his hyoid bone was broken. The hyoid is a bone in the throat that is typically broken in cases of strangulation, implying a crushed windpipe. The autopsy report did not list an official cause of death.

“How could you do that to somebody? And then blow it off,” Tribbett said.

The toxicology report shows a .221 Blood Alcohol Content level. It also reported nicotine was found in his system, along with phenethylamine, which is associated with methamphetamine and MDMA. However, studies show pharmaceutical drugs like pseudoephedrine which are found in nasal congestion and cold medicine, can result in false positives for phenethylamine.

Police records, which are heavily redacted, show a narrative across several interviews indicating Beeney encountered between two or four people at the Feb. 21, 1986, party. Interviews with Pekin Police rarely included direct witnesses, but rather hearsay.

The belief is Beeney was beaten and then dumped in the river after he died. The timing and exact details are fuzzy. Tribbett suggested the identity of the people who killed Beeney is an open secret in Pekin. We are not using their names as they have not been officially charged or suspected of the crime.

“I (kind of) know who did it, and people told me they were bragging about it in the bars,” Tribbett said.

Within the crime reports, there are inconsistencies and inaccuracies.

A 1993 report details a sting operation where one man was wired up to record a conversation between an unknown number of people about the Beeney case.

According to the initial report, the conversation occurred on April 14, 1993. A transcription of the report said the conversation occurred on April 22, 1993. No explanation is offered for the discrepancy.

After the 1993 transcription, the case went cold for years.

Suddenly, in 2002 police received a written statement. The name of who wrote the statement was redacted in the documents. The statement alleged George Beeney, brother of Scott and Tribbett, killed him that night.

The six-page letter recounts the testimony of his wife April and said George hit Beeney with an object like a bat, or piece of wood. George then threatened April to help him dispose of the body and swore her to secrecy.

A detective Tribbett spoke with on the phone told her “George and April did it” and that she needed to accept that fact. Again, 25News’ attempts to confirm this information with police went unanswered.

Records show George killed April, then committed suicide in December 2000. The written statement was provided two years later, the writer saying they were too scared to tell the police earlier.

According to the letter, the writer was a friend of April’s and she confided in that friend about a week after Beeney’s murder.

Tribbett is hoping people start to talk about the case again, which may trigger a breakthrough.

“Some people say it was an accident,” Tribbett said. “Well, why not call the police?... Not saying (anything) and putting us through what we’ve been through? That’s not an accident.”