The disappearance of Rachanda Pickle, a 13-year-old girl residing with her mother and stepfather, raised significant concerns due to her uncharacteristic absence without notice. Law enforcement initiated an investigation and identified a potential suspect. Yet, their primary challenge involved proving that the suspect was guilty, given the limited availability of evidence. The miniseries ‘Ghosts of Highway 20’ delves deeply into this case, endeavoring to uncover the truth behind Rachanda’s mysterious disappearance.
What Happened to Rachanda Pickle?
Rachanda was born on March 15, 1977, and resided in Sweet Home, Oregon, along with her mother, Linda Pickle, her stepfather, John Ackroyd, and her older brother, Byron Pickle. The family lived in a house situated on the Santiam Pass in Sweet Home, Oregon. In the vicinity, there were relatively few individuals of Rachanda’s age, and she was known for her reserved and introverted nature. Linda had married Ackroyd in the mid-1980s, and although they divorced a year later, they continued to share a residence.
Rachanda, affectionately known as Channy within her family, was a well-behaved and responsible child. She regularly assisted with household chores and excelled in her studies. On the morning of July 10, 1990, Rachanda followed her usual routine, helping her mother prepare for her job as a housekeeper in a resort community, styling her hair as she often did. She intended to spend the day dressed in her pajamas, watching cartoons. Meanwhile, her stepfather, employed as a highway mechanic at the Oregon Department of Transportation, departed for work as well. Before leaving, Rachanda’s mother left her a list of tasks to complete during her absence.
The following morning, Rachanda’s mother contacted 911 to report her daughter’s disappearance, indicating that she had been missing since the previous afternoon. When questioned by the responding officer about the delay in reporting, she explained that she believed a 24-hour waiting period was required before filing a missing person report. However, the officer clarified that such a waiting period did not apply when a child was missing. The police initiated an immediate investigation, interviewing individuals associated with Rachanda. Ackroyd, her stepfather, informed them that upon returning from work, he had observed Rachanda lying on the couch, covered with a blanket, and watching television. He had proposed that she accompany him to photograph deer on the back roads near the junction, but she declined, citing chores she needed to complete. He recounted that upon returning once more, Rachanda was no longer in the house.
Was Rachanda Pickle Murdered?
During the investigation, Ackroyd’s behavior raised concerns. He provided detailed information to the police about Rachanda’s physical development, including her bra size, but he could not recall her birthday. He subtly suggested that someone with predatory intentions might have targeted her due to her developing body. As the police spoke to Rachanda’s friends, they discovered a significant change in her behavior during the 5th grade. She displayed a strong aversion to going home, frequently threw tantrums when it was time to return, and often stayed over at friends’ houses to avoid returning home. She had confided in her friends, sharing that her stepfather was subjecting her to abuse.
The exhaustive search for Rachanda involved over 100 police officers, but their efforts yielded no clues about her whereabouts or the circumstances of her disappearance. During the questioning, Ackroyd stuck to the same story and did not admit to any wrongdoing or involvement in Rachanda’s disappearance. However, news of Ackroyd’s missing stepdaughter had reached neighboring Jefferson County, where a murder had occurred in 1978. Kaye Turner had been the victim, and Ackroyd was the last person known to have seen her alive. Police had long suspected Ackroyd in Turner’s case, but insufficient evidence had prevented his arrest or charges. With no progress on Rachanda’s case, investigators began to delve more deeply into the Kaye Turner murder.
By early 1992, law enforcement had intensified their scrutiny of Ackroyd. Only a few months after Rachanda’s disappearance, he had moved out of Linda’s house and began residing with his mother in their Sweet Home home. His transfer from Santiam Junction, where his association with the case and his demeanor had made women uncomfortable, raised suspicions. Ackroyd was relocated to Corvallis but continued working along the highway. The investigators assigned to the Kaye Turner murder case persisted in their questioning of him. They also executed a search of a storage unit he had rented a year prior but discovered that it had been emptied just days before their visit.
In 1992, Ackroyd was arrested and convicted for the murder of Kaye Turner and subsequently received five life sentences for aggravated murder. In 2010, a detective, concerned about the possibility of Ackroyd getting parole, arranged a meeting with him in a high-security prison in Salem but had limited success in extracting any truthful information from him. In 2013, a District Attorney brought Rachanda’s case before a grand jury, resulting in Ackroyd being charged with a single count of murder.
Ackroyd entered a no-contest plea for his stepdaughter’s murder, neither admitting nor denying the crime and, in exchange, he agreed never to seek parole. However, he provided no information about Rachanda’s whereabouts. The court hearing lasted approximately seven minutes, and the judge sealed the court records. In 2016, Ackroyd passed away in prison due to heart disease. The police attempted to connect him to the murder case of two other girls, Melissa Sanders, and Sheila Swanson, and he was also suspected of being linked to five more rape and murder cases, but no concrete evidence emerged in those investigations.