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Years later, none of it — not 84-year-old Eleonora Knoernschild’s bloody body on the shag carpet, not the torn bedspread twisted around her neck, not the junk heaped on her corpse so abundantly that only her left foot poked out, not three decades of detective work — none of it would matter as much as the cheese wrapper.

The day after Knoernschild was killed on Nov. 4, 1984, the local newspapers didn’t mention the cheese wrapper at all, nor the knee-high stocking that would also be of great consequence in the trials that would take place 30 years later.

Instead, the newspapers reported how Knoernschild’s premature death had been discovered: Her daughter, 59-year-old Doris Wines, had been walking to the neighborhood donut shop that Sunday morning. Wines lived just a few doors down from her mother in St. Charles, Mo., an affluent St. Louis suburb on the western bank of the Missouri River. She stooped to pick up the newspaper on her mother’s lawn. As she went to drop it off, she saw that the window in the... see more