OGDEN — A warrant charging an Idaho Correctional Institution inmate with the 1983 murder of 11-year-old Rebecca Lemberger has revived a lifelong family tragedy for Denise Lemberger Foran.
Foran, Rebecca Lemberger’s cousin, said her entire family has spent the last 29 years thinking Rebecca’s adoptive father, her uncle Frank, was responsible for Rebecca’s death. Many members of the family died thinking Frank killed his daughter, she said.
Police now say he didn’t.
Rebecca was last seen at 8 a.m. March 2, 1983, when she left home to walk to Edison Elementary School at 935 E. 1050 North.
The next day, Rebecca’s body was found in a shed in a field west of 729 N. Mountain Road in Ogden.
She had been sexually assaulted and died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head.
An arrest warrant for one count of first-degree aggravated murder and one count of rape was issued Friday for Gregory L. Seamons, 44, in the slaying.
Seamons is serving a sentence at the Idaho Correctional Institution near Boise for a second-degree kidnapping conviction unrelated to the long-cold Ogden murder case.
Officials said the break in the case came in July 2011, when Ogden police discovered a match had been made in the National DNA Index System between DNA evidence from the crime scene and Seamons.
Further investigation put Seamons in the Ogden neighborhood where Rebecca’s body was found — and put him there at the time of her death.
Weber County Attorney Dee Smith said Monday that he has filed an extradition request for Seamons to face charges in Ogden. Seamons can either challenge the request or waive his rights and return to Ogden.
Whichever, Smith said, “We’ll be ready to proceed whenever he is.”
Foran was one of two people who knew Rebecca and contacted the Standard-Examiner on Monday. The other, Lisa Walker Pierce, said she was Rebecca’s best friend growing up.
Foran still lives in Utah but asked that her address not be revealed for her own safety.
She said the new charge has rocked her world, shaped by the long-ago murder.
For decades, she said, her whole family thought her uncle, Frank Lemberger, had killed Rebecca and died before he could be charged.
Belief that there was a murderer in the family, coupled with other problems, had a devastating effect on her family, she said.
Those who have died did so believing her uncle committed the murder, Foran said. Those still alive hardly speak to each other.
Now she hopes the DNA evidence that led to the charges is clear enough to prove the family was wrong.
“It would be awesome to find I don’t have a killer in my family,” she said.
Foran knew Rebecca Lemberger only briefly. Her father’s brother had married Rebecca’s mother and adopted Rebecca shortly before Rebecca died.
“I was starting to get to know her better, because she was part of the family now, and I went over to visit,” she said. “And the next day she came up missing.”
When Rebecca was killed, she said, the family suspected that Frank Lemberger was involved.
“My dad died believing it was my uncle, so this affected my family in a big way,” Foran said. “And I’m not even sure what happened to his wife (Rebecca’s mother) or my other cousin, Frank’s real daughter.”
The family suspected Frank because police “couldn’t find the killer, and because my uncle had things in his past, (for instance) his drinking,” she said.
“People look at your past and think, because of something you’ve done a long time ago, you might be guilty. I don’t know. I was 19, and I was scared,” Foran said.
“I thought, ‘Are they going to kill us now?’ You’re afraid. You don’t know what to do.”
Her father, Philip Lemberger, “was the one who had to go identify the body and then talk to my uncle, and everybody tried to get my uncle to say it was him.”
Frank Lemberger denied it and died soon after the killing.
“He had found out he had cancer,” Foran said, “and it was a type of cancer that nobody could cure, and it spread really fast. He died really soon, and he died saying he didn’t kill her.
“The poor guy had to die with people thinking he was the one.”
Foran said she’s now turning 50 and realizing the impact the murder had on her family.
“You want your family to be a good family and be close and love everyone, but it’s not that way,” she said.
“Murder destroys families, going to prison destroys families, gossip destroys families. It’s just one big, screwed-up family.”
Pierce, of Syracuse, said she is ecstatic that police may have found who killed her fifth-grade, 11-year-old friend, whom everyone at Edison Elementary School called “Becky.”
“I knew her for a couple of years. We played together, Barbies and sticker books. The last day I saw her was the day before she went missing,” Pierce said.
She said they played at recess and ate lunch together the day before Rebecca disappeared.
“Her mother (Nola Lemberger) had called to see if I had seen her (the day she went missing),” Pierce said.
But Rebecca Lemberger did not come to school that day, Pierce told the mother.
Pierce said some boys in the area found Rebecca’s body.
“It was scary,” she said. “For a few days, I didn’t walk to school,” and when she did, it was always in large groups.
“Back then, we used to ride our bikes in our neighborhood. Back then, nobody worried about that stuff,” Pierce said.
The murder of her friend changed her, making her a much more protective parent, especially not knowing who committed the crime.
“I’ve got two daughters, and I have been cautious since then,” said Pierce, adding that her biggest concern was that police were not going to find the killer in her lifetime.
When she saw the story in the Standard-Examiner on Sunday, she said, she gasped, then started calling her family to let them know police had identified a suspect.
Smith said identifying a suspect and filing charges has given him a great sense of satisfaction.
“We never did stop looking,” said one police official at a news conference Monday.
Dozens of investigators have worked this case over the years, the most recent being Weber County Attorney investigator Shane Minor and Ogden Police Detective Rick Childress.
Police are now hoping anyone who lived in the neighborhood at the time the murder, or who attended school or church with Rebecca, will call police at 801-629-8216.
Pierce said she is disturbed to find the suspect is Seamons, who would have been about 15 years old at the time of the murder.
“He is so young,” she said.
She does not recognize the face or name, but said that, in 1983, neither she nor Rebecca talked to boys much.
She said Rebecca was a little shy and reserved, never looking for trouble.
Now, Pierce said, she feels like a weight has been lifted from her shoulders.
“I can’t believe this after all these years.”
KBOI interview with Gregory Seamons in 2006