This past Sunday marked one year since Lori Heimer, 57, was found brutally murdered in her southeast Assaria, Kansas home on June 25, 2016.
On the first anniversary of Lori’s mysterious death, over 150 friends, family, and members of the community gathered at the Assaria Lutheran Church for a memorial service and candlelight vigil to mark another painful year without her.
It has been a difficult year for the Heimer family, struggling to understand why anybody would want to target the devoted wife and loving mother of four daughters.
Joni Alexander is the second oldest of the four Heimer girls.
“I’m a little more mad and frustrated than the other girls that we don’t have answers” Joni told Dateline. “To me, it’s a frustrating day that how has the whole year gone by and we have no idea who did this?”
Last June, Lori Heimer’s body was found in her Assaria, Kansas home by family members – who immediately called 911.
June is harvest season in Kansas, so Lori’s husband, Ron, had to be retrieved from cutting wheat out in the fields.
In the 12 months since Lori’s death, there have not been any arrests and authorities have released few details about the crime scene.
Lieutenant Michael Ascher with the Saline County Sheriff’s Office said at the time that Lori was "brutally murdered."
The oldest of Lori’s four daughters, Genell Heimer, told Dateline last year, “This is a woman who lived on a quiet farm her whole life in Kansas, who everyone speaks so kindly of and has no enemies. How can someone walk into your home, a safe place -- and someone just walked in and took that away and took it from our whole family and community?"
Joni, Lori’s second-oldest daughter, was with her own family at a lake two hours away when she received the news of her mother’s death.
It had just started to rain, and Joni said, “The craziest thing” happened. Joni’s six-year-old daughter asked, “Are the angels crying?” And Joni responded, “Yes, something terrible must have happened. Honey, bad things happen every day. Maybe someone went to heaven."
And then, Joni received the terrible phone call that her mother had died.
The center of their family
"She had the biggest heart," said Genell. “So loving and helpful. And she never knew a stranger. She could talk to virtually everyone she came across, and they’d instantly be her friends."
After working with childcare and community programs for many years, Lori wanted to spend more time at home with her family and cooking meals.
Lori was “an awesome chef,” according to Joni. “She had all these special recipes. Us girls would try to mimic the recipes and it’s just not the same. She had a special twist. She loved to decorate cake -- special cakes for each of the kids' birthdays."
Lori also wanted to turn her attention to another one of her loves: poodles.
Daughter Joni told Dateline that her mother Lori always had poodles growing up. After not having poodles during the years she was raising four girls with her husband, Ron, Lori started her dog-breeding business. In 2000, she began selling puppies to dog owners in Kansas and other other states.
Lori ran her dog-breeding business “Lori’s Poodle Patch” out of their home on a farm, breeding poodles, Yorkies and golden retrievers. She also bred designer dogs like Goldendoodles and Yorkiepoos.
Genell remembered that her mother “would cry when she sold one."
"We'd be like, ‘Mom, it’s your business and income,' and she’d say, ‘I know, but I just love them so much!’"
Lori’s husband Ron was more of a ‘one good outside dog’ kind of guy, but Joni said her father “never fought Mom, either” about having so many ‘inside dogs’ roaming their farm.
Lori had two kennels for the breeder dogs, and another enclosed area on the farm where she kept the puppies.
She posted about a new litter of Goldendoodle puppies on her business’s Facebook page two days before her body was found.
The nearly 50 dogs are now being cared for elsewhere.
A creative spark
Lori was a devoted grandmother to Joni’s four young children.
“She loved her grandkids. She would do the coolest art projects,” said Joni. “She would do things I’d never dream of -- the messiest and gooiest.”
Lori and her grandkids did a papier-mâché project together just a week before her death.
"She just doted on them and spoiled them so much".
According to daughter Genell, even while she and her sisters were growing up, their mother “was the most creative person and took learning to the next level... she would make the biggest messes possible. We would have newspapers on the floor, paint everywhere, or weird putty things, homemade play dough. There was so much creativity. And she never cared about the messes. Cleanup after was worth it for us to learn something from that or express creativity.”
An outpouring of support
Nearly 1,000 people attended Lori’s funeral. The procession of mourners stretched over a mile.
Local law enforcement saluted the family, showing their respect for a much-loved member of the community.
The family was in seclusion in the first days after Lori’s death, trying to cope with the shock of Lori’s loss.
“It was a struggle at first. It definitely challenged our faith,” Joni said.
Lori’s husband, Ron, took her death especially hard.
“He's always been the rock. A strong man," Joni said of her father. “I knew it would be difficult. I thought he'd bounce back better... but this was too much. He really did crumble.”
A plea for help
The family realized that they needed to reach out to the public for help catching Lori’s killer – or killers.
A few weeks after Lori's death, after consulting with her father and sisters – and with the permission of law enforcement -- Joni started the Facebook group “Answers, Prayers, and Support for Lori Heimer and Family" and it has amassed over 5,000 members.
Lori’s family was determined not to let her memory fade away. Her oldest daughters Joni and Genell have done local radio rounds, newspaper interviews, and driven all around Kansas passing out flyers and fundraising for the reward fund.
Genell told Dateline, "We’re fighting for our mother. It’s not right. She didn’t deserve it.”
“This is a unique situation, because you don’t pay attention until you’re involved,” Joni said at the time. “Usually you hear of a homicide, and two weeks later you forget. Our family and community are fighting back and taking a stand, that this is not OK. We’ll do anything and everything to figure out who did this and get them off the street before they hurt anyone else."
At the 2016 Saline County Fair, which was held a few weeks after Lori died, her daughters and their supporters fanned out and distributed over 15,000 flyers.
Truckers would take flyers with them as they went on the road.
People all over the state of Kansas -- and other states -- began volunteering to post flyers about Lori’s case around their towns.
A new normal
In the past year, Lori’s family has witnessed important milestones without her.
Lori’s daughter, Joni, mourned the special moments in her four children’s lives that their grandmother couldn’t be a part of.
“I grieved heavily for them,” Joni said. “My biggest struggle: what they lost, what Mom missed out on."
Joni’s youngest daughter was just five months old when her grandmother died. Her small victories -- like learning how to sit up – Lori would never see.
“I was devastated, because I wanted to tell Mom, but I couldn’t do it," Joni said. “In 12 months, a lot changes… Kids grow, things change, it’s exciting and happy – but also really, really sad because mom’s not there to see it. Who am I supposed to call? You want to call your mom and you can't.”
Lori’s husband, Ron, has remained a pillar of strength for his daughters, who have all learned to cope in their own ways.
Ron suffered a health scare in the past year – a second instance of a detached retina – but this time, he didn’t have his wife Lori to help care for him.
“Mom took care of everything for him,” Genell said. “She took him to surgery, eye appointments, was at home the whole time to make sure he was lying face down for a number of days. A year later, it was the same thing, but we had pick that up because he was there by himself.”
Genell recounted how someone watching the live feed of the candlelight vigil commented that, “I looked so much older. Not in a bad way, but I have aged so much this past year with things like exhaustion and fatigue. And also in wisdom… I’ve learned what it’s like to go through a trauma and be the victim of a trauma.”
The outpouring of community support since Lori’s death – especially during the candlelight vigil marking the first anniversary – has given her family the strength to continue moving forward with their lives, as she would have wanted them to do.
“They inspire us as well”, Joni said. “We don’t feel strong and positive all the time, so when they say those things, it helps push us along… People have said how we’ve helped them through their difficult times, have faith, and be stronger.”
“On a rough day, surrounded by so much love and support, it really helped soften the blow of the one-year anniversary of our mother’s murder,” Genell said. “We don’t have the ending to the chapter and may not have an ending. This year has just been terrible. So this, to me, on Sunday was the closing of the chapter. Monday started a new chapter. And it’ll be a joyful one.”
Reward & latest information
Lieutenant Michael Ascher of the Saline County Sheriff’s Office told Dateline, “Unfortunately there are no new updates. The Saline County Sheriff’s Office and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation continue to follow up on leads as they are received.”
The CrimeStoppers award amount is up to $37,500 for information leading to the arrest.
Over the past year, Lori’s family has continued to hold fundraisers, raffles, and there are upcoming events to benefit the reward fund.
“100% is for the reward,” Joni told Dateline. “If we can get that reward up enough, then maybe if someone knows something, they’ll come forward and tell us, or tell the police, or give someone the incentive to keep talking and reporting suspicious activity. This person is amongst us. They’re going to say something or do something. They like to brag. We want everyone possible to be aware, so they can report it and get this person looked into.”
"There’s no motive. We don’t know why,” Genell told Dateline last year. “What's stopping them from hurting the next person down the road? If we can catch this person, that's the point of the reward. “That’s a lot of money. Throw something out there. If it’s the small hit we need, it's keeping everyone safe. You think it’s never going to happen to you, then you’re like, 'Oh, man, I’m not as safe and invincible as I thought it was in small town Kansas where nothing happens....'"
Lori’s family believes that it is important to spread word of Lori’s case beyond Kansas.
Authorities are seeking the public’s assistance to help identify two vehicles and drivers seen in the vicinity of Lori’s home around the time she was murdered:
- VEHICLE #1: An older flatbed pickup truck, possibly a Chevrolet, which is “beat up”, maroon in color, white front bumper, silver grill, wide-style side mirrors.
The driver is described as a man who is 50 years of age or older, with “salt and pepper” hair.
- VEHICLE #2: An older-style, small pickup truck, possibly a Chevrolet S-10, two-tone - dark blue on top and bottom with light blue in the middle. The back bumper is silver, but the tailgate is blue (like the body of the truck) and is newer or appeared to have minimal damage when compared to the body of the truck. The remainder of the vehicle is described as “beat up” and “scratched up”. There may be two animal cages or crates in the back.
The driver of the second vehicle was described as a white male, approximately 40 years of age with shoulder-length hair and wearing glasses.
Neither vehicle or driver has been located as of this time.
Law enforcement wants to speak with anyone who might have been in contact with Lori or had a business appointment – specifically regarding her dog-breeding business -- between June 20 and June 25 of 2016.
If you have any information regarding Lori’s case, please contact 1-800-KSCRIME or the Saline County Sheriff’s Office at 785-826-6500.