Editor’s note: Although it is not illegal to do so, in general, it is the policy of Sauk Valley Media not to report the names of juvenile defendants. In this case, however, SVM is publishing their names because of the severity of the crimes.
STERLING – The daughter of a Morrison woman whose body was found in a burning home Saturday shot her in the head Thursday, then she and a friend waited a day, cleaning up, before setting the house on fire to conceal the crime, investigators said in Whiteside County Court last week.
Anna Schroeder, 15, who lived with her mom, Peggy S. Schroeder, 53, at 805 W. Park St., is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, concealment of homicidal death, and arson.
Despite the first-degree murder charge, because she is younger than 16, state law dictates that she start out in juvenile court. If she is tried and convicted as a minor, she could be imprisoned until she is 21.
Her friend Rachel Helm, also 15, of Rock Falls, has not yet been formally charged.
They are being held at the Mary Davis Detention Home in Galesburg.
Both girls appeared in Whiteside County court July 11. Anna had her initial appearance; both have a pretrial hearing Aug. 8, which also will serve as Rachel’s initial appearance.
According to testimony from sheriff’s Detective David Molina, who interviewed both girls:
Anna was waiting at home with her mom’s .38 revolver when Peggy, who worked at the Wahl Clipper Service Center, 3001 N. Locust St. in Sterling, came home July 6 around 5:30 p.m. Anna met her in the living room, told her to put a towel over her face and shot her in the forehead.
She texted Rachel about what she did, but her friend didn’t believe her, so Anna sent her a picture of her mom’s body. Rachel had her mother give her a ride to the Schroeders’ home that night, and the girls tried to clean the blood out of the carpet.
They went to sleep in Anna’s room, and on July 7 moved Peggy’s body to her bedroom, laid her on the floor and covered her with a bed sheet.
They kept working on the carpet.
They walked to Subway, where they spent an hour eating and where Anna learned that her father, Daryl Schroeder of Walnut, was coming to Morrison. She vomited in Subway’s bathroom.
The girls then walked to a nearby store to buy more cleaning supplies. They had decided to run away, and that night they dyed their hair. Rachel, who is blonde, dyed hers red; Schroeder, who is brunette, dyed hers black.
On the morning of Saturdy, July 8, they set the house on fire to destroy evidence. Rachel set fire to the bed sheet covering Peggy and to sheets in Anna’s room, then they walked to Grove Hill Cemetery, and hid Anna’s phone and the gun. (They have since been recovered.)
Anna went to her father’s home, although it’s not clear from testimony how she got there, and Rachel went back to her family in Rock Falls.
Around 1:30 p.m. Saturday, neighbors reported smelling burning plastic. An off-duty Erie firefighter who was in the area broke down the door as Daryl Schroeder was driving up to the home. He called 911.
Rachel, overcome with guilt, told her mother what they had done. Her mother drove her to the Sheriff’s Department around 8 p.m., and Rachel told Molina everything that happened and where Anna, who she said might be suicidal, could be found.
At 8:37 p.m., Anna posted a message to her mom on Peggy’s Facebook page:
“I don’t even know if you can see me right now but if you can I just want you to know you were my best friend. There were so many things I wanted to say and do with you. I wasn’t always the best daughter and I’m so sorry. I love you so much mom I just want you to know and I’ll never forget you.”
The message was followed by two heart icons.
Anna was picked up at her dad’s house and taken to the Bureau County Sheriff’s Department for questioning. They left her alone for the first 45 minutes, then she broke into tears and asked for her father.
She confessed everything – including having researched children who murdered their parents, Molina testified.
An autopsy was done July 11, but the official cause of death won’t be released until the pathologist’s report is complete, which could take several weeks, said Sterling Police Chief Tim Morgan, who was the deputy coroner who responded to the scene.
Anna is represented by Sterling attorney Jim Mertes; Judge Trish Joyce is presiding.
Peggy (Cravatta) Schroeder, who was deaf, was raised in Mount Carroll, where she still has family. Among others, she is survived by an older daughter, Kaylene Schroeder.
Brenda Cravatta posted this about her sister on her Facebook page:
“It warms my heart to see all the love and beautiful words from all of (Peggy’s) friends. Her life should not have ended like this. She was definitely God’s angel and I guess it was time for her to go home to Him. She will forever be remembered forever as she touched many hearts while here on this earth.”
Funeral arrangements are being handled at the Morrison chapel of the Bosma-Renkes funeral home.