COLD CASE FILES: Was a Michigan City woman's death an accident or murder?


A terrible workplace accident or murder? That's the question police have in the 2008 death of Rebecca Schlief. Police say it could go either way but WSBT 22's Kristin Bien found, the family says they're sure she was murdered.

From the moment she got the call, Denise Dial was skeptical.

"Something is not right," she said. "It didn't sound right."

Dial is still grappling with her mother's terrible death.

"Very hard, very unsettling," she said.

Unsettling because it is still not clear how 54-year-old Rebecca Schlief died.

"Blunt force trauma I think it says," said Dial, referring to the cause of death listed on her mother's death certificate.

On June 6th, 2008 Schlief was found dead inside a Styrofoam grinder at her Michigan City workplace. But that isn't the whole story, because investigators aren't sure how she got there.

By all accounts, "Becky" was a fun loving and independent woman. She raised four kids on her own. While her children were grown and well into adulthood by 2008, the family she nurtured was close-knit.

"She was always happy," said Dial. "She wanted to see everyone else happy before herself. She was very motivated. She loved her job she would give her shirt off of her back just to provide to other people. She was amazing."

On the day of her death, Schlief picked up an extra shift hoping to pick up some extra cash. She had worked at ThermoSafe, a company that makes insulated shipping boxes, for 14 years doing various jobs. But June 6th -- would be different.

"I received the call in the late afternoon or evening hours that there was an industrial accident," said Michigan City's Chief of Services Royce Williams. Williams was a detective back in 2008. "They showed be where the machine was and the victim was still in the machine at that time."

Another employee had found her. Management told police Schlief was a good worker who had no issues in the past. They said she was well versed on the machine but police said, at the time, it appeared to be an accident.

"But forthcoming, a day or two after," says Williams. "We started getting information in that there could be other circumstances involved other than industrial accident."

Those "circumstances" Williams says, were that Schlief had recently broken off a relationship with another employee at the plant and her family says it was not a happy ending.

"She said she had a date that coming Saturday and he did not take it very well," Dial said. "She said there was a huge argument outside her house."

Witnesses told police this employee was working the same shift the night Schlief died and was seen coming from the area shortly before her body was found.

"Given the fact that there was no surveillance video at the time, she was secluded in this area and the factory was extremely noisy does create an umbrella if somebody had schemed it out that well that they could get away with committing it," said Williams. "It makes our job tougher."

Police are calling the employee a "person of interest and interviewed that person for 8 to 10 hours.

No charges have ever been filed.

"It could teeter both ways unfortunately," said Williams, referring to whether it was an accident or murder.

"Deep down, I know it wasn't an accident," Dial said.

No further information has come to light in the years since Schlief's death.

Williams says he hopes that if someone knows something about what happened that day, they come forward.

"There could be others who could have seen or heard something from another employee at the time, that could be beneficial to us," says Williams. "Maybe those relationships have soured and someone could come forth and just give us that information that could be the key that could let us move forward."

Neither the coroner's office nor police have ruled the death an accident or a murder. Right now it is labeled as an open "death investigation." And while this case is not closed, there are no clear answers for Schlief's family.

"I'm ready for it to be over. I'm just ready to have the peace and knowledge that we need," Dial said.

An Indiana Department of Labor spokesperson says OSHA conducted a limited scope investigation of the facility which resulted in no violations being noted and no safety order was issued to the company.

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