Rayna Rison was born on May 6, 1976 to Ben & Karen Rison in La Porte County, IN.
In 1993 16 year old Rayna Rison was a sophomore at La Porte High School. La Porte, IN is a small, normally a very low-key, quiet town without a lot of crime, sitting 70 miles southeast of Chicago. Rayna was a star student; getting good grades, playing multiple instruments in the school band. Not only was she hard working in school, but she also held three part-time jobs as well as volunteering at the local animal hospital where she would clean kennels & walked dogs. She was an animal lover & her ultimate goal was becoming a veterinarian.
Rayna was born on May 6, 1976 to Ben & Karen Rison.
On Friday, March 26, 1993, Rayna headed to work at the Pine Lake Animal Hospital for her shift from 4-6pm & had planned to go on a date afterward with ex-boyfriend Matt Elser. They had recently split but were working on rekindling their relationship. Matt was also a sophomore at La Porte HS.
When Matt got to the hospital to pick Rayna up, she wasn’t there; the animal hospital was closed, the lights were out & her car wasn’t in the parking lot. From there, Matt headed to Rayna’s house though her dad, Ben said she wasn’t there either.
Immediately the family knew something was wrong. Rayna was not the type of teenager to not be where she said she’d be. By 10:30pm that night, the family’s worry continued to grow so they went to the police station & were told that they had to wait 24 hours until they could file a missing person’s report. In the meantime, Rayna’s younger sister Wendy contacted all of Rayna’s friends but they also hadn’t seen her. Rayna’s older sister Lori also hadn’t heard from her. Fliers were also placed around town.
As police got involved in the search, they made a public appeal for any information leading to Rayna’s whereabouts. With this, multiple witnesses came forward to report that they had seen Rayna with two men in a sedan outside the hospital & it appeared that they were arguing with her. Matt was questioned first since he had been at the animal hospital that day. He was described as straight laced & a parent approving young man. Rayna’s family trusted him & did not consider him a suspect. Police had no reason to doubt his story.
The following day, Rayna’s car was found nine miles from the hospital on County Road 200 East; the car’s hood had been popped which led investigators to believe she may have had car trouble. The key was in the ignition & the car started with no issues, so it was clear that car trouble was not the issue & perhaps someone staged it to just look like this. Inside the car sat Rayna’s purse & a man’s ring.
Matt was able to identify the ring as belonging to Jason Tibbs who was Rayna’s ex-boyfriend; they had dated for six months while in 7th grade. Shortly after their breakup, Rayna began dating Matt. When police questioned Jason, he said that he’d done some work on her car, had taken his ring off & forgotten it in the car. In terms of his alibi, he said he was playing a game of “fox hunting” on the evening in question. Fox hunting is apparently a game of hide-and-seek played in cars where friends give clues over a CB radio & the seeker tries to find them based on the clues. Friends confirmed that Jason had been playing with them that evening but no one had actually seen him.
America’s Most Wanted aired a segment on Rayna & from this, police received a tip that led them to Fail Road where they found a letterman’s jacket about 7 miles from where Rayna’s car had been found. The jacket belonged to Matt who had given it to Rayna.
The case gained little progress but exactly one month later, on April 26, 1993, a man was fishing with his teenage daughter at a local pond just off Range Road, north of US 20 in La Porte County. The girl grew bored of fishing & went off to explore the area around the pond. She found a girl’s body with her clothes on, floating in a pond with two logs across her back. The man called police & when detectives arrived, they found that the clothing matched what Rayna was wearing when she disappeared & it was confirmed that this was her. An autopsy was done; her body had no injuries & cause of death was ruled to be asphyxiation & the case was now deemed a homicide.
Investigators got a tip to look into Rayna’s brother-in-law/her older sister Lori’s husband, Ray McCarty. They soon discovered that when Rayna was 11 years old, Ray began to molest her & two years later, had impregnated her. Rayna got an abortion & Ray was convicted of child molestation. He received a three year suspended sentence in 1991. His probation had ended January 5, 1993, only 2 months before her murder.
When questioned, he claimed that he never saw her that evening but later changed his story. Ray said that around 5:40pm on March 26, 1993, he was looking for a house for sale on Warren Street, a block away from the animal hospital. A witness confirmed he was there. He stopped by the animal hospital & found Rayna sweeping & mopping the foyer & asked her where Lori was. He said she told him she didn’t know so he left. He said that he initially denied seeing Rayna that day because when he left the hospital, he picked up a female hitchhiker, saying Lori was still untrustworthy of him after he had molested her sister. What in the actual hell?!
Ray was definitely a person of interest but no evidence linked him to Rayna’s murder. The case eventually went cold.
A year and a half later, Indiana police pulled over a van driven by Larry Hall. In his van, they found newspaper clippings about Rayna as well as a prescription bottle labeled for R. Rison. Larry claimed that he had abducted & murdered Rayna but police soon discovered that he was actually in Kentucky at the time of her death. The prescription bottle was said to be fake. Why are people so messed up?! Larry was ruled out as a suspect in Rayna’s case though later sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 15 year old Jessica Roach from Georgetown, IL in 1993. It’s possible that Larry had killed 30-40 women, including the Springfield Three (three missing women in 1992 from Springfield, Missouri & Tammy Zywicki (last seen in 1992 on the side of the road by her car in central IL).
Five Years Later
Five years later, in 1998, detectives revisited the case & looked at all the suspects. Matt Elser’s story remained unchanged & police continued to believe his innocence. Again, Jason Tibb’s story of “fox hunting” was unreliable because he was never actually seen by those playing with him. When looking at Ray McCarty, police obtained a search warrant & searched his property. They found blood in his car & two handguns & a stun gun in his home. He was arrested & charged with Rayna’s murder in May of 1998.
While Ray was in jail, the state had appointed a new prosecutor, Robert Beckman, who felt there wasn’t enough evidence to take the case to trial. Because Ray was a hunter, the blood could’ve been from an animal; detectives were never able to determine where the blood came from. Ray was released in August 1999 & the case again turned cold.
Fifteen Years Late
Exactly 15 years later, in March of 2008, a man named Ricky Hammons came forward with more information. Ricky was in prison at the time, serving a 45 year sentence for killing 25 year old Daniel Cassidy who was shot 9 times outside LaPorte in 1999. At the time of Rayna’s death, he was 14. He said he saw Jason Tibbs & his friend Eric Freeman pull up to his family’s barn in his sister’s car. At the time, Eric was dating Ricky’s sister.
Ricky said he saw a body in the trunk of the car that had been covered with a blanket, its face exposed. When he saw Rayna’s case on the news, he was able to identify that this was the body he had seen in the car. He said that at the time, he decided not to come forward since he had been smoking marijuana in the barn & didn’t want to get in trouble.
Eric was interviewed though denied to have anything to do with Rayna’s murder. Fast forward five years later to 2013, 20 years after Rayna was murdered & the police offered Eric immunity in return for his testimony.
Eric said that he & Jason had gone to see Rayna at 6pm, as her shift ended at the animal hospital. He said that Jason wanted to convince her to get back together with him but she refused. At this point, Jason felt that if he couldn’t have her, no one could. He knocked her to the ground & later strangled her to death. They then drove to the Hammons’ barn, not realizing that Ricky was hiding inside. They then dumped her body in the pond where she had been found.
Obviously Jason had been a person of interest early in the case because of his ring being found in Rayna’s car. They had also found letters in her room from Jason to Rayna, saying he would “go to almost any extreme” to be her boyfriend again.
Trial began in October of 2014 & ended one month later. During the trial, the defense tried to focus their attention on Ray McCarty as Rayna’s killer because at one time Ray had threatened to kill Rayna if she told anyone about his sexual abuse. The jury didn’t believe the defense’s theory & found Jason guilty.
In December 2014, Jason Tibbs, age 39 was arrested & charged with Rayna’s murder & sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Because of Indiana’s sentencing guidelines, inmates receive a day of freedom for everyday served so he will ultimately serve only 20 years. During the trial, Rayna’s family were able to tell Jason face-to-face about the pain & suffering they had endured. Her father showed a video of Rayna’s life from birth to death, including baby pictures & home videos of Rayna opening Christmas presents & getting ready for prom. Rayna’s father said, “hopefully now my family can find some semblance of peace from what we’ve been through for the last 20 years.”
According to A&E, of the 285,000 cold cases in the US, just one in five will name a new suspect. Of those suspects, only one in twenty will be arrested & just one in those 100 charged will be convicted.
In February 2018, Ray McCarty was arrested in New Carlisle on a preliminary charge of felony battery resulting in serious bodily injury. On February 25, 2018, Ray commited suicide while in jail.
In September 2018, Jason Tibbs sought a new trial. Russell Brown & Scott King, attorneys handling the appeal said the defense made a mistake in not presenting the findings of FBI analysis of evidence during the 2014 trial. They claimed that trace amounts of fibers were found in Rayna’s hair & were consistent with the carpet from Ray’s trunk. During the trial, Jason’s lawyers didn’t ask for court permission to present the FBI’s results to the jury, saying there were scheduling difficulties with the FBI agent involved in analysis coming to testify about the findings. They also believed that Eric Freeman had been coached when giving his statement to police. The charge
- The Maverick Files: How One Man’s Testimony Solved Rayna Rison’s Cold Case Murder
- WBST 22: Update: Tibbs sentenced to 40 years in cold case murder of Rayna Rison
- Morbidology: Homicidal Obsession – The Murder of Rayna Rison
- South Bend Tribune: Man again seeking new trial in LaPorte teen’s 1993 killing
- Grunge: The Cold Case of Rayna Rison’s Murder Explained
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