Rachel Hurley was a force to be reckoned with. She was sassy and strong-willed, bossy even, but with a flash of her bright smile, she could charm anyone. She loved to sing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” at the top of her lungs and dance with her friends.
It’s how her friends remember Rachel as she spun on her heel and with a flip of her hair, sprinted down the path from them on March 17, 1990. She was only 14 years old.
Wednesday marked 31 years since Rachel was murdered in Jupiter, Florida, and her killer has never been caught. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office marked the anniversary by recapping the events of the day on social media, including a mini-documentary about the case that they produced in 2019.
“I know that somebody out there has firsthand knowledge that could put us on the right track to put this person in jail,” PBSO Detective William Springer said in the video. “And they need to step up and do the right thing.”
On March 17, 1990, St. Patrick’s Day, Rachel and her friends spent the day boating at Jupiter Inlet. But around 2:45 p.m., Rachel got nervous about getting back to shore in time to meet her mother at 3 p.m.
After the boat docked in Dubois Park, Rachel, accompanied by her friends Erin and Maddy, began to walk the path to Carlin Park where Rachel’s mother was waiting. The friends said they needed to stop at the restroom, so with a flip of her long hair, Rachel sprinted off down the path without them.
She never made it to the parking lot where her mom was waiting.
Rachel’s mother, Andrea Hurley, waited for her daughter about a mile away in the park. She would later tell authorities that she wondered if she was supposed to pick her up at another spot. She wondered if her daughter had found another ride home. And when she returned home, there was no sign of Rachel. Her mother then returned to Carlin Park and for five hours, friends and spectators searched for the teen.
The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office was notified at 5 p.m. and launched a search that involved 100 deputies, 2 boats, 1 helicopter, 8 mounted deputies and 3 canine units.
Sheri Duff, one of Rachel’s good friends, told Dateline she remembers the chaos from that day. She wasn’t with Rachel, but had been at the beach that day. After a few hours of searching, her mother coaxed her home to wait for any news.
“We got the call that they had found Rachel… they found her body,” Sheri said. “That moment still gives me chills. It’s a moment I won’t ever forget.”
According to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, Rachel’s partially-clothed body was found at 8:15 p.m. in a wooded area of Carlin Park, just east of a path leading south from Dubois Park. Some of Rachel’s clothes were scattered nearby.
Sheri said she believes Rachel took the shortcut through the wooded area to shield herself from the blowing sand that would have stung her bare legs and arms on that windy day. But the shortcut put her right into harm’s way.
PBSO officials confirmed Rachel had been raped and that her cause of death was asphyxiation. She was covered in defensive wounds and her friends have no doubt that she fought for her life until the end.
Officials said the first tip came in from a high school student who claimed to have been at the park the day Rachel was murdered. His description of the suspect led authorities to question more than 50 homeless men who were known to have frequented the wooded area. But the search led nowhere.
For 31 years, suspects have come and gone, but no one has been arrested, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Some of those suspects knew Rachel and a few of them are now serving time in prison for non-related offenses.
Authorities have tested the DNA of 127 men, including past suspects, but none has matched DNA found on Rachel. With the continued advancements in DNA technology, authorities are hoping a match or physical evidence will lead them to the killer.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Detective William Springer came out of retirement in 2013 to work cold homicide cases, including Rachel’s. Rachel’s friend Sheri told Dateline he meets with the Hurley family and herself often as he continues to follow up on leads in her case.
“We’re living… they’re living. We’ve enjoyed things in life,” Det. Springer said in the mini-documentary produced by the PBSO. “She wasn’t able to and it’s not fair. They need to go to jail.”
Sheri Duff was only 13 years old when her friend was murdered, forever changing her life and the lives of everyone in the Jupiter community.
She remembers her friend as charming and fun to be around. But she had a strong personality and her friends lovingly referred to her as “Miss Sassy Pants.”
“It was her way or no way,” Sheri said laughing. “But then she’d smile and you couldn’t help but love her. Everyone loved her.”
Just a few weeks before Rachel’s murder, the group of friends were playing with a Ouija board at a slumber party. Sheri told Dateline she remembers the question was, “who will be the first to die?” The arrow spelled out “Rachel.”
“Being Rachel, she yelled out ‘then do it, bitch!’ as we laughed and played along,” Sheri said. “But when we asked for a sign, the house alarm went off and we lost it. It was just… weird. Not long after that, she was gone.”
Sheri told Dateline she has always wanted to know who did this to Rachel, and to get justice for her friend, so her fight began about 15 years ago.
“We just always want to keep her story alive,” Sheri said. “She deserves justice. And peace.”
Sheri stays in close contact with Det. Springer as tips come in and leads develop. She believes more than one person was involved in Rachel’s murder and that somebody out there has information that could help solve the case. While many people who were on the beach that March day gave statements, Sheri has discovered some were given to the wrong police agency.
“If you told your story back then, please come forward and tell it again,” Sheri pleaded. “It could be the piece we need to find who did this to Rachel.”
In the mini-documentary, Detective Springer calls Rachel’s case a case that’ll never go away.
“I know that somebody out there has first hand knowledge that could put us on the right track to put this person in jail,” he said. “And they need to step out and do the right thing.”
Over the years, Rachel’s family has had limited involvement with their daughter’s case, but Sheri says they very much want justice for their daughter.
Rachel’s mother, Andrea Hurley, last spoke to the press in 2017.
“Our Rachel, to her family, was a feisty, sassy, beautiful girl, who made us laugh with her silly antics,” Andrea Hurley said at a PBSC press conference in 2017. “She was a force to be reckoned with, a charmer, who we often said could start out with a quarter, travel the world and return home with change.”
Rachel’s mother continued with an emotional plea.
“To her friends, who all lost their innocence on that day 25 years ago, she was curious, optimistic, bossy, a leader, kind and thoughtful and just plain cool. Thank you to those friends who love her to this day, who try to make sense of this and tirelessly still try to help find the person who took her from us …”
“I ask that anyone who might have information, no matter how small it may seem, to call the sheriff’s office and help us. Thank you.”
Detective Springer says he hopes to find justice for Rachel while her family is still around, but in 2019, Rachel’s father, Daniel Hurley, died suddenly while coaching his grandson’s Lacrosse team.
“I’m just sorry I couldn’t solve his daughter’s murder before he died,” Det. Springer said during an interview in the PBSC mini-documentary.
Authorities continue to search for Rachel’s killer, and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is appealing for anyone who knows anything about her death to contact authorities.
“If you told your story 31 years ago, come forward and tell it again,” Sheri added. “No lead is too small. It could be justice, finally, for Rachel.”