VALPARAISO — Christel Helmchen was working an overnight shift Nov. 14, 1990, at the White Hen Pantry when two men walked in to buy cans of pop.
Helmchen, 19, had been working at the Valparaiso store and babysitting neighborhood children to help save money to attend college. She wanted to become a high school algebra teacher.
The two men, later identified as Rodney A. Wood and William Harmon, pointed their weapons at Helmchen, took money from the store and escorted her outside to a vehicle, according to court records.
Prosecutors at trial argued that the men, along with Perry S. Miller, drove her to a house under construction near U.S. 6 in northern Porter County where she was sexually assaulted and shot to death.
A Valparaiso officer first reported her missing at 1:30 a.m. that day. Construction workers found her body six hours later in a wooded area near U.S. Route 6 in Jackson Township.
The gruesome details of Helmchen's homicide began unraveling after Wood, who was 16 years old at the time, agreed to give a statement in exchange for the state not seeking the death penalty against him.
Wood was living with Harmon, then 19 years old, and Harmon's stepfather, Miller.
It was Miller, Wood said, who planned the crime and told the teens he had found a location where they could rape and kill the clerk from the White Hen Pantry. After talking about the plan, the trio, armed with guns, headed to the store.
Miller argued at trial that he took a call at home from his wife at 1:30 a.m., which would mean he couldn't have committed the crime. However, it took only an hour in April 1991 for a Porter County jury to find Miller guilty of raping and killing Helmchen.
That same jury later took five minutes before recommending Miller be sentenced to death.
The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court in Chicago later reversed Miller's death sentence, because he did not receive adequate defense.
Miller then pleaded guilty to murder, criminal confinement, robbery and conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced in 2001 to 138 years in prison. Miller, now 68, is currently serving his sentence at the Miami Correctional Facility.
Wood pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. He was paroled in February 2017. He is supervised by the Indiana Department of Correction's Gary Parole District.
Harmon, 44, pleaded guilty to various charges, including murder, and was sentenced in 1992 to 280 years in prison. His release date is scheduled for 2133.