Text messages sent before, after Morrison teen fatally shot mother introduced at sentencing hearing Wednesday

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 9:56 AM CDT
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MORRISON, Ill. (KWQC) - Days before shooting her mother, a then-15-year-old Morrison girl texted her girlfriend about killing her mother.

“I’ve actually thought about killing my mom,” Anna Schroeder wrote to Rachel Helm, also 15, in late June 2017.

Please don’t think I’m crazy.”

“Can you kill her?” Helm wrote back. “I’ll help.”

“No, I’m being serious,” Schroeder responded.

“I am too,” Helm wrote.

The teens continued to message each other about how they could kill Peggy Schroeder – such as poisoning her – and how to dispose of her body.

Peggy Schroeder, 53, was found dead on July 8, 2017, in her West Park Street home. A sheet covering her body had been set on fire. Police and prosecutors believe she was killed two days earlier.

The text messages between the two teens were introduced Wednesday during the first day of sentencing for Anna Schroeder.

The 19-year-old pleaded guilty in January 2020 to second-degree murder in Whiteside County Court.

In exchange for her plea, prosecutors dismissed two counts of first-degree murder and one count each of concealment of a homicidal death and arson.

Helm, also 19, is charged with arson and concealment of a homicidal death. She will be back in court Dec. 1.

Whiteside County Sheriff’s Lt. David Molina testified Wednesday that while responding to the Schroeder home, he was notified that someone – later identified as Helm – had information about the case.

He testified that Helm told him that Anna Schroeder called her two days earlier and said she shot her mother.

Helm said Schroeder told her she told Peggy Schroeder that she had a surprise and asked her to cover her face with a towel before shooting her once in the head.

Helm said Schroeder sent her a picture of her mother’s body when she said she didn’t believe her, Molina testified.

Helm said her mother later dropped her off at Schreder’s house and that the two teens began to clean up and talked about how they could dispose of her body.

They eventually moved Peggy Schroeder’s body to her bedroom. The two girls also went out for food and bought hair dye and other supplies to run away, Molina testified.

On July 8, Helm set fire to linens on Anna Schroeder’s bed and to a sheet that was covering Peggy Schroeder’s body.

They threw away Peggy Schroeder’s phone at a local park and her gun, a .38 Special revolver, near a cemetery.

Anna Schroeder was later found at her father’s home in Walnut, Illinois.

In text messages shown in court Wednesday, Helm had expressed concern about Schroeder’s mother finding out about their romantic relationship on June 24, 2017.

In one message sent the next day, Anna Schroeder wrote that they could make it look like her mother killed herself.

“I could put a note saying I ran away,” she said in one message. “And then they will think that’s the reason she killed herself.”

From 6:27 p.m. to 7:43 p.m. July 6, 2017, the teens sent a series of text messages to each other after Peggy Schroeder was killed.

In the messages, Anna Schroeder pleaded with Helm to come to her house.

“No Rachel, I can’t do this, I’m going to cry,” she wrote. “Can you please hurry?”

Helm said at one point she was “scared” that it was a joke and that Anna Schroeder had not killed her mother.

Anna Schroeder responded, “No, I swear it’s not.”

“It better not be or else I’m going to jail,” Helm replied.

When questioned by defense attorney Jim Mertes, Molina said Helm was an active participant in the discussions and planning of Peggy Schroeder’s death.

He also testified that there was no mention of shooting Peggy Schroeder in the text messages between the teens.

Peggy Schroeder’s sister, Charlene Wilkinson, testified that her sister was a “very caring” and “very giving person” who loved to help others and loved going to church.

She said she had homeschooled Anna Schroeder at her sister’s request and said the teen appeared to be losing focus. Wilkinson said she mentioned it to Peggy Schroeder.

She testified that it’s been hard “every single day” since her sister was killed.

“I try to mask the pain by working and keeping myself busy, but I miss her every day,” Wilkinson said. “I’m having a hard time knowing what to do with myself because she was always there.”

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