Marlene Taraskiewicz wants you to know one thing: she is not giving up.
Since 1992, she has been focused on finding out who killed her daughter, Susan. It’s been 28 years, but to this day no one has been held accountable for her death. The heartbroken mother recently spoke to Inside Edition Digital at her home in Peabody, Massachusetts about her long fight for justice.
“These people that did this are looking over their shoulder every year because I'm not going anywhere,” Marlene said. “I am a fighter. My daughter was a fighter.”
On Sept. 14, 1992, Susan “Su” Taraskiewicz, 27, of Saugus, was found dead in the trunk of her own car. She had been beaten and stabbed. The car was found at an auto body shop in the nearby town of Revere, which is also not far from where Su worked at Logan Airport in the baggage department for Northwest Airlines.
Su was a ramp supervisor and was the first woman to hold that position within the company. The path to her success was not smooth.”She went from three different jobs: boarding, cleaning the planes, but she wanted to get on the ramp so bad and the thing that she liked the most was de-icing the planes,” said Marlene.
Even though Su went to art school and dreamed of being a cartoonist, Marlene says she really applied herself to her work at the airport and wanted to climb the ranks. Her mother says when Su felt she was unfairly passed over for another job within the company, she filed a grievance and fought for three years until she won her case and was given the promotion with back pay.
It was hard work, but Su seemed to like it. “She handled it very well. She'd come home and say, ‘I handled 100,000 bags today,’” Marlene said. “It's not a job I wanted her to do and I told her that I didn't think as a female, especially back then, it was a job for women, but she said, that's what she wants to do and I said, ‘Well, as long as you're careful and remember you are a female.’"
Marlene, now 78, says she last spent time with Su on her 50th birthday when her husband took her and their three children out to a restaurant in Boston to celebrate. “[Su] was never on time for certain things, but across the calendar she put, ‘I was on time,’” Marlene laughed as she remembered the fun night out with her family. “I am very grateful for that,” Marlene says. “I mean, as sad as it is, I am just so glad that it was on such a special day.”
Su lived with her parents, but her busy work schedule of overnight and weekend shifts kept her out of the house while her family was usually home. Marlene says most days they would only see each other in passing and she knew Su had been home when she would see her work clothes in a laundry heap outside her bedroom door.
On Sunday, Sept. 13, there was no heap.
There should have been one because Su should have been coming off an overnight shift. Marlene says she brushed it off, thinking Su got stuck working overtime.
On the morning of Monday, Sept. 14, 1992, Marlene was at work when she got a call from her daughter, Debbie, saying one of Su’s co-workers called the house to alert her that Su hadn’t shown up for her shift and that she hadn’t been seen since her Saturday night shift. The co-worker urged the family to report Su missing, according to Marlene, who said she immediately left her job to go to the Saugus Police Station.
"I'm here to report my daughter missing," Marlene says she told the police officer at the desk that morning. After providing her daughter’s name, Marlene says she was told the police chief wanted to speak with her. Her daughter had been found.
“I assumed that she got stuck someplace or whatever,” Marlene says, recalling that she didn’t know what was about to hit her. “We've lived in Saugus 32 years, so we knew the chief of police,” she says. “He sat down. He said, ‘Marlene I have bad news. Susan was found in the trunk of her car.’ I said, ‘what do you mean?’
“He said, ‘Susan was murdered.’”
Su’s Last Hours
On Saturday, Sept. 12, Su was scheduled to work an 11 p.m. - 7 a.m. shift. Marlene says earlier in the day, Su seemed frustrated and impatient. “We didn't know what was going on,” Marlene said. “We just could see a change in Susan. Her sister was getting married in February. So the day that Susan ... was having the girls at our home to talk about [wedding stuff] and she was very irritable and she said, ‘I got to get to work’ and ‘I know they're going to give me a hard time, but I gotta do it.’”
Susan did make it to work for her overnight shift. According to police, around 1 a.m., Su offered to go out and buy sandwiches for her co-workers. She got in her car and drove off, but never returned to work that night. None of her co-workers reported her missing, however they did punch her timecard at the end of her shift.
Sunday, Sept. 13 came and went without anyone reporting having seen Su. Marlene says Su was supposed to be at a baby shower that day with other co-workers, but didn’t show up. Again, no one reported her missing to the police or her family.
On Monday, Sept. 14, police say a passerby saw a pool of blood under the trunk of a car that was parked outside an auto body shop in Revere. When police arrived and popped the trunk, they found Su’s body. Police say she was also found with the money she was going to use to buy the sandwiches for her co-workers.
Authorities in Massachusetts would not officially comment on the investigation, but sources say it is currently being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office told Inside Edition Digital the office does not confirm whether it is investigating a case.
Su Speaks From Beyond the Grave
Marlene Taraskiewicz says the family has never been able to recover from Susan’s death. They tried to include her in their life moments, like when they hung her portrait over her sister Debbie’s bridal party to make her part of the wedding photos. Marlene says it was painful to go into Su’s bedroom, where her daughter had amassed a large collection of Snoopy dolls, but she mustered the courage during the holiday season in 1993 so she could find something that belonged to Susan to put out with the other decorations.
As she went through her daughter’s room, Marlene was surprised to come across a diary, but the pages were not filled with warm thoughts and dreams for the future. Su had been documenting numerous incidents of sexual harassment and torment that she said she sendured on the job from her male co-workers. With each entry she read, Marlene’s heart broke a little more. “We were shocked because she didn't really show us too much,” Marlene said. “We could see how irritable she was, but sometimes Su could be like that if she needed more sleep, but we truly didn't realize what she was going through. We really didn't.”
Marlene says when Su became a supervisor in her department, she complained about pushback from her male co-workers. She believed the men didn’t like the idea of working under a woman. “She said the men gave her a very hard time. A lot of times they didn't want to do anything and she'd get stuck doing it,” Marlene said. “She said it really aggravated her, because she knew they just didn't want her as the boss.” When her family suggested that she find another job, Su refused to give in to the bullies. “She said, "I'm not going to let them get to me,” Marlene said.
Marlene says she didn’t get the full picture of Su’s work environment until she read the diary. In one instance, Su wrote that someone drew a coffin on the inside of her locker with her name on it. In another instance that Su said was unprovoked, she wrote that a co-worker picked up her radio and smashed it on the floor of the breakroom in front of other co-workers. When Su confronted him afterward to demand that he buy her a new radio, she wrote that he responded: “What’s the matter? Is your little punk boyfriend going to beat me up? He’s lucky I didn’t kill him.”
Susan also wrote about her attempts to have her alleged bullies reprimanded, but it appeared her complaints were rarely acted on. She also claimed that management told her things like “let it go” and “don’t let these people know it bothers you, just sit back and ignore it.”
Marlene brought the diary to investigators. The family also sued Northwest Airlines for sexual harassment. In 1995, the parties reached a settlement which included a payout of $75,000 to Su’s estate, as well as the promise of a $250,000 reward for anyone with information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the case. Northwest Airlines denied any wrongdoing. During a news conference to announce the settlement, a representative for the airline said, “Northwest took many, many steps specific to Susan Taraskiewicz to try to prevent this and Northwest believes it did all it could under the circumstances.”
It was a small victory, according to Marlene, who said the money brought the family little comfort. “To me, that was blood money,” she said.
Northwest merged with Delta in 2008. “Delta stands by the commitment to honor the $250,000 reward that Northwest Airlines offered after this tragedy occurred for information leading to an arrest and conviction in this case,” the company said in a statement to Inside Edition Digital.
Credit Card Fraud Ring
Something else was brewing in the baggage department of Northwest Airlines around the time Su was killed: an organized credit card theft ring. After her death, several of Su’s co-workers were convicted of stealing credit cards out of mail shipments coming through Logan Airport and using them to go on wild spending sprees. Credit card companies claimed they lost $7 million dollars from the scam, but a law enforcement source says that estimate is very conservative.
Sources told Inside Edition Digital that Su was not involved in the crime and they have no knowledge of her being aware of what was happening. After news of the investigation hit local media, Marlene said she asked Su if she knew anything about it and if it had anything to do with why some of her co-workers were giving her a hard time. “When it came out in the papers, when we sat her down and we said, ‘Su, did you know about this? Is that why?’ She said, ‘I had no idea about this. I don't know anything about that. I just felt that they're harassing me because I'm the boss.’”
While Marlene believes her daughter knew nothing about the theft ring, she says she also believes that some of the people involved in it may have thought Su was informing on them to authorities. The Boston Globe reported that court documents show some people in Su’s department might have viewed her as a “snitch.” Sources say law enforcement thoroughly investigated whether the harassment or the credit card ring led to Su’s killing, but no information has ever led to an arrest.
A Mother’s Work Is Never Done
Over 28 years, several investigators have worked Su’s case, but only one has remained consistent: Marlene Taraskiewicz.
Until recently, Marlene has held a candlelight vigil on the anniversary of Su’s death to honor her daughter and remind the public that a killer could still be at large. She got Su’s photo featured on a billboard along a busy highway in Massachusetts, hoping it would generate leads. She also recorded videos with the Massachusetts State Police urging anyone with information to come forward. She has done interviews with local media in Boston and national media outlets. Su’s case was even featured on “Unsolved Mysteries” in 1995.
Some of Marlene’s efforts were also unconventional. She says she once got a call from an incarcerated person claiming to know what happened to Su, but when she went to visit the man in prison, it turned out to be a prank. She even staked out Su’s grave thinking the killer might pay a visit. “I used to go to the cemetery in the beginning and hide behind the bushes to see who came and one time we jumped out and we said, ‘what are you doing here?’” she says with a laugh, recalling how she frightened the complete stranger who just happened to be passing by. “I would have done anything. You name it, I would have done it.”
Marlene says she is in regular contact with investigators on her daughter’s case and says she will not give up until someone is convicted for Su’s killing. She’s still hopeful that she will get to look her daughter’s killer, or killers, in the face in court. “I want them to know that they took the life of my beautiful daughter,” she says through tears. “I live with it every day. I pray that I will be here to see the justice.”
In recent years, the #MeToo movement has shined a light on how common workplace sexual harassment is and how little is done about it, whether because the victims are too afraid to come forward or because of a lack of evidence in a “he said, she said” situation. While she believes progress has been made since Su has passed and she is proud of people who do come forward to report sexual harassment, Marlene said she knows how difficult it can be. “Women are coming forward and telling what they're going through. It took Susan a long time to do that,” she said. “I'm so proud that they're doing that because we're all entitled to do the job you want, as long as you're qualified for it.”
Anyone with information about Susan Taraskiewicz’s case is urged to call the Massachusetts State Police at 617-727-8817.