Missing in Milwaukee: A Mother's Quest for Justice

Karren Kraemer's daughter Becky Marzo vanished from Milwaukee, Wis., more than five years ago and since then Kraemer has fought a relentless campaign against the man she suspects is responsible for her daughter's disappearance: Marzo's boyfriend Carl Rodgers.

Watch the story tonight, January 7th, on a special hour of "20/20" at 9 p.m. ET

"It was about letting him know that I was going to stay right there in his life. It was a mother's need to know the truth," said Kraemer. "My goal was to push him to break. I wanted to break him."

If you know any details about this case, please click here to contact the Milwaukee Police Department or call 414-935-7360.


Marzo, 23, was last seen by friends walking into the house she shared with Rodgers in December 2003. She and three of her friends had enjoyed an innocent night out, a night frequently interrupted by Rodgers' urgent calls telling Marzo to come home.

"I was scared with her and Carl," said Kristina Randall, who drove Marzo home that night. "I was worried about what he could have done to her in the middle of the night."

'Handprints on Her Arm'

Her friends had reason to worry because, they say, Marzo often showed up black and blue from the beatings she got from Rodgers.

"You could see her broken nose. It was swollen," Randall said. "You know, handprints on her arm."

VIDEO: Karren Kraemer on 20/20.Play

"She walked in the house and I didn't even know it was my daughter. She was so beaten," Kraemer said. "And I remember pleading and praying that she'd never go back to this man."

While Marzo's mother is convinced Rodgers killed her, he had a simple explanation for his activities that night: He told his parents and his sister he threw Marzo out.

"Carl told us he found out she was hanging around with some people that he definitely wouldn't want around his kids or around his house," said Rodger's stepfather, Jeffrey Stemper.

"When people are in relationships, nobody can say what goes on behind closed doors," said Rodgers' mother, Anita Stemper. "Carl, my son, he's always been a sweet person, and I don't think that he's a monster, like these people are trying to portray him as."

Photo: Body Exhumed Monday In Becky Marzo CasePlay

Loving and Hard-Working

Rodgers' family describes him as a loving and hardworking divorced dad whose two children often shared the house with Rodgers and Marzo.

"My brother and I live with my father and we never saw them argue or anything else," said Rodgers' teenage daughter Angel. "My father never put his hands on anybody."

In fact, to the Rodgers, it was Marzo who seemed to be the tougher one.

"We thought Becky was a little hard. I don't know another way to put it, but it seemed like she had been through some things and gave her kind of an edge," Jeff Stemper said.

Rodgers told detectives looking into Marzo's disappearance that she probably had returned to Miami, where she had fled to 10 months earlier.

She had retreated there, friends say, to escape the abuse she received from Rodgers.

"She was hoping to get a better start on life," Randall said.

Marzo Goes Missing

"She was a stripper for a short time," said Randall's sister Lisa, who is also a close friend of Marzo's. "She was staying at the hotel with one of the girls that was working."

When Marzo's family filed a missing person's report, the FBI found Marzo working at a strip club called the Goldrush. The investigation also revealed that she may have been "prostituting herself" and had "a substance abuse problem."

But Kraemer disputes those findings, saying that a club manager at the Goldrush told her that Marzo was tending bar.

"They felt sorry for her and gave her a job. They knew that she wasn't, you know, in that lifestyle," said Kraemer.

Whatever she was doing there, Marzo's life in Florida did not seem to suit her, and six weeks later, she returned to Milwaukee, and eventually moved back in with Rodgers.

When Marzo disappeared a second time, Kraemer said police showed little interest in investigating, given her history of abrupt departures.

"They said, 'She's 23 years old. She has the right to go missing,'" said Kraemer. "So I hired a private investigator."

A Campaign to Find the Truth

Kraemer's efforts yielded little information. Marzo had left behind a paycheck at a Target store where she was a cashier. There was also no activity on her Social Security number, driver's license or any of her charge cards.

"It was as though she just no longer existed," said Kraemer.

Kraemer says she was convinced her daughter had been murdered and she began a campaign to find out what had happened. She began hanging posters around Rodgers' neighborhood and near his place of business at all hours of the night. She left trinkets that belonged to Marzo on Rodgers' car.

And on Marzo's birthday, every year, Rodgers would receive phone calls from a chain of 30 to 40 women, in an effort to force him to disclose what he knew about her disappearance.

"It was making his life miserable and unlivable," said Rodgers' sister Yvette. "What becomes wrong is, is when you cross the line and it becomes harassment and intimidation. You're making their lives miserable to live -- not just his life, but his parents, his friends, his children. Everybody was a victim of her."

The Rodgers family says Kraemer was harassing an innocent man whom police had not declared a suspect. But nearly a year after Marzo vanished, Kraemer's persistence with authorities got some attention when she changed her tactics.

The Suspicious Funeral Home?

"I destroyed my relationship with the police department very early on because I was so demanding. I wanted them to find my daughter. So I thought 'You know what? I'm going to humanize her.'"

Kraemer gave the detectives framed pictures of Marzo and a video she'd made of her daughter's life. The gentler gambit apparently worked. New detectives began to pursue Rodgers with renewed fervor.

It turns out Rodgers had been convicted of battering his former wife and there were suspicions of illegal gun possession. But most interesting to investigators was the fact that Rodgers' uncle ran a funeral home and a that parking ticket placed a family car Rodgers often used in an alley next to that funeral home in the very early morning of the night Marzo had vanished.

Kramer and police investigators wondered whether Rodgers had hidden Marzo's body in somebody else's coffin, a coffin soon to be buried forever. It is a notion that the Rodgers' family scoffs at.

"I think that you can make anything look suspicious if you put the right spin on it. They were never able to charge him with anything because they never found anything," said sister Yvette.

"Absolutely no evidence, any DNA, that any modern technology could pick up. Hair samples, blood samples. There's no body," said Jeffrey Stemper, Rodgers' stepfather. "So at some point, don't you have to say if there's no evidence, maybe there wasn't a crime?"

But once Rodgers was on the police radar, the pressure mounted. Nearly four years after Marzo vanished, Rodgers was arrested on a different charge: a serious gun violation resulting from a search by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Jeffrey Stemper said, "[Carl] told me he didn't think he could be somebody that could be in prison."

Rodgers Commits Suicide

With the added stress of prison in his future, in October 2007, Rodgers, 39 at the time, went into his garage and killed himself.

"I just feel like I didn't fight hard enough for him," said Rodgers' mother, Anita Stemper. "No one can even feel what I feel. I can't even tell you how much I miss him."

Kraemer says she feels a great deal of empathy for Rodgers' family, but denies any responsibility for his suicide. She also says that she will not stop until she knows exactly what happened to her daughter.

Already, she has been able to exhume two graves whose burials were handled by the funeral home owned by the Rodgers family. So far, none of those exhumations have yielded any clues.

She has also started a charity called the Broken Wings Network, an organization run by and for families coping with domestic violence or the disappearance of a loved one.

"Becky didn't die in vain. Becky died for a reason. And you know, the reason is what I'm doing now," said Kraemer.

"We, as mothers, need to know where our children are. We need to put them to rest, to say 'OK, I know where you are now. God bless you.'"

Click HERE to visit the official "Find Becky" Web site and click HERE to visit the MySpace page created by Rodgers' sister.

If you know any details about this case, please click here to contact the Milwaukee Police Department or call 414-935-7360.