Twenty years after a young man was brutally murdered in a Rapid City doughnut shop, the man convicted of killing him awaits his punishment on Death Row at the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls.
Donnivan Schaeffer was a 22-year-old part-time employee at Dig ‘Em Donuts on West Main Street where he was found bound and stabbed on March 8, 1992, in the shop’s storeroom.
The man who was convicted of murdering him, 55-year-old Charles Russell Rhines, is one of five men on South Dakota’s Death Row, a fact that brings little comfort to Ed and Peggy Schaeffer, who have waited 20 years for justice for their son.
“We’re common people; why would we ever get into thinking we would be doing something like this?” Ed Schaeffer said this week.
Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender was a 30-year-old detective when he was assigned a case that had an entire community on edge. A young man had been murdered, and no obvious suspect had been identified. It would only be a matter of weeks before the reward grew to $14,000.
“This case shocked the community. It made people afraid again,” Allender said recently. “This guy on the loose could mean anything. It could mean he’s in your garage when you go out.”
“These kinds of things just don’t happen in Rapid City,” said Doug Noyes, the department’s captain of detectives at the time of the murder.
It would take investigators another four months before Rhines would be arrested in Washington state and almost two more months to bring him back to be tried for murder in a Pennington County courtroom.
At the time of his death, Donnivan Schaeffer was moving ahead with his life. The Black Hawk man was about to graduate from Western Dakota Technical Institute and start working at a telephone company in Spearfish. He and his fiancee were making plans for their future together.
“They did everything right,” Ed and Peggy Schaeffer said of the young couple.
Donnivan Schaeffer was a “hustler” who was willing to take on all kinds of work to pay for school and prepare for that future, his father said. He did odd jobs and worked as a delivery and maintenance man for the doughnut shop where Rhines, a convicted felon from McLaughlin, had worked until being fired three weeks prior to the murder.
Donnivan Schaeffer last saw his girlfriend on a cold Sunday evening when he went to deliver supplies to the doughnut shop’s other locations, his parents said.
The shop’s two night-shift employees would discover his body around 10 p.m. The Schaeffers learned of their son’s death at 4:30 a.m. the next day when police officers knocked on their door and delivered the devastating news.
The investigation later revealed that the lights were off when Donnivan Schaeffer arrived sometime after 7:30 p.m. at the shop while Rhines was burglarizing the business.
According to investigators, Schaeffer was stabbed three times with a hunting knife. The final blow landed on the back of his neck after he had been tied up and taken into a storeroom.
The killer would later say that his victim begged for his life and promised not to tell anybody about the robbery.
“What would you do?” Rhines would later ask investigators. “You’re standing there with $2,000 in your hands…and there was nowhere to run.”
Rhines took approximately $3,400 in cash, change and checks.
Allender still can recall specific details of the case such as the type of knife – Buck Model 119 – and Rhines’ birth date July 11, 1956.
Allender had been on Rapid City’s police force for five years when he was called to the crime scene.
A few hours later, he would conduct his first interview with Rhines, who was initially linked to the case by his roommate, Sam Harter. Harter, who worked at the doughnut shop, needed a change of clothing after discovering Schaeffer’s body with other co-workers.
“Nothing in his interview that night made sense,” Allender said of that initial meeting with Rhines who not a suspect at the time.
Later, “but still early” in the investigation, Allender learned that Rhines had left Rapid City for Seattle, which struck Allender as odd since Rhines had made a point of telling the detective that he would never return to Seattle.
Rhine had previously served seven years in a Washington penitentiary.
That incongruity in Rhines’ statement and his subsequent trip to Seattle prompted Allender to start keeping personal notes on Rhines.
“This was for a period of time a ‘Whodunit?’ case,” Allender said. “And that’s something we don’t see very often. We went weeks without having a real good idea what we were looking for.”
Rhines, who was 35 at the time, had three prior felony convictions, one involving a firearm.
Rhines attended his victim’s funeral, even pausing to tell a co-owner of the doughnut shop that Schaeffer was “where he should be. He’s in God’s hands now,” according to published accounts of the murder.
In April, Allender traveled to Washington to find and interview Rhines again. Working closely with the Seattle homicide squad, he was able to fine Rhines. Pennington County Sheriff’s Deputy Don Bahr joined Allender in Seattle to interview the man they were beginning to consider a potential suspect. They would confront Rhines at a Texaco gas station.
Allender said he drove Rhines’ car to a parking lot so he could accompany the detectives to dinner.
“I was extremely nervous,” Allender recalled of that meeting.
They learned that Rhines had a loaded gun with him at the time, but Allender and Bahr persuaded Seattle police to overlook that so they could talk to him.
“Believe it or not, we invited him back to our hotel room to talk to us,” Allender said.
Allender attributes that brief ride with Rhines and the loaded gun for the only nightmare in his 27-year career in law enforcement. In his dream, Allender said he feels “this excruciating pain” in his thigh during the hundred yard drive to the parking. “I look over and Rhines has a knife buried in my thigh and he’s face-to-face with me just laughing in this diabolical laugh.”
Throughout the spring, evidence started to appear linking Rhines to the crime.
Five days after the murder, two Rapid Valley women found the murder weapon in a ditch while walking near the St. Patrick Street bypass.
Rhines had taken a circuitous drive through the countryside after the murder to scatter his clothing, Allender said. A shoe matching footprints found in the snow at the crime scene was discovered in a field southeast of town. Rhines’ jacket turned up after going through a haybaler in the same area that June.
In May, Harter and his fiancee visited Rhines in Seattle. They contacted authorities after Rhines told them he had killed Donnivan Schaeffer and then threatened the girlfriend.
Authorities also learned that the 17-year-old Harter had driven Rhines to the doughnut shop and picked him up after the murder. Harter was never charged.
Rhines was arrested in June in Seattle. Allender returned to Seattle to conduct three interviews with Rhines. During each interview, he admitted killing Schaeffer, the police chief said.
Those confessions would later help convict him. Eventually, Rhines would use the confessions as part of an unsuccessful appeal of his conviction to the state Supreme Court.
Rhines was extradited to Rapid City in August 1992, six months after the murder.
Dennis Groff, who was the Pennington County state’s attorney at the time, charged Rhines with murder and first-degree burglary and made the decision to seek the death penalty.
No one involved in the case – Schaeffer’s family, investigators, prosecutors and defense attorneys – will ever forget the case, Groff, said recently.
“It wasn’t just a murder case,” he said. “It was a horrible case…. What happened to Donnivan was atrocious.”
Rhines was not the first murderer Groff had sought the death penalty for, but he was Groff’s first successful death penalty case.
Jury selection took nine days and the trial three days. The jury would deliberate a little more than three hours before finding Rhines guilty in January 1993. The sentencing hearing took one day. The jury deliberated overnight before returning a death penalty verdict after two votes.
Allender was sitting directly behind Rhines when the 7th Circuit Judge John Kohnenkamp announced the sentence. He clearly recalls watching the back of Rhines’ head and neck when the sentence was announced.
“I saw him turn white and at that moment right then, I stopped caring about what happened to him because I felt for an instant he knew what Donnivan Schaeffer must have known at some point during that night,” Allender said.
At that moment, Allender “felt there was justice.”
Contact Andrea Cook at 394-8423 or firstname.lastname@example.org