In the early morning hours of Dec. 20, 1996, Oklahoma University ballerina Juli Busken disappeared from her apartment complex in east Norman.
A man she had never met made certain she would never return to her temporary home nor to her family home in Benton. Her body was found about 12 hours later on the shores of Lake Stanley Draper in Oklahoma City, where she had been bound, raped and shot to death.
It took several years before a DNA match led to the killer of the young woman. That sophisticated crime technique resulted in charges filed against Anthony Castillo Sanchez, who was incarcerated for an unrelated crime.
After being charged in 2004 with the kidnapping, rape and shooting death of Busken, Sanchez was convicted of her murder in 2006. His appeal for a retrial has been denied and he currently is on death row in an Oklahoma prison.
Fifteen years is a long time to keep someone's memory alive, but for Bud and Mary Jean Busken of Benton, their daughter's presence is always with them. However, they were both pleased and surprised to learn last week that there are those at the OU campus who want Busken to be memorialized in a permanent way.
An Associated Press account included comments from school and law enforcement officials who were involved in the investigation from the start.
"The most dreaded call you can receive is a call that one of your students has been killed in a tragedy," OU President David Boren said. "I'll remember forever the call from Joe Lester, now the county sheriff who was chief of police at the time, telling me that Juli Busken had been killed."
Former Cleveland County District Attorney Tim Kuykendall, who was involved in the investigation from the onset, said: "To this day, I still see the faces of Bud and Mary Jean Busken sitting there in the audience, listening to every single gory detail about this trial."
Kuykendall said the night before Busken's murder was just like any other December night.
"The night before, she'd been out with some friends," he said. "They had a going-away party, a Christmas party, saying their goodbyes. They thought their goodbyes were for the semester, until after Christmas. Little did they know that their goodbyes would be forever."
Later in the day on Dec. 20, Busken's body was found at Lake Stanley Draper. At the time — and for a long time afterward — there were more questions than answers as to just what happened.
"If you can imagine being out in 10 below zero or 20 below zero weather, and being kidnapped, raped and murdered and being left at the edge of Lake Stanley Draper, that was a horrific crime," Lester said.
But just because Busken is gone, that doesn't mean she is forgotten.
"Here's a loved one that has such a brilliant future ahead of her," Lester said. "Here's a loved one that was a sister, an aunt, that was a friend, a cousin, a daughter, a granddaughter that will never, ever, ever get to share the future with her family."
OU President Boren had watched Busken perform in the ballet "Swan Lake" the semester before she was killed. Boren says he remembers her fondly.
"She had a beautiful spirit about her," Boren said. "Even when you just saw her walking across campus in her every-day street clothes, you felt she walked with such dignity and grace that you'd say to yourself 'I bet she's a ballet dancer.'"
Busken's memory still lives on in the form of a dance scholarship at the OU College of Fine Arts.
Those close to the Busken family are asking the OU Board of Regents to endow the scholarship in order for Busken's memory to continue forever at the school where she completed requirements for a fine arts degree in dance.
She had planned to leave Norman the very day she was killed. Her parents had driven to that area to help with the move, only to learn upon arrival that she had been reported missing.
Bud Busken said the recent news reports from Oklahoma about his daughter came as a surprise to him and wife Mary Jean.
"We didn't know it was going to happen, but we're very pleased," he said.
"We're certainly very happy that people there still remember her after 15 years. We've talked about endowing her scholarship over there, and that's in the works.
"It's bittersweet, but we're happy she's still remembered."
Since the recent news accounts about Juli, the Busken family has heard "from a lot of people we knew and, once again, from people we've never met. Again, we're very thankful for all the friendships."
The Buskens first learned of their daughter's disappearance after they arrived in Norman on Dec. 20. They were told immediately that she had failed to keep a luncheon appointment with a friend and authorities had been notified of her disappearance.
It wasn't long afterward that her father faced the painful task of identifying her body. Authorities said her hands were tied behind her back and that she had been raped, sodomized and shot in the head. She is believed to have been abducted after she returned from driving a friend to Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.
As the investigation developed, a neighbor told police she had heard a woman scream early that morning. Busken's abandoned car was found a short distance away from her apartment complex.
Two years after being charged, Sanchez came to trial and was convicted of first-degree murder, rape and sodomy. Busken’s parents and several members of her family attended the trial and were present in the courtroom when he was sentenced. The Buskens testified in the trial.
Prosecutors said the DNA profile was the key to linking the crime to Sanchez. Authorities said semen stains on Busken's underwear and a pink leotard yielded a DNA profile that eventually was entered into a state DNA database. In 2004, state investigators found a match between the profile and a newer profile taken from Sanchez when he entered the prison system on a burglary conviction.
An Oklahoma law requires all violent offenders and convicted burglars to submit a blood sample in order for their DNA profiles to be entered into a statewide database.
Juli Busken had completed her course work for a fine arts degree at the University of Oklahoma. After obtaining additional education in business, she had planned to open a dance studio.