CENTERVILLE, S.D. (KELO) — It was a May-December romance that went awry and ended with a gunshot to the head.
18-year-old Dana Adamson was found dead in the Centerville home she shared with her 27-year-old husband, Rayne, in 2002.
Who pulled the trigger? That’s the question investigators, to this day, have never been able to fully answer.
KELOLAND Investigates looks into the unsettling evidence in this 19-year-old cold case and how Rayne ended up serving time, but not for the murder of this wife.
Centerville, South Dakota, population 910, is a sleepy little town; which is why Breann Meyer and her sister Dana ended up here.
“It’s just crazy to think such a thing would happen in a small town. My mom moved us out of Sioux Falls to Centerville because it was getting too crazy, ” Breann Meyer said.
Breann says the circumstances surrounding her sister Dana’s death left her entire family unhinged.
“I left my sister at the bar that night at 1:30 and I didn’t see her again until the funeral,” Meyer said.
Dana Levasseur married then-Centerville Police Chief Rayne Adamson after just two weeks of dating, immediately after her 18th birthday.
“It seemed like it was great in the beginning,” Meyer said.
Rayne resigned his position as police chief because he took over the family bar, The Dessert Inn.
“And then they started fighting, back and forth, or whatever… and then eventually it got violent,” Meyer said.
Breann says she witnessed the abuse.
“And she pulled her turtle neck down and there was a handprint on her throat. Her bangs were curled like 80’s style when you curl them down… so then she pulled her bangs back and there was rug burn on her forehead. And she said her and Rayne had gotten into a fight at the bar, after it closed, the night before,” Breann said.
The couple also got into a fight the night of her death after The Desert Inn closed.
“They were at a party out in the country. They had a disagreement at the party and Dana left first and went home. And Rayne stayed at the party a little bit longer and then came home, Jim Severson said.
Now retired after 25 years with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, Jim Severson, was the special agent called in to investigate Dana’s death.
Kennecke: So she went home before him, he went home, then what happened?
Severson: Well that depends on whether or not you believe what he says or you believe what the crime scene tells you. Two different stories that contradict each other.
Breann Meyer: I asked him, ‘What happened?’ And he said, ‘I was in the bedroom and she was in the living room and I heard a pop and it sounded like she shot the water heater.’
Severson questioned Rayne for more than eight hours.
“The crime scene does not match the eight, eight and a half hours that we interviewed him. I don’t know how many times in the interview he looked at me and he said, ‘Jim, what do I have to tell you to get you to believe me?’ And I responded exactly the same way each time, ‘Well you can tell me the truth. That’s all I want, Rayne, is the truth.”Retired DCI Special Agent Jim Severson on the death of Dana Adamson
“Could this be a suicide? Possible. Could it be a murder? Probable. Could this be an assisted suicide? Possible,” Nogelmeier said.
Retired Turner County Sheriff, Byron Nogelmeier, worked the Adamson case along with Severson. He says the way the bullet entered Dana’s brain has always bothered him.
“The trajectory of the bullet would have been more the back of the head out the front of the head. Most suicides are not like that,” Nogelmeier said.
Despite that, investigators and prosecutors tell KELOLAND News there just wasn’t enough evidence to guarantee a murder conviction.
Severson: I think Rayne killed her, okay. I can’t prove that without a doubt. I can’t prove that. I have lots of circumstantial evidence based on the crime scene and interviews. I don’t have the proverbial smoking gun.
Kennecke: Even though a gun was involved?
Severson: Even though a gun was involved, I don’t have the smoking gun that says Rayne Adamson shot Dana Adamson. I cannot say Dana Adamson shot Dana Adamson either.
A key piece of evidence involving what Dana was wearing and when she changed her clothes is missing.
“I think she changed her own clothes, but there was a struggle before she put those on. And I think there was an ongoing argument that ended up with the gun going bang,” Severson said.
Investigators say Rayne Adamson failed a lie detector test during questioning, but that isn’t admissible evidence in court.
On Sept 9, 2005, three years following Dana’s death, In an unrelated case, Rayne was charged with sexual contact and statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl, furnishing alcohol to minors and witness tampering.
“I truly believe that as far back as 1999, he set out to control young women,” Turner County Prosecutor, Tiffani Landeen, said in 2006.
The sexual contact and rape charges were eventually dismissed, but a jury convicted Rayne of two counts of witness tampering and furnishing alcohol to a minor. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. He appealed, but the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld his conviction.
When he was released from prison, the victim, in that case, filed a protection order against him. In court documents, she claimed he had provided her with alcohol as a minor and raped her. The order was dropped when she failed to show up in court for the hearing.
Rayne also had another protection order filed against him that was later dropped.
Meanwhile, the circumstances surrounding what happened the night Dana died continue to haunt investigators.
“If there is somebody out there that can come forward and tell me they saw Dana Adamson at her house when Rayne got home that night and she was still wearing that butterfly halter top–that’s golden. That is the one thing that’s missing from putting the whole puzzle together,” Severson said.
Kennecke: Is it too late? We’re approaching 20 years. Is this case too cold?
Nogelmeier: I don’t think it’s too cold. Somebody knows something. That somebody might be Rayne and he’s living this everyday.
Dana’s mother died in April of cancer, going to her grave with unanswered questions about her daughter’s death.
“I told her I would never stop trying to find out what happened to my sister. Somebody somewhere knows,” Meyer said.
Living without those answers and her sister has taken its toll.
Kennecke: What do you miss most about your sister?
Meyer: Everything: her laugh, her smile. She was my best friend.
KELOLAND’s Angela Kennecke reached Rayne Adamson via phone to request an interview. He said he would check with his lawyer and get back to her. She has not heard back from him yet. During that brief conversation, he questioned why Dana’s death would be a cold case because he said the state’s attorney had ruled it a suicide. Kennecke spoke with Jeff Cole, the Turner County State’s Attorney at the time, and he said that was “baloney,” but reiterated he didn’t feel he had enough evidence to bring a murder case to a jury, but that Dana’s death had never been ruled a suicide.