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Wrong Place at the Wrong Time: The Murder of Ryan Livingston

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

Despite the illusions of small towns being safe, crime happens everywhere. In the summer of 2006, one of these everyday criminals would take the life of a twenty-two-year-old young father, leaving his daughter without her daddy. A family’s world is ripped apart by what seems to be a street crime gone very, very wrong. The Livingston family continues to search for justice for Ryan more than sixteen years later. This is the story of the murder of Ryan Livingston.

Ryan Livingston was born October 29th, 1983, to Richard and Denise Livingston. Ryan would grow up with a younger and older brother, smashed right in the middle. As most middle children do, Ryan behaved in a way that his mother described as “mischievous” (Anglin & Halstead, 2019). Denise further described her son as “a natural entertainer” (Anglin & Halstead, 2019). Ryan was always trying to make people laugh. He cared about people and had lots of friends. Ryan was a kind and artsy soul. In 2004, he welcomed fatherhood when daughter Hannah was born.

On July 13th, 2006, Ryan attended a concert on the campus of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale. After the concert, approximately nine that evening, Ryan got a ride to his friend’s house. He left his friend’s home about twenty minutes later, walking to his brother’s house. Ryan never made it to his brother’s house, which concerned his brother shortly after 10:30 pm. Randy called his younger brother’s cell phone, a call he will never forget.

Ryan answered the phone and immediately began pleas for help. He explained that he had been stabbed and beaten on the side of Route 13 in Carbondale. His brother immediately dialed 911, but he could not provide a precise location for first responders. This caused a fifteen-minute delay while first responders tracked Ryan down. Ryan was found by police officers at 10:52 pm, lying on the sidewalk in front of a house on Walnut Street. Ryan was emergently transferred to Carbondale Memorial Hospital. Ryan was alive, but in bad shape.

Ryan had been stabbed in his left side, causing a massive hemorrhage. Due to blood loss, he was in and out of consciousness. Saving Ryan’s life was the priority, but police attempted to gather evidence and ask Ryan who had attacked him. He was able to provide a brief description of his attackers, describing them as two black males, one with a lighter complexion and the other wearing a backwards hat. Police believed this was a random attack, likely a burglary gone wrong.

While hospitalized, doctor’s found Ryan’s heart had been pierced during the stabbing. He was brought to the operating room for emergency surgery, but unfortunately Ryan did not survive the surgery. He was pronounced dead at 1:51 am on July 14th, 2006. The forensic evidence gathered is not known as this continues to be an active investigation to this day. Ryan’s autopsy determined his manner of death homicide as a result of a stab wound to his left chest. The wounds indicate the murder weapon was 2 cm wide and a smooth blade. The stab wound punctured Ryan’s chest wall, left lower lung, and the left ventricle of the heart. Toxicology reports indicated no drugs in Ryan’s system except a small amount of alcohol, under the legal limit.

Ryan’s parents and brothers were devastated by his death. His daughter, just two and a half years old at the time, was now without a father. Ryan was a good person who deserved a chance at life. His daughter deserved to grow up with the love her father surrounding her. That was all taken away by two unknown individuals. It is believed that Ryan was a victim of a robbery and resisted, leading the suspects to attack him. Ryan’s family is still looking to answer the question: Who killed Ryan?

The week following Ryan’s death, family, friends, and neighbors made a memorial at the sight where Ryan was murdered using chalk. By the end of July, the city power washed the memorial. The city claimed it was fighting “graffiti” and following the law. Ryan’s loved ones felt hurt by this action. They rebuilt the chalk memorial and refused to give up on the fight for justice. They want justice for Ryan and peace in their community.

As it would turn out, there had been multiple crimes in the area. In a less than one mile radius, three possibly connected crime occurred in 2006. On March 31st, 2006, a Jimmy John’s driver was robbed a block from where Ryan was attacked. Ryan’s murder occurred on July 13th, 2006. Eight days after Ryan’s murder, a couple was robbed about two blocks from where Ryan had been killed. In all three cases, the perpetrators were described as two black men in their twenties, both between 5’8” and 5’10”, and both of average build.

Area residents grew concern about their safety but were allegedly told “there wasn’t a crime problem in the neighborhood” (Anglin & Halstead, 2019). They claim there was no increased police presence and portions of the neighborhood were poorly lit at night, including the spot where Ryan was attacked. The neighborhood formed a community watch program to combat their concerns.

On October 3rd, 2007, the Carbondale Police Department received a letter from an anonymous writer who used the name Elizabeth. It was type written, making it more difficult to identify the author. The author claimed to have knowledge of the Ryan Livingston murder and the perpetrators. The author provided some details of the crime, leading detectives to believe the letter to be authentic. At the end, the writer requests police place a small ad in the local paper if the information provided was helpful. They placed an ad three different times, but the author never revealed his or her identity. Police are still interested in speaking with “Elizabeth”.

Although never named as official suspects, there have been some suspects thought to be involved in the murder of Ryan Livingston. As they have not been officially named in the case, I will not share their identifies. Based upon updates I could find on the case, none of these suspects have been charged due to lack of evidence. Ryan’s mother upkeeps a blog and Facebook page in Ryan’s memory where she provides periodic updates on the lack of progress in the case. It was believed at one point there may have been a female present the night of Ryan’s attack. His mother stated, “I have accepted Ryan’s death and that he is never coming back, but I will never rest until his killers are brought to justice. I’m not giving up and I’m not going away” (Taken Too Soon, 2016).

A truly remarkable part of this story happened in 2016. A woman found Ryan’s mother online and reach out to her. In 2005, the woman attended a music festival in Missouri. While walking around, she found a small note on the ground. It was a letter written by a father to his daughter. She found the note again in 2016, and finally tracked down the author. It was Ryan Livingston. Only, Ryan had died in 2006. She found Ryan’s mother and gave her the sweet note, a note Ryan had written to Hannah when she was about a year and a half old. A treasured piece of Ryan for his daughter had somehow survived eleven years in the possession of a stranger and found it’s way back to his family. Ryan loved his daughter as much as a father possibly could.

- Ryan Livingston’s murder remains an open case with the Carbondale Police Department. Please contact the Carbondale Police Department at 618-457-3200 of the Crime Stoppers tip line at 618-549-2677 if you have any information that could help bring Ryan’s killers to justice.

The podcast episode on this case is a patreon exclusive.


Anglin, S. & Halstead, M. (2019). Searching for justice. The Southern Illinoisan.

My personal correspondence with Denise Livingston.

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