For years, Tom Rinabarger wore a thick, handlebar mustache just like his dad's.
Eventually he cut it off, but the 58-year-old Omaha man said he's thought of his dad — Reuel Van Ness Jr. — daily since he was murdered Aug. 22, 1979.
“He taught me a lot of good values in life," said Rinabarger, one of Van Ness' 10 children and step-children. “Every day I think of something he’s taught me.”
Put 110 percent into everything you do. Build a better mousetrap.
“He always used to say the phrase, ‘Build a better mousetrap,’” Rinabarger said. “I never knew what that meant. ... It wasn’t until he died that it clicked what he meant: Build something someone else wants.”
In 1979, the 47-year-old Van Ness worked several construction jobs and drove a cab. On Aug. 22, he picked up Carey Dean Moore and his 14-year-old brother. Moore shot him three times and robbed him. Five days later, Moore murdered another cab driver, Maynard Helgeland.
And 38 years later Moore — the longest-serving inmate on Nebraska's death row — is less than a week away from becoming the first person in the state to be executed in 21 years.
Rinabarger said it’s long past time.
“In 38 years, I’m reminded every year about this. Now he’s going to be executed. He should have been executed a long time ago,” Rinabarger said. “All I know is for 38 years we’ve been feeding this guy.”
A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by an Illinois-based pharmaceutical company to prevent Nebraska from using lethal injection drugs it alleges it manufactured could delay the execution once again. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Moore’s execution date — the eighth time his execution has been scheduled -- is Tuesday. He has stopped fighting it.
Rinabarger said he doesn’t want to witness the execution, and in the end it won’t change anything.
The anniversary of his dad's death will always be hard, he said.
Rinabarger was 6 when his mom married Van Ness.
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“I didn’t know no other dad,” he said. “Reuel will always be my dad.”
Van Ness met Rinabarger’s mom because he delivered milk to her house, Rinabarger said. He remembers sneaking ice cream bars from the truck with one of his sisters.
His dad was a hard worker, and had gotten a couple of patents, he said. He also loved cars, and had a garage full of them.
On Aug. 22, 1979, Rinabarger and his mom woke up at the same time. He looked at the clock and it read 4:21 a.m. He thought it odd at the time, he said. Later he saw his dad’s death certificate, which listed the time of death at 4:19 a.m.
One of Van Ness’ sons and a son-in-law also drove cabs, Rinabarger said, and he’d let his son-in-law take the Council Bluffs route that night.
He learned Van Ness had called the dispatcher several times after picking up Moore, asking for directions. Rinabarger is convinced he was nervous about the Moore brothers and was trying to let dispatchers know his location.
“He didn’t need directions,” he said.
Rinabarger was 19 when Van Ness died, and already had begun using drugs and alcohol, which took him down some dark paths for the coming years, including jail and prison, he said.
He got sober in 2004 and now works construction like his dad.
“It’s kind of strange how my life has taken a turn from the worst to the best,” he said. “God’s been with me all the time.”
Rinabarger's sister, Richelle Van Ness-Doran, agreed it's been too long.
"I'm not going to celebrate. There's no point of celebrating," Van Ness-Doran said. "I just want the thought that he is not living there ... and hope to God that no one takes his spot."
If Moore is executed Tuesday, it will be on Rinabarger’s mind, but he’s not sure how he’ll feel -- and it won’t ease the pain he feels each Aug. 22.
“Am I supposed to be happy or sad when they execute him? I don’t know. It won’t change anything.”
Profiles of Nebraska death row prisoners' victims
Maynard Helgeland, 47, of Omaha, Happy Cab driver. He was shot three times in the head on Aug. 26, 1979, by Carey Dean Moore. His body was found on the front seat of his cab on a street near downtown Omaha adjacent to a vacant lot. He had picked up Moore on a Sunday night. Helgeland was known as a very dependable driver and a nice, positive person. He and his son, Ken, had operated the cab since July 2. Both his legs had been amputated two years prior at the Veterans Hospital.
Reuel Van Ness
Reuel Van Ness, 47, of Omaha, Safeway Cab driver. He was shot four times by Carey Dean Moore in 1979 when he reached back for Moore's gun as Moore tried to rob him. His body was found sprawled face down in a desolate park road intersection at Standing Bear Lake in northwest Omaha. Van Ness had worked for an Omaha construction company and part time as a cab driver for 17 or 18 years. He was a Korean War veteran and father of 10 children.
Brandon Teena, 21, of Lincoln. The transgender man was killed in 1993 near Humboldt by John Lotter and Marvin Nissen. They killed Teena to silence him after he told police the two men had raped him. He was shot twice in the head and stabbed.
Philip Devine, 22, of Fairfield, Iowa, died in 1993. John Lotter was convicted of shooting Devine, who had a prosthetic leg, twice in the head because he witnessed the killing of Brandon Teena at a farmhouse near Humboldt.
Lisa Lambert, 24, of rural Humboldt, a nurse's aide. She died in 1993. John Lotter was convicted of killing Lambert, a single mother of a 9-month-old boy, because she witnessed the murder of Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was staying in the one-story farmhouse Lambert rented. Lambert was shot three times, twice in the head at close range.
Adam Billie-Gomez, 3, of Scottsbluff. Adam, the son of Patricia Gomez, was killed by Raymond Mata and dismembered in December 1999. Parts of his body were found in a freezer and a dog bowl, and bone fragments belonging to him were found in Mata's dog's stomach.
Latara and Tramar Chandler
Latara Chandler, 13, and Tramar Chandler, 7, of Omaha. In 2001, police found Latara's body, nude from the waist down, in a bedroom at the apartment of her mother, who had been found in another location severely beaten by Arthur L. Gales. Tramar's body was found face up in the bathtub, with his legs outside the tub. Autopsies revealed that Latara died as a result of manual strangulation and that Tramar died as a result of drowning and manual strangulation. Latara had been sexually assaulted.
Lisa Bryant, 29, of Norfolk. Bryant was the mother of a 9-year-old son and a stepdaughter and had been married just weeks when she was killed at her U.S. Bank branch in Norfolk on Sept. 26, 2002, by Erick Vela during a botched robbery attempt. Bryant, who was a personal banker who had worked at the bank six years, was a graduate of Wayne State College.
Lola Elwood, 43, of Norfolk, assistant branch manager at U.S. Bank for 14 years. Elwood was shot and killed by Jorge Galindo during the botched bank robbery on Sept. 26, 2002. She was married and the mother of two children. She was said to have loved crafts, sewing, music and taking care of her family.
Samuel Sun, 50, of Norfolk, a teller at U.S. Bank for eight years. The father of two sons, he was shot and killed at the Norfolk bank by Jose Sandoval on Sept. 26, 2002. Sun had an associate's degree in business management from Northeast Community College. He was said to have enjoyed opera and liked to watch the Green Bay Packers with his boys.
Jo Mausbach, 42, of Humphrey, a bank teller at U.S. Bank for 17 years. She was shot and killed at the Norfolk bank by Jose Sandoval on Sept. 26, 2002. She was married and the mother of a daughter and a son. She attended Wayne State College. Mausbach was a caring person who lived for her children and family, her husband said.
Evonne Tuttle, 37, of Stanton. A bank customer, she was shot and killed by Jose Sandoval in Norfolk during a botched robbery attempt Sept. 26, 2002. She was the mother of three daughters. Tuttle grew up in Ewing and had pursued degrees in business and computer science at Wayne State College and Northeast Community College. She was an assistant editor at the Stanton Register and was said to have a knack for handling customers.
Heather Guerrero, 15, of Gering. Heather was a newspaper carrier who was kidnapped, raped and shot in the head by Jeffrey Hessler in February 2003. Her body was found in an abandoned farmhouse. She was active in her school, playing volleyball, being a student manager for the basketball team, and in a group that did anti-drug skits for children.
Amber Harris, 12, of Omaha. Amber was kidnapped after she got off her school bus in November 2005 and headed home. Her remains weren't found in an Omaha park for six months. Roy L. Ellis kidnapped and killed the seventh-grader by hitting her in the head with a blunt object.
Edward Hall and Timothy Donohue
Edward Hall, 60, and Timothy Donohue, 48, both of Grand Island. The two men were killed by Marco E. Torres in 2007. Torres bound Hall, who owned the house in which Torres was living, with an electrical cord, gagged him with a bathrobe belt and shot him three times. He then shot and killed Donohue, who lived in an upstairs room in Hall's home. The men were killed to conceal a robbery.
Curtis Bradford, 22, of Omaha. Bradford was killed in August 2013 by Nikko Jenkins, who he met when both were in prison. He had planned to study business and entrepreneurship at a technical institute, his mother said.
Jorge Cajiga Ruiz and Juan Uribe-Pena
Jorge Cajiga Ruiz, 29, and Juan Uribe-Pena, 26, both of Omaha. They were killed in August 2013 by Nikko Jenkins, both shot in the head while sitting in a pickup truck after being lured to a park under the pretense of having sex with two women.
Andrea Kruger, 33, of Omaha. Kruger, a mother of three children, was found shot to death and left lying in the street in west Omaha. Nikko Jenkins was convicted in her August 2013 death as the result of a random attack when she was on her way home from work. She left behind a husband and three children, ages 2 to 13.
Terry Berry Jr.
Terry Berry Jr., 22, of Scottsbluff and Steinauer. Berry was strangled to death in April 2017 by convicted killer Patrick Schroeder in a cell he shared with the inmate at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. Berry was serving up to three years for forgery and assault. His obituary notice said he enjoyed helping others, especially his grandfather.
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On Twitter @LJSreist.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.