A Mother's Unsolved 2017 Murder Still Haunts a Family's Beloved Va. Vacation Beach House

Police are asking for help to solve the killing of Peggy Lammers, whose family has left the retreat where she died eerily stuck in time

As she stands outside on the deck of her family's modest waterfront Virginia vacation home, Anne Fergusson's foot cracks through rot in the wood — evidence of the four-year neglect of a once-beloved year-round paradise.

Stepping inside, she enters the sunlit living room painted in warm yellow, where countless bare feet had raced in from the pool, and a wall of sliding glass doors offers a panorama of the Piankatank River that flows into Chesapeake Bay.

"It had been the happiest place on earth for all of us," Anne tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. But today the house is a reminder of unspeakable tragedy, silent except for the lapping waves and the wind outside.

Turning down a narrow hallway that leads to the bedrooms, Anne, 58, points to a scar in the wood floor where a blood-stained chunk has been cut out and taken away as evidence. "This is where she was attacked, and someone took her life," she says. "Right there."

Anne Thornton Fergusson
Peggy Lammers' sister Anne Fergusson at the family's Virginia vacation house. Stephanie Bauer

On July 11, 2017, a detective making a requested welfare check around 7 p.m. found a sliding glass door slightly open and the body of Anne's sister, Peggy Lammers, laying in the hallway, dead from what the medical examiner ruled as "blunt-force trauma."

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Peggy Lammers
Peggy Lammers with son Jay and daughters A.J. and Presley at the River House in 1993. Courtesy Anne Thornton Fergusson

More than four years later, investigators still have not named any suspects in the murder. Police won't even say if they believe Peggy was killed in a break-in — or, with a TV removed and a bedroom's drawers apparently ransacked, if it was staged to look like one.

"Women who are killed are often killed by people they know," says FBI Special Agent Andrew Mason.

Peggy Lammers
Peggy Lammers, at age 16 in 1972, at the Virginia vacation home where she was murdered. Courtesy Anne Thornton Fergusson

In the aftermath, family members found their waterfront sanctuary too painful to visit. They essentially abandoned the place where they'd shared so much laughter and joy, leaving a crime scene eerily stuck in time.

For more about Peggy Lammers and her family's determination to help solve her murder, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.

Peggy had been alone at what everyone called the River House in Deltaville after a happy July Fourth holiday spent there with Anne and other extended family members, who'd since returned home.

"Our mother prioritized our joy and family happiness more so than her own, because it made her happy," says Peggy's son Jay, 39. The River House was the setting for much of that. Built in 1970 by Peggy's parents at the end of a single-lane, tree-lined drive on Stove Point — one way in, one way out — with a sleepover cast that ranged from cousins to grandparents, small boats at the ready and a narrow beach that came and went with the tide, says Jay, "it was our Camelot."

Peggy Lammers
A muddy shoe print suggests a kicked-in door, though the door itself wasn’t broken. Courtesy Anne Thornton Fergusson
Peggy Lammers
Items from two dresser drawers were dumped on a bed in the main bedroom. Courtesy Anne Thornton Fergusson

By allowing PEOPLE inside to see what remains, Anne hopes to help investigators jog memories and elicit answers about her sister's death. "Sometimes there is no better asset than assistance from the public," says Middlesex County Sheriff's Det. Chris Gatling.

Peggy's husband, Tony, issued a statement to PEOPLE that says, in part: "We continue to pray, and remain hopeful, that the law enforcement officers who have worked tirelessly will bring the person who took Peggy from us to justice."

Says Anne: "I promised Peggy I was going to find out who did this to her, and I'm not going to stop till I do."

Investigators ask anyone with information to call 804-758-5600.

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