Who killed Amy Mihaljevic? The missing pieces, and a killer on the run
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - This week marks 30 years since the disappearance of a 10-year-old girl from Bay Village.
It is a story so unique and bizarre, it has baffled investigators and an entire community for decades.
Amy Mihaljevic was last seen at a shopping plaza in Bay Village with someone who has eluded capture for thirty years now.
Bay Village Police Chief Bill Gareau just got home from work. He was getting ready for a murder mystery party with friends.
“It was a ‘who done it thing’ and I was supposed to be the investigator because I was a police officer. I got home and I never made it to the party,” said Gareau.
Little did he know, he would soon have a real-life murder mystery on his hands, one that has haunted an entire Northeast Ohio community to this day.
The first call to Chief Gareau came from his Lieutenant.
“He said, there’s a girl missing. We were kind of worried right from the get-go,” said Gareau.
10-year-old Amy Mihaljevic hadn’t come home from school.
“He called back a little later, said, it doesn’t look good,” said Gareau.
Current Bay Village Police Chief Mark Spaetzel was a rookie officer that evening.
“I remember searching the Mihaljevic home. I remember searching the railroad tracks behind their house. I remember searching the park,” said Spaetzel.
Earlier that very day, he had talked to Amy.
“The class I spoke to that day on October 27 was actually Amy’s class and she was in that class,” said Spaetzel.
Officer Spaetzel spoke to the students about safety and about strangers.
“I kind of played it back in my mind, is there something I could have said or done, that would have changed the course of history, and there’s nothing.”
“Margaret was all hysterical that Amy wasn’t around, and where’s Amy," said Mark Mihaljevic.
Amy’s mother was frantic. It was now 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 27.
Mark, Amy’s dad, just got home from a work trip in Cincinnati.
“My friend and I, we went down to the middle school and started walking towards Lake Erie, down the creek, French Creek, calling her name, flash lighting,” said Mark. “I remember doing that, I still had my sportscoat on, never took my sportscoat off that night.”
“The next morning, the FBI was there with about 50 agents,” said Gareau.
The focus was Bay Square, the last place Amy was seen. It was a short walk from school.
Amy told friends she was going there to meet someone.
“She got a phone call prior to this date and the caller wanted her to go shopping, buy a present for her mother. This was the spot they arranged they would meet,” explained Spaetzel.
Two people, two other ten-year-old’s, saw Amy with a man.
They came up with a sketch of that suspect. It was the only tip investigators had at the time.
“The suspect walks up to Amy. Again, he knows what she looks like, walks up to Amy, there’s a brief conversation and then the last anybody sees, is them turning to the parking lot and then nothing,” said Spaetzel.
Every day after school, Amy would call her mom.
The day she was abducted was no different.
“At some point, he allows her to make a phone call back to her mother, let her mother know she’s OK.”
Chief Spaetzel does not believe Amy felt she was in danger at that point. He believes the two were probably shopping somewhere.
"There’s a possibility they were seen at Westgate, the old Westgate mall,” explained Spaetzel. “There was a sighting there that matched up.”
“As the time goes on, it’s not a good indication," said Mark.
In the first 30 to 60 days, Mark Mihaljevic recalls investigators homing in on thousands of leads and suspects that seemed to fit the description of the man who took Amy.
Mark did not recognize the suspect in the sketch.
“No, not really, never really been able to put it with somebody I knew,” said Mark.
The entire community was on edge. Hundreds of volunteers were working to get out posters of Amy, pictures of the suspect, helping with search efforts.
“It was a round the clock, non-stop effort,” said Mark.
There were thousands of suspects, that all had to be weeded out.
“There were things they did, back in the day, investigative wise, that had never been done before,” said Spaetzel.
Behavioral scientists helped create a profile of the suspect.
Detectives used polygraphs, hypnosis, even truth serum on top suspects.
Time after time, they’d think: “Oh, this has got to be the one and then it turns out, no, it’s not,” said Spaetzel.
The body of a little girl is found in a field, a jogger spotted it off County Road 1181 in rural Ashland County.
It was more than 50 miles southwest of Bay Village. She had been stabbed to death.
"I think we got the call around 8 something, it was fairly early,” said Ashland County Deputy Chief Carl Richert.
He was the first detective on scene. He said within an hour, investigators realized this was likely Amy Mihaljevic.
“The body had decomposed. It appeared it had been there for a while,” said Richert.
"I think my first reaction was, Ashland County. Why Ashland County? What is that connection?,” questioned Spaetzel.
He believes the person who killed Amy may have been familiar with that area.
“There’s a reason that body is there. There’s some familiarity that causes them to go to that location,” said Spaetzel.
Amy was dressed in the same clothes as the day she was abducted.
But some items, to this day, remain missing: turquoise horse head earrings, black ankle boots, a black leather binder.
“We know that sometimes people who commit these kinds of crimes will keep things as souvenirs, particularly jewelry,” said Spaetzel. “They could still be in the custody of the person who did this.”
Amy’s body itself also provided evidence.
DNA, three hairs, from someone other than Amy, or her family, have been collected and tested.
“We have what we call mitochondrial DNA, comes from bones, hairs, not nuclear DNA that comes from blood,” explained Spaeztel. “But the problem is, with decomposition, we have to be careful with how we utilize that particular DNA.”
Spaetzel said the DNA technology is just not advanced enough yet, to identify Amy’s killer. He said investigators have to be careful with the evidence because testing often eats up all of the sample.
“You have to be very judicious and pick the right tests, that’s all I can really say at this point,” said Spaetzel. "There’s really no mechanism right now to take what we have from her body, put it into some kind of database and kick out a suspect.”
About 100 yards from where Amy’s body was found, investigators recovered a curtain. “Within that curtain was a dog hair, that dog hair matches exactly the dog hair of the Mihaljevic dog, so there’s a great possibility that may have been on Amy, wrapped around Amy at some point,” said Spaetzel.
Investigators went public with the curtain for the first time in 2016.
FBI Special Agent Phil Torsney took us into the evidence room for a closer look at that curtain.
“It was probably a bed cover to start off with, it has sort of a quilted pattern,” said Torsney.
Now retired, Special Agent Torsney has been hired back by the Bay Village Police Department as a special investigator exclusively to the Amy Mihaljevic case.
“We’re still working on it every day,” said Torsney.
Torsney is best known as the man who tracked down infamous crime boss Whitey Bulger. Torsney said investigators have received calls from people who recognized the curtain.
“We’ve had a number of calls that people thought the curtain looked similar to an item they’ve seen in their house," said Torsney. “We’ve run through those, continue to run through those and talk to those people. So far nothing has been, we haven’t been able to positively identify where this curtain is from."
As for DNA evidence that could link a suspect from the curtain, Torsney said: “There’s evidence being evaluated from this curtain that has the potential to link a suspect.”
He says the technology isn’t there yet to make that link but is encouraged, that could be changing any day.
“I’ve never been down that road, don’t care to go down that road," said Mark.
Mark Mihaljevich has never seen the Ashland County field where his daughter was found.
“In the beginning there was anger, no doubt about it, but now the anger is in the background,” said Mark.
In the foreground - finding Amy’s killer.
Mark never imagined 30 years later, this case would still be unsolved.
“This case with Amy is the longest active, active investigation in FBI history. It’s never gone cold,” said Mark.
“This is not your typical abduction case,” said Spaetzel.
10-year-old Amy Mihaljevic disappeared from a Bay Village shopping plaza in October 1989.
Investigators know she got at least one phone call at home, from someone who wanted to meet her, to take her shopping, and buy a present for her mom’s work promotion.
“We know there was one phone call and, in my mind, it’s very possible there was more than one phone call. And possibly some interaction on another level,” explained Torsney.
At least two other girls who lived near Bay Village, in North Olmsted, got phone calls like Amy’s.
“Based on the facts, the calls were very similar, there’s a likelihood it was the same person, yes,” said Torsney.
Chief Spaetzel said investigators have looked for the connection between the girls, their mothers and their mother’s work history, but so far, nothing has come up.
“This case and what happened here, to get Amy to that shopping center, based on those phone calls and some knowledge of the mother’s work history and that kind of thing is fairly unique, so we want that kind of information,” said Torsney, still hoping for new leads in this case.
Less than four months after Amy’s disappearance from Bay Square, her body was found in a field in Ashland County, more than 50 miles away.
“There’s a prevailing feeling that she was killed shortly after she was abducted,” said Spaetzel.
What investigators still don’t know is where.
“There’s another location somewhere, where Amy was murdered, and we don’t know where that location is at this point. We’d like to get that information,” said Torsney.
Investigators believe the murder was committed somewhere Amy’s killer felt comfortable but may not have been easily traced to that location.
“Even 30 years later, there’s, there may be items of evidence that could help us solve the crime,” said Torsney.
Ashland County Chief Deputy Richert said anyone in that town of about 58,000 people, who has come up as a suspect, has been followed up on and checked out.
DNA evidence, three hairs, have been collected from someone other than Amy or her family. But science hasn’t advanced enough yet to link a suspect.
Special Agent Torsney believes the suspect in this case is still alive.
Chief Spaetzel said this: “Any name you may have heard out there, certainly we’re aware of it, certainly we’ve followed up on everything we can. If the person had been involved, they’d have been arrested.”
“Do I think the person is still alive? Yeah, I think the person is still alive,” said Mark Mihaljevic.
To this day, Mark says special agent Torsney still shows him pictures of potential suspects.
"Do you know this person, have you ever seen this person? All the times he was here, only one person I knew,” said Mark.
Could that person be Amy’s killer? Mark said, “There’s a better chance of us getting hit by lightning today."
But Mark does believe someone, out there right now, knows something.
“It’s too big of a secret not to have told somebody. People don’t keep secrets like that without telling somebody,” said Mark.
“History will tell you, you look at these cases, often it goes back to that first month or so when the information was being gathered and you realize, oh we had it, we just couldn’t connect it,” added Spaetzel.
“Looking back, 30 years, is like, yesterday,” said Mark.
Like yesterday, when Amy was still writing sweet little notes, like one that’s now framed, to her dad: “Dear Dad, You’re the specialist person in the world, so for that, I bring you this little gift, a box,” said Mark, with a smile. “I don’t even remember what was in the box.”
Mark turns through an old picture book, looking at photos that mark the days when Amy was born, when she sat on Santa’s lap, played with her brother, when life was simple, and happy.
“Whoever did this to Amy, took a lot of other lives, either destroyed them or changed their outlook or caused other people to probably die earlier than they should have,” said Mark.
Amy’s mother Margaret died in 2001.
She never got over the heartbreak of losing her little girl. As for Mark, he takes it one day at a time. And imagines the day he gets the call, that Amy’s killer has been found and arrested.
“A lot of tears of sadness and joy, shed at that moment, I guarantee you that,” said Mark.
“It’ll be easier when it’s solved,” he said. “Somebody knows something, there’s got to be.”
There is a $50,000 reward for anyone who can help bring Amy’s killer to justice. If you think you know something about this case, call Bay Village Police or the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI.
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