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Amy Renee Mihaljevic

In October 1989, Bay Village, Ohio was proud to be named one of the safest cities in America. In 1989 there had not been a single kidnapping, abduction, rape or murder in Bay Village, and the residents were enjoying the safe feel of the city. On Friday 27 October 1989, ten-year-old Amy Renee Mihaljevic woke up at 6am and dressed herself for school, before meeting two friends and riding on their bikes to class at 7.50am, the same as they did every other school morning. Amy and her friends were in fifth grade, and that morning

at assembly, there was a presentation given by Detective Spaetzel about safety and stranger danger. This presentation which would serve as a chilling premonition, for unknown to Detective Spaetzel, he would become the lead detective in Amy’s disappearance.

Amy Renee Mihaljevic School Photograph - year 1989.

Amy’s grade finished school every day at 2pm, but her older brother Jason had classes until 3pm. Amy usually cycled straight home after school, where she waited for Jason to get home and then they would call their mother who was at work at Trading Times to let her know they were home safely. However, when Jason arrived home on 27 October 1989, Amy was not home yet, and he called his mother to say she wasn’t there. Margaret Mihaljevic had a vague recollection of Amy saying something about staying late after school for a choral group audition. She told Jason not to worry, and to get Amy to call when she gets home.

But Amy was not at a choral audition. Instead, when school finished for the day, Amy left her bike at school and asked a classmate of hers, Olivia if she could walk with her. Olivia lived in the opposite direction of Amy’s house, and the two walked together until they reached the Bay Village shopping complex, where Amy said goodbye to Olivia and appeared to be waiting to meet someone. The shopping complex was opposite the street from the police station. Amy was reportedly last seen outside the ice cream shop, where she was approached by a man in his mid-thirties. It was reported by witnesses that they believed the man to be Amy’s father - she did not appear frightened by this man as he touched her on her back, allowing him to lead her away.

The Bay Village Shopping Complex in 1989.

It was about 3.30pm when Jason called Margaret to tell her that Amy still wasn’t home from school. Amy’s mother told her son not to worry, but she didn’t really believe her own reassurances. Call it mother’s intuition, but she knew that something just did not feel right. Margaret was packing up her bags and getting ready to leave the office for the day, when she received a phone call. Picking up the call, she realised it was Amy. She asked her how the choir rehearsal was, to which Amy replied that it was fine. They spoke briefly for a few minutes, and Margaret told Amy that she loved her before the call ended. She was unaware that this would be the last time she would ever speak to her daughter. The call however had not put Margaret’s mind at ease, and leaving her office she went to Amy’s middle school. When Margaret recognised Amy’s bike at the school, it confirmed her suspicions that something strange was going on. She knew that Amy always rode her bike to and from school, so why would Amy have left it there that Friday? Margaret got into her vehicle and drove straight to the Bay Village Police Department, where she rushed in and demanded to speak to a police officer. It had been less than an hour since Amy’s phone call to her mother, but two officers sat down with Margaret at the station, and listened as she recounted the events of the day. Despite no evidence of foul play, except for Amy’s bike being left at the school, the officers classified this as a child abduction, and launched an investigation immediately.

The Search For Amy

The officers began working on a police bulletin of Amy’s description which was provided to other nearby police departments by 5pm. The search for Amy had officially begun. When Amy’s father arrived home from work at 6pm, he was shocked to find several police officers searching the house. When he was informed that Amy had not arrived home from school, and the police believed she had been abducted, he immediately began to assist the search. Friends and neighbours had heard the news, and begun to search for Amy throughout the community. Within a few hours, a massive search effort was underway, including vehicles, police dogs, and boats to search the lake in Bay Village. Margaret was calling everyone she could think of, asking if they had seen or heard from Amy. The search continued throughout the night, with the family waiting anxiously for news that she had been found safe and well. When dawn broke, there was no further information. Amy had vanished, and the family were forced to face their first sleepless night without knowing where their daughter was.

NCMEC billboard for Amy Mihaljevic.

The following morning, Saturday 28 October 1989, the Bay Village police department alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the abduction of Amy Mihaljevic. The FBI became involved in this case as kidnapping is classified as a federal offence. As the search for Amy continued throughout the morning, a neighbour of the family who had a daughter the same age as Amy provided the police department with some terrifying news which would change the course of the investigation forever. At the beginning of this search, Amy’s abduction was suspected to be a stranger abduction, meaning that she was abducted by a stranger who saw an opportunity and kidnapped her, without any specific motive other than the opportunity was available to him to do so. However, the neighbour informed police that Amy had confided in his daughter, telling her some information which she was to keep secret. Thankfully, Amy’s friend decided to tell her father. It is only regrettable that she had not told this information to an adult before Amy disappeared. Law enforcement interviewed witnesses who saw Amy at the shopping complex, which we now know to have been Amy's abduction, and were able to produce sketches of what the suspect looked like.

Flyer portraying sketch of the suspect.

This information lead law enforcement to uncover that the week before Amy was abducted, she had been receiving phone calls from an unidentified male. Amy was always home alone for a short period of time on weekdays, waiting for her brother to finish school and join her in the family home. One afternoon, she was home alone when the phone rang. Answering it, there was a man on the other end of the phone who told Amy that he worked with her mother. Not only did he work with her mother, but she had just gotten a promotion. The man said he could help Amy pick out a present for her mother on Friday after school, and that she could have a present too. To keep the present for her mother a surprise, Amy was not to tell anyone about this. She didn’t want to ruin the surprise, did she? Of course, Amy confided in her friend that she was meeting a friend of her mother’s on Friday after school to pick out a present, but that it was a surprise so her friend couldn’t tell anyone. This information immediately steered the investigation in a different direction - Amy had essentially been selected in advance by her abductor. This was a planned abduction, by someone who knew when to contact Amy, that she would be alone in the house to answer the phone. The authorities suspected that the abductor had spoken to Amy more than once, grooming her over a period of time. Authorities were now looking at a carefully planned abduction, not an opportunistic kidnapping. The FBI and local police departments worked tirelessly, creating command centres and conducting around 18,000 interviews and countless searches of the Bay Village area. No one gave up hope that the search efforts would result in bringing the little girl home safely to her family.

The search effort for Amy was well underway on 8 February 1990, when a female jogger was passing a farm field in rural Ashland County more than 50 miles away from Bay Village. Upon passing the field, the jogger noticed the body of a young child. Sadly, it was the body of Amy Mihaljevic. An autopsy revealed the cause of death was exsanguination due to multiple stab wounds, and that she had most likely been dead for at least several weeks, potentially months. Law enforcement have since concluded that Amy was killed very shortly after her abduction, although they do not believe her murder to have occurred on the same day as her abduction; they released the detail that Amy’s stomach contained only soy. This suggests that everything else had been digested which indicated that although she was murdered shortly after the 27 October, she was mostly likely kept alive long enough for the soy product she ate after her abduction to be the only thing in her stomach. Law enforcement have never been specific as to how long they believed Amy’s body to have been in the field in which she was found, only stating that despite the field being used throughout the winter by hunters, Amy was not seen until the jogger discovered her body. Tragically, the search for a missing child had now became a murder investigation.

Investigators searching for evidence at the field where Amy's body was found in 1990.

Murder Investigation

The investigation focused on the area in which Amy’s body had been found. How had she turned up so far away from home? And why was her body not discovered for 4 months, when it appeared she had been lying in that field in plain sight? Had someone recently placed her there? Where had she been murdered? The discovery of Amy appeared to raise more questions than answers. Amy was found wearing the same clothes she had on the day she was abducted, however it is believed that a turquoise horse earring, her black ankle boots and her black leather book binder were taken by her abductor as a ’souvenir’, as they were believed to have been on her person when she was abducted, but they were not located at the scene of her body. Amy’s binder was inscribed with the words ‘Buick, Best in Class’. Despite the efforts of local law enforcement and the FBI, there were no significant leads and the case began to grow cold, and no further information was released to the public for over a decade.

FBI Poster detailing the items which were missing from Amy's body.

In 2006, law enforcement discovered that several other young girls around Amy’s age, and living in the nearby area of North Olmstead had also received similar calls. The girls all received a call from a man who pretended to be a co-worker of their mother’s, and invited them to shop with him for a gift for her. The calls were made from an unlisted caller, meaning that his number was not traceable as it was not listed in the telephone directory, and law enforcement did not have the necessary technology in 2006 to trace these calls; in any event it was likely that too much time had now passed. This information again confirmed that the man who abducted Amy was calculated, and had planned the abduction in great detail. All of the girls were linked to Lake Eerie Nature and Science Center, as this was somewhere they had visited in the weeks prior to these calls, and it is thought that the unidentified male may have used the front desk sign in book to gain their telephone details. Unfortunately, this breakthrough did not lead to any arrests in the case, although it is understood that law enforcement obtained DNA samples from multiple suspects.

Then, in a shocking announcement, law enforcement and FBI revealed during a press conference in 2016 some information which was not previously relayed to the public - Amy’s body had been partially wrapped in an avocado green blanket, and what appeared to be a homemade curtain. Along with this, it was revealed that they had obtained three separate items of DNA from Amy’s body. This DNA evidence was revealed to be mitochondrial DNA and it came from someone unrelated to Amy. This type of DNA is identified in bones and hair - in Amy’s case, it is believed that the samples were hairs. One of the hair samples was tested and was discovered to be a positive match from her dog Jake. The other samples have not been a positive match for anyone on law enforcement databases. The information was released with the hopes of rekindling people’s interest in the case, and potentially sparking a memory for someone who may have information about Amy’s killer. the photographs of the curtain were released too, in the hope that someone might recognised the material used, or know someone who had similar curtains as they did not appear to be a generic store-bought style. This information quickly gained public interest. Unfortunately, although this information was promising and might be a step closer to solving the case, Amy’s mother Margaret died without every knowing who murdered her daughter and seeing justice be served. Margaret campaigned relentl for her daughter, but the grief and shock of Amy’s murder sadly took its toll on Margaret, who died in 2005 before this new information was released.

A photograph of the curtain which was found near Amy's body.

Amy’s Case in 2021

Unfortunately, there have still not been any arrests made in Amy’s case, over 31 years after her murder. However, law enforcement have had plenty of suspects throughout this time, a public favourite of whom is Dean Runkle. As seen in the photograph below from 1979, Runkle appears to closely resemble the suspect drawing released on Amy’s missing poster. Runkle was a teacher in Ohio when Amy was abducted, and he was one of the suspects questioned by law enforcement in the early stages of the investigation. When law enforcement began to collect DNA samples, Runkle reportedly sought legal advice, and he is one of the only publicly known suspects to do so. After Amy’s abduction and murder, schools in Ohio began introducing a system whereby teachers were to provide fingerprint and DNA samples. Runkle refused to do so, and instead took early retirement and moved to Florida. He was approximately a year away from receiving a pension bonus, but took off to the Key West in order to avoid providing his DNA - a move which has been scrutinised and criticised by journalists and law enforcement alike.

Dean Runkle pictured in 1989.

A potential new lead came for law enforcement in January 2019, when a woman identified her ex-boyfriend as a potential suspect in Amy’s abduction and murder. The man, who is in his sixties, has not been named as he is yet to be charged by the police. Sworn court documents are said to reveal that the woman’s ex-boyfriend did not return to their home on the night that Amy was abducted. However, she received a phonemail from the man at around 10pm that evening, during which he asked if she had heard the news about the disappearance. The man reportedly told his girlfriend at the time that his niece was in the same grade as Amy, and also that his brother knew Amy. The court records also report that he told the woman that he actually knew Amy personally. When law enforcement questioned the man in 2019, he reportedly said that he ‘might’ have met Amy’s mother Margaret in a bar, but ‘maybe he didn’t know who he was talking to’.

There does not appear to be any further details released to the public in relation to this potential suspect, but it is positive news that law enforcement are continuing to actively search for Amy’s killer. The current reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual responsible for the murder of Amy is $50,000.

My Theory

As with all of my blog posts, this is just my theory as to what happened to Amy after doing some independent research based on the facts which have been released to the public. Personally I do not think Amy Mihaljevic was the intended victim of this crime. What I mean by that is, I believe the killer simply knew he wanted to abduct a young girl of approximately Amy’s age, but I am not convinced that Amy was the sole target, and I am not sure the we will ever know whether she was targeted specifically by the killer or not. The fact that other girls in the local area around Amy’s age were also called, and given the same story about their mother getting a promotion suggests to me that the killer had planned to try and lure any female child, and Amy was unfortunately the one who believed the story and met up with the man. I appreciate the theory that Amy’s number was on the sign in book at the Lake Eerie Nature and Science Centre, and indeed this is a plausible way in which the killer obtained her telephone number. However, unless law enforcement have details about how Amy was targeted which have not been released to the public, I think Amy was an unfortunate victim, but that it could have been any one of the number of girls the killer called before he called Amy's home telephone.

In terms of a suspect, I agree that Dean Runkle appears incredibly suspicious. The resemblance of Dean Runkle in 1989 to the sketches released by law enforcement are surprisingly uncanny, but the real sticking point for me is that I cannot fathom why you would leave your employment a mere 12 months prior to retirement and receiving your pension, allowing you to enjoy retirement relatively free from financial worries, and just move states. Although not confirmed, Runkle has been rumoured online to work in a burger joint and frequent homeless shelters. Again, I personally do not know why he would move to Florida and give up his steady job and pension in Ohio, but it is to be acknowledged that the single fact he did so does not make him Amy’s murderer.

Amy’s case is one which will always stick with me. I think its the small details, like her horse earring missing, and the fact that she was discovered a significant distance away from home, and that the field was clear to passers-by, yet it was a seemingly random winter morning when a jogger found her. To me, the evidence suggests that Amy’s body was kept somewhere else for weeks, maybe months before the killer placed her body in the field. Unfortunately, the more time that passes, the less likely I think it is for this case to be solved. The bleak reality is that law enforcement chose not to release information for several years, even decades, and some people who may have held the answers to key information may have passed away themselves, or would struggle to remember details such as the type of curtains they owned. Despite the passage of time, I truly hope that Amy’s killer is brought to justice, and that the Mihaljevic family find some peace in that.

Anyone with information about Amy’s abduction and murder can contact the FBI on 1-800-CALL-FBI.

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