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Kidnapper Lures 10-Year-Old Away with Ruse to Buy Present for Her Mom in Unsolved Mystery
Amy Mihaljevic had agreed to meet a man she believed worked with her mom to buy her a special present when she disappeared in October of 1989. Detectives are hoping someone has the key to solving the mysterious case.
Amy Mihaljevic just wanted to do something nice for her mom, but it would tragically cost the 10-year-old her life.
Just before she disappeared on October 27, 1989, a man called Amy and pretended to be someone who knew her mom, Margaret, according to Dateline: Unforgettable.
He told the young girl that her mom was getting a promotion at work and he wanted to take her to go buy a present for her mother as a surprise. Amy confided in a friend during lunch that day at school about the secret plan, telling the friend she planned to meet the man after school at the nearby Bay Village Square shopping center in Bay Village, Ohio.
When school let out just after 2 p.m. Amy walked with another friend to the shopping center less than a quarter mile away before saying goodbye. She was spotted by two other 10-year-old witnesses waiting by a black pole.
“She seemed to be waiting for somebody and they both described at some point a male walked up to her [and] engaged her in conversation,” Bay Village Police Chief Mark Spaetzel told Dateline reporter Josh Mankiewicz. “They looked away, you know, carried on their business, talking with their friends, and when they looked back, Amy was gone.”
It was the last time anyone ever saw the 10-year-old alive. Her body was found months later on Feb. 8, 1990 in a field about 50 miles away in Ashland, Ohio.
Her murder has never been solved, but police are revealing new clues in the agonizing mystery in the hopes that someone may hold the key to finding her killer.
“What happened to Amy Mihaljevic still haunts those who know her story and there are many,” Mankiewicz explained of what made the story so memorable. “It changed everything for her family and for life as usual in the town where she lived.”
What Happened to Amy Mihaljevic?
Growing up, Amy loved animals and was especially devoted to her family dog, Jake. She was a good student, liked to read, and loved her family, often leaving her dad notes about how he was the “specialist.”
“I remember her being really sweet and really fun,” her close friend Kristy Sabo recalled. “She was also my first friend, my first sleepover.”
The girls usually rode their bikes to school together, but on that morning Amy rode her bike alone, parking it in the school’s bike rack.
In an eerie twist of fate, that day Spaetzel, then a young police officer, visited the school to give a talk about safety and strangers. For whatever reason, it didn’t give Amy pause about her own plans that day, and that afternoon she headed to the shopping center, a popular after school hang out.
“It’s one of those things you know, is there something else I could have said?” Spaetzel still wonders.
Whoever arranged to meet Amy knew specific details about her mom’s work. In another chilling detail, the man let Amy call her mom around 3:30 that afternoon. Margaret always asked her children to call her each day at work, where she worked at a local newspaper, to let her know they got home safely.
Margaret assumed her daughter was calling from home and noted nothing unusual about the call.
“When Amy calls her mother she doesn’t appear upset, there’s no indication anything’s wrong. There’s no red flags up, she doesn’t say anything to her mother,” now-retired FBI Agent Phil Torsney said. “He’s willing to take risks, but risks he’s comfortable with and people do that when they plan things out.”
Investigators believe that phone call not only gave him more time before the disappearance was discovered, but it also served to further lull Amy into a false sense of security.
She likely believed she was still on a legitimate shopping trip to surprise her mom. A witness later came forward and told police she saw a young girl fitting Amy’s description at the Westgate Mall in Rock River, Ohio, about six miles from the shopping plaza. The young girl had been in the food court with a man, but there’s no way to know for sure whether it was Amy.
When Amy’s mom returned home from work that evening around 5:30 p.m., she made the chilling realization that her daughter had never made it home at all.
“Margaret was running around the house, you know, ‘Amy’s not here,’” her dad, Mark, told the show of the frantic atmosphere when he too got home from work.
Police immediately designated it as a missing persons case and got to work to try to find the 10-year-old, as Amy’s dad rushed out with Jake in hand to retrace her steps at the shopping center — but Amy would never be seen again.
“Just find her,” Margaret begged to local media. “Tell her to come home, whatever is wrong, whatever is wrong, just have her come home.”
Margaret, who was destroyed by her daughter’s disappearance, was still holding out hope that her daughter would be found alive when the body was discovered in February 1990.
Amy had been hit in the head and stabbed in the neck. The medical examiner believed she was likely killed not long after her abduction. While there was some evidence Amy may have been sexually assaulted, the medical examiner was unable to positively confirm that.
Amy’s death has never been solved, but the thorough investigation has yielded some important clues. After sending out letters to other children in the area, investigators learned that two other young girls in a neighboring town had received eerily similar telephone calls.
One of the women, who Dateline: Unforgettable referred to by the pseudonym Pam, remembered getting a call as a child from a man who claimed to be her mom’s boss.
“He expressed that my mom was getting a promotion,” she remembered. “He was really excited about it and he wasn’t sure what to get her for a gift and they wanted it to be a surprise and he wanted to pick me up after school to go pick something up.”
The unknown caller seemed friendly until he overheard Pam telling her brother about the surprise.
“He was like, angry almost, like, ‘You’re going to ruin it,’” she recalled. “At that point, I was like ‘Well, I’m sorry, I can’t go.’”
Authorities believe Pam likely spoke to Amy’s abductor and say it may not have been the only time he tried the ruse. They are looking for anyone who remembers hearing about a similar deception.
Investigators also believe the man — who witnesses at the shopping plaza described as being a white male between 30-35 years old — is calculated and has the ability to be friendly and approachable.
“Manipulative is the key,” Torsney said. “[He] may be able to interact socially with other people. Some of the people that are like this, people even find them somewhat charming.”
New Evidence in Amy Mihaljevic Case
The day she disappeared, Amy was wearing distinctive turquoise earrings that featured the head of a horse, but the jewelry was not found with her body.
“It’s possible they were kept as a trophy,” Detective Jay Ellish said.
Her backpack was also never recovered. Inside, Amy had been carrying a black leather binder from Buick she got from her dad. It had a large gold clasp that read, “Best in Class.”
About 300 yards from the body, investigators also discovered a distinctive green curtain that looked almost like a bedspread that had been converted into a homemade curtain.
In 2016, they discovered several dog hairs on the curtain. Using DNA evidence and a sample of hair taken from Amy’s dog Jake all those years ago, authorities were able to confirm the dog hairs belonged to Jake.
“She loved Jake very much,” her brother Jason said of the development. “Ten, 13 years after his death, he’s still trying to save Amy. He was a good dog.”
Amy’s hairs were also found on the curtain, leading investigators to conclude the curtain was likely used to wrap her body. They released photos of the curtain to the public to try to identify who it may have belonged to.
“It’s so unique we’re hoping that somebody can identify that,” Spaetzel said. “If you saw it in a house, if you saw it somewhere, we want to hear from you.”
Amy’s brother and dad still hold out hope that Amy’s murder can still be solved. Tragically, her mother died 12 years after her daughter disappeared.
If you have any information about the case, please call the Bay Village Ohio Police at (440) 871-1234. A $50,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction is available.