As most teenagers in high school do, Cheryl Miller and Pamela Jackson went out to an end-of-the-year party on May 29th, 1971. However, an expected turn of events occurred while following a friend to the party who had made a wrong turn. The friend doubled back and checked the rearview mirrors to see where they were, and the girls were nowhere in sight.
Following their disappearance, local authorities started an investigation. Years went by, and the girls were still labeled missing. Rumors spread around about where the girls could be, but an accurate indication of their initial disappearance would only be revealed 33 years later.
Just Two Teenage Girls
It was a mystery, as they would call it. During the investigation, Cheryl and Pamela’s friends were questioned about the events occurring before the disappearance. They mentioned that neither girl had been drinking. Instead, they visited Cheryl’s grandmother in the hospital before meeting up with the rest of their friends.
Evidently, some trace must have been left behind to find the girl, but no path was discovered, surprisingly. What was even stranger was that no road marks were seen to indicate them swerving off the road. The girls had gone poof, disappeared with no traceable clues.
Safe and Sound
Unlike today, during the ’70s in rustic South Dakota, disappearing teenagers was not out of the ordinary. The free-spirited vibes brought in from the 1960s led to most people assuming that their kids were headed off to California. In their minds, they were simply off to their next adventure in life.
According to former Clay County deputy sheriff Jim Rowenhort, “Back then, if a kid turned up missing, it was far more likely that they were a runaway,” not to mention the fact that it was just not very darned often that you heard about kids being kidnapped. It just wasn’t something you were concerned about in rural South Dakota.”
All You Can do is Hope
It was challenging to accept that the girls had simply run away. People personally acquainted with Cheryl and Pamela said that it was unlikely for them to do something of this sort. Kay, Cheryl’s older sister, mentioned that Cheryl had only taken a purse when the girls went out.
Regardless of the local authorities’ reduced efforts to find the missing girls after some time, their family and friends never gave up hope and continued to search. Cheryl’s dad drove around for hours in remote areas throughout the country, calling their name in the hope of discovery.
Technology Falls short to Human Capabilities
Updated technology in forensics was later used to search the area infrequently to find hints to the girl’s whereabouts. For example, metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar were some of the measurements used in the search. They even excavated a pit in the party’s location, but unfortunately, nothing was found.
In 2004 however, the creation of the South Dakota DCI Cold Case Unit led to a breakthrough in the case. One of Cheryl and Pamela’s classmates had grown up on a farm near the party. This discovery was found in the reports because of the unit’s establishment.
Finally, A Lead
David Lykken, a known serial rapist, was a mysterious classmate. During the time, he had been serving his 14th year in a 225-year prison sentence. He became the main suspect as he had an evident history of violence, and his farm’s location was close to where the girls had disappeared.
Following the discovery, the police began looking for Evidence on David’s farm. Evidence was indeed near home, as his younger sister mentioned that family members had been burning “evidence” years before the event. After a short inspection, it appeared she was right.
Evidence was later found, such as two hubcaps, women’s clothing, personal items and letters, and a pair of rubber gloves. Even beneath the property’s septic tank, dozens of bones were ravaged. A particular piece of evidence was found; a red purse was hidden in the rafters of the farmhouse.
Following these discoveries, prosecutors defined Lykken guilty, and the notion of charging him with Cheryl Miller and Pamela Jackson’s murder came into place. A prison informant also presented a tape displaying Lykken’s confession to the murders, but something new popped up just when you thought it was all over.
Back to the Beginning
It turns out Lykken’s “confession” had been orchestrated by a fellow prisoner, and the items discovered at the farmhouse were not innately connected to the girls. The bones found simply belonged to ravaged animals. The blame could not be placed on Lykken, and the charges were dropped.
Thirty-seven years have gone by. The year is now 2008, and authorities had barely made progress since Cheryl and Pamela were named missing. At some point, the truth must come out, this time not having to wait another 40 years to be revelated.
Coincidence? I Think Not
A local fisherman casually noticed a large shape sticking out of the water along Brule Creek in 2013. Logically, when moving closer, he suspected there would be some rocks or debris. However, a rusted car sticking out from the mud was revealed.
The car pulled out of the creek by authorities was a 1960 Studebaker Lark, the same model and make owned by Cheryl. Logically, there wasn’t leftover over from the car, but one piece managed to withstand the test of time after all this time.
Solving the Long Time Mystery
The surviving item was a purse containing photos, house keys, letters from friends, and loose change. The critical piece was a fading driver’s license whose details would soon shed light on this long-time tragedy.
The driver’s license belonged to Cheryl, and therefore all the remaining items belonged to the two girls. The case was solved after four decades’ worth, and the off investigation was finally put to bed. The burning question wasn’t answered, though; what happened?
Peace of Mind Following an Unsolvable Mystery
The car found was deeply examined, and it appeared that one of the tires was blown out because of damage to the wheels. Additionally, it appeared that the car was left in third gear. Bent off the road due to a popped tire, investigators concluded that the vehicle had drowned in the Brule Creek.
Even though exact details weren’t presented, the Jackson and Miller families finally have some genuine understanding of what happened to their beloved daughters. Kay (Cheryl’s sister) said, “It’s been so many years. It will be nice to have her home.” Not long after, their attention moved to a dark memory when a newspaper clipping dating back two years before the girls’ disappearances were found.
More Familiar Than We Think
Such mysteries aren’t as far we would like them to believe. Perhaps in different eras of time, locations, or settings. Although rare, such secrets where the truth is revealed much later are more common than we think.
Various clues can lead us in the wrong direction and therefore steer us away from where a missing person’s investigation should be going. Perhaps, in the past, there wasn’t always the means to lead in the right direction. Such an example happened in this next story.
Another Rare Story
Although unique and rare in nature, this story particularly stood out at Harvard University’s anthropology program in the winter of 1969. The story stands out because it reflects a similar tragedy.
A 23-year-old student named Jane Britton, a passionate and star Eastern Archaeology student had vanished with no trace. Being an invested student, always appearing first in class made this disappearance remarkably unlike her.
Where is Jane?
James Humphries, Jane’s boyfriend, was the first person to notice her lack of presence. Considering that there was a crucial test that day, it wouldn’t make sense that she just wouldn’t show up.
James tried Britton’s phone with no answer and decided to go straight to her home at 6 University Road. Even though she lived alone, Brittan had many neighbors who were active in the Harvard Community.
He tried knocking a few times on the door, but no one answered. He tried once more, again silence. Suddenly, he heard a creaking door in the hallway and was taken aback.
Donald Mitchel appeared behind him, who was Jane’s next-door neighbor and friend. The two men cautiously decided to enter the ever-so-quiet apartment. They breathed in, breathed out, and stepped inside.
A Fearful Discovery
Mitchell and Humphries were taken aback; Jane Britton was indeed in the apartment but in terrible shape. She wasn’t moving while lying face-down on the floor.
Shocked and horrified, Mitchel turned Jane’s cold body over. He then suddenly jumped back as her torso appeared to be drenched in blood. The two men awaited the police’s arrival following the discovery.
Tracing Back Steps
Once the police arrived, they quickly began investigating what happened the previous night that led to Jane’s collapse. They were trying to piece together how Jane had ended up in dissolution at the scene of the crime.
Eyewitnesses said that Jane had spent the previous evening ice skating and getting dinner with her boyfriend and friends. Following the evening’s events, she and Humphries enjoyed hot cocoa back at her apartment at 10:30 pm.
The Exact Hour It Happened
Britton did one last thing before heading back home for the night; she stopped by Mitchell’s place to pick up her cat, Fuzzy and enjoyed some quality time with her beloved boyfriend. She arrived back at her apartment at 12:30 am.
According to the toxicology reports, alcohol never seemed to enter her system regardless of the romantic time spent with Mitchel that night. Investigators concluded that Jane had been murdered during the hour after she had left her neighbors residence.
The police requested the neighbors declare any information that seemed suspicious or out of the ordinary. When asking the Mitchells, they didn’t provide any questionable or relevant information. Other neighbors, however, had some exciting and suspicious information to share.
One building resident reported that at 1:30 am, he saw a bizarre man running through the streets, while another mentioned overhearing odd noises coming through from Britton’s fire escape the previous night.
Why Was the Door Unlocked?
Although reports brought about indications to the events of that night, there wasn’t anything remotely concrete for the investigation to move along accurately. Britton’s door had remained unlocked, so there was no forced entry. This specific detail, however, was controversial.
In the same building, a girl had been murdered by non-other than the Boston Strangler six years before the event. It seemed that the doors in the building were impossible to lock and security was by no means efficient. The public was not shy to speak out on this recognized negligence.
Lack of Technology
Another disturbing detail revealed that Britton had been sexually assaulted. Semen had been found at the crime scene, but during that time (the 1960’s), technology wasn’t sophisticated enough to connect the semen sample to the suspect.
Authorities enforced a deeper dive into investigating her community. More specifically, law enforcement wanted to explore the fellow anthropology students she had recently been with on a school-related trip to Iran.
The Connection to Iran
Interest in the students came about because of Ochre, a clay-like substance found on her body. Ochre was used in Ancient Persian Burial Rituals. The students had previously taken a trip to Iran, where they gathered Ochre, connecting them to the investigation.
Hostility was experienced during the trip to Iran, reports mentioned. This further acknowledged the possibility of one of her classmates participating in Jane’s brutal killing. Eventually, a surprising spin would lead to new discoveries.
What Was Missed?
The investigators eventually revealed that the Ochre wasn’t representative of anything because it had come from a painting Jane had created. Not to mention that the “observed” animosity on the trip had been blown out of proportion. Any lead they had in hand had now vanished.
Detectives began shifting their attention to more concerning details. The Mitchells had given Jane a stone that was supposedly sharp enough to kill someone with. This stone was missing from her apartment and therefore was a possible indication of the murder weapon.
Closure VS. Speculation
The chief of police at Cambridge decided to announce that they found a suspicious sharp rock found at the crime scene and that public information would not be readily available unless otherwise mentioned. This was reported as little as two days after the discovery of her body.
Regardless of the lack of information available to the public, people did not stop hypothesizing what had happened. People were sure the murderer was a stranger considering Jane’s popularity in her community. Others took alternative perspectives to the situation.
From Rumors to Silence
Claims around Jane’s so-called integrity flew around. Some people said that Jane was a little too friendly, hanging out with people not defined as exemplary Harvard and Radcliffe types. An anonymous source close to Britton declared she would hang out with the nontypical cultural crowd. Rumors continued as evidence decreased.
Progress of the case was halted, considering guesswork is limited evidence. Without knowing what had happened to their daughter, Jane’s parents passed away; Her father died in 2002 and her mother in 1978. The public eventually urged for the case to be reopened years later in 2017.
Technology at its Finest
Half a century had gone by since the tragedy. The semen samples gathered from the crime scene could finally be tested, and the case could move forward. The testing results could eventually be exposed as, at this point, technology was finally good enough for practical use. A suspect could finally be recovered.
The Semen sample matched a man named Michael Sumpter. This man was a murderer and convicted rapist. His record fell in line with someone who could commit such an atrocious crime. However, there was an issue that revealed itself to be problematic with the match.
Too Little Too Late
The main issue with the found suspect was that he had died years before 2001. A confirmation was needed, and the decision was made to test his brother’s DNA. Low and behold, a match was found. Years had gone by, and the truth finally revealed itself.
Even though arriving late to the crime scene, this evidence validated that Sumpter was indeed the murder. Not only that, but he had also been working less than a mile from Jane’s Apartment when her death was announced, making the timeline legitimate.
Regretfully Moving Forward
Due to the inability to solve the murder, measures to prevent such tragic reoccurrences were not placed. Three years post June’s murder, Sumpter assaulted another woman in the same neighborhood. The second woman could have been saved if the murder had been solved at the time.
“Mystery and speculation have clouded the brutal crime that shattered Jane’s promising young life and our family,” Jane’s Brother stated. “The DNA evidence match may be all we ever have as a conclusion. Learning to understand and forgive remains a challenge.”
Mystery Solved as a Result of a Confession
It is not so rare to discover the truth behind murder mysteries years or even decades later. This next one just happened to fulfill a journalist’s long-life dream of receiving the perfect tip for a powerful story. However, sometimes ignorance is bliss, even for a journalist.
A 33-year-old murder was revealed one day over broadcast television. A report from the WISN 12 news in Milwaukee picked up the phone to hear a confession by 50-year-old Jose Ferreira, who stated that he had raped and murdered 13-year-old Carrie Ann Jopek.
Not Just Another Day at the Office
Chriss Greg, who was the director of WISN news, defined the details of the confession as disturbing; I mean, not only did this man confess to a heinous crime but also confessed publicly a crime that had occurred an astoundingly long time ago (1982). This makes you wonder, why would he admit to such a crime now?
Just about a week after Ferreira confessed to the crime, he was charged and convicted. Although Jopek’s mother finally received the closure she needed, it didn’t erase the years she experienced blaming herself for her daughter’s disappearance. Ferreira still has not filed for an appeal, and his attorney refused to answer questions.
Although it is rather strange how the crime was confessed, the original story also began with a phone call. On the day of the disappearance, March 16, 1982, to be exact, Tousignant (Jopek’s mother) received a phone call from her school notifying her that she had been suspended.
Rather than picking her up from school, her mother decided to let her walk about a block away and figured she would arrive home at some point. Seventeen months went by, and there was still no sign of her daughter. An investigation had been going on, but no progress was seen, and Tousignant continued waiting.
What Was Underneath the Porch?
A few months later, in August of 1983, a discovery was made. While working on the back porch of a neighbor’s home, a contractor noticed he had hit something hard, which eventually revealed to be a human bone.
She was inclining that her daughter was dead even though she initially did not want to believe it. Her body’s location was discovered, but the truth behind what had happened to her was still a mystery. Many decades would pass until the story of what occurred that same day would be revealed.
When found, Jopek had been dressed in the same clothing the day of her disappearance, hinting to Tousignant that she had probably deceased the same day she had gone missing. The remains of her body were excavated, but this provided little understanding of how she was murdered. The murder had lived right next door, and no one knew.
Regardless of the discovery of the body, no evidence pointed to Ferreira, who was 17 years old at the time. He was even questioned about the disappearance but was never taken into custody or suspected. Nevertheless, Tousignant was still suspicious, it seemed.
A Critical Conversation
Tousignant recalled a conversation she had with Junior, Ferreira’s nickname. He told her that Jopek had hit her head and died while he and some friends were with her but that he was not planning on telling the police. Some clarity is lacking whether Tousignant went to the police to report this critical exchange between Junior and herself
Ferreira had also told Jopek’s mother: “They were drinking, they were all drinking Yukon Jack and smoking weed,” Tousignant shared with the same tv station contacted by Junior, “They got scared, so they grabbed a dry-cleaning bag, wrapped her up in that and dug a hole under the porch and buried her.”
Although Ferreira had dodged the consequences, he eventually could not escape his conscience, as evident by his confession. On October 11th, he confessed his killing of Jopek over a phone conversation with the WISN newsroom. Rather than going straight to the public, the tv station decided to contact the authorities.
While speaking to the news station, Ferreira shared that he lived across from her and attended the party together. He stated that Carrie Anne had fallen and broken her neck. He then moved to have sexual intercourse with he because he believed her to be unconscious. Upon confirming her death, he buried her.
A Sigh of Relief
Even though it was painful to hear what happened, Jopek’s family finally received closure for a mystery chasing them. Tousignant lived for years with the guilt of not saving her daughter due to not picking her up from school. A significant weight had now been taken off her shoulders.
The details behind this exhausted case were revealed long after its occurrence, and people began doubting the capabilities of the Milwaukee Police Department after that. Not one conclusion to the murder until a complete confession was given. Oddly enough, this is not the first time a confession was given years after an old case had occurred.
Another severe case was exposed in the same city, concluding that the Milwaukee Police Department needs to get their act together. Not as long as 33 years, but 16 years later, a man named Randy Q. Baines confessed to the murder of Leila Dempsey.
This man was already in prison for another crime he had committed. He confessed to shooting this woman in the back of her head accidentally during a robbery while she was embracing her 2-year-old son. The reason he admitted was that “Dempsey’s death had been bothering him.”
We still don’t know why Ferreira decided to confess his crime when he did, but Jopek’s family knowing that the murder of their beloved family member is behind bars, gives them some relief. Sometimes timing isn’t perfect but, having closure is better than never having known.
Murder mysteries have always fascinated the public. TV shows, games, and books are readily available to learn this fascinating topic regarding real-life events; you never know what or when to expect.
What are Mysteries all About?
It is a mystery why certain crimes, investigations, and events only reveal themselves years or decades after their occurrence. Some get shown by technological capabilities, some confess to the culprits themselves, and some never seem to be announced.
The most important thing about the mysteries mentioned is that even though some took ages to be discovered, the truth eventually came out. Ease of mind to families, friends, and loved ones sometimes could take decades but, it’s better to have known later than not at all.
Rare Events in Real Life
Sometimes the biggest mysteries in life are ones that come out of tragedy. Only years after the event occurs, clues, missing pieces, and realization begin to formulate. Take, for example, the famous Zodiac Killer, who, through his use of threatening letters, caused unheard-of tragedies
Operating mainly in Northern California, the Zodiac Killer murdered five victims in various San Francisco Bay Area regions. This case has been closed and reopened in several jurisdictions but has yet to be defined solvable and remains open.