Amy Mihaljevic: Abducted in Plain Sight

A mother prepared for work on a typical Friday morning in Ohio in 1989, when her ten-year-old daughter told her she would stay late at school for choir auditions. Unfortunately, this is the last time Margaret McNulty would see her child alive.

Shortly after being dismissed from school that day, Amy Mihaljevic would be taken from the Bay Square Shopping Center in Bay Village, Ohio, by a man that remains unknown to this day. Months later, a jogger discovered Amy’s body in a field 50 miles away from her home on February 8, 1990. This is the story of Amy Mihaljevic, a young girl who was taken in plain sight.

Amy Mihaljevic: Abducted in Plain Sight

A Quiet Life in Bay Village, Ohio

The town of Bay Village, Ohio, was a small, quiet community of around 17,000. It was a place where people didn’t need to lock their doors. In 1989, Amy Mihaljevic was ten years old. She lived with her mother, Margaret, her father, Mark, and her older brother, Jason, who was thirteen. 

Amy was enrolled at Bay Village Middle School, where she was a star student in the fifth grade. Amy was very intelligent, and she was part of the school’s gifted and talented program. She also loved horses and enjoyed riding horses in her spare time. Amy and her brother were “latchkey kids,” meaning they regularly came home and were alone for some time before their parents arrived home from work. Even so, the city was safe, and her parents never had a reason to worry.

On the morning of October 27, 1989, Amy told her mother that she would stay late at school for choir auditions. Margaret thought nothing of this, knowing her daughter was an exemplary student, and so she went off to work. 

Amy and her brother, Jason, took their bikes to school as usual. At school, Amy revealed a secret plan to her friends. Some time prior to this day, Amy had received a phone call on her home phone from a man who claimed to work with her mother at Trading Times Magazine

The man had told Amy her mother was receiving a promotion, and he needed Amy’s help to select the perfect gift. Amy was excited about the opportunity to surprise her mother, and she invited her friends to accompany her to the Bay Village Shopping Center after school. When class was dismissed around 2:00 p.m., Amy and her friends made the short walk to the nearby shopping center.

The Abduction

Upon arrival at the Bay Village Shopping Center, reports say the young girls treated themselves to ice cream. Two classmates saw Amy around 2:15 p.m., walking through the shopping center with an unidentified adult male. Nobody knew at that time that Amy would never be seen alive again.

Amy was walking with the man and then both individuals vanished. Later, there would be no suspicious vehicles reported and no reports of a struggle or altercation between the two. The man was described as a white male, aged 30 to 35, with a medium build. Eyewitness accounts also recalled the man possibly having round glasses and traces of a beard.

At 3:10 p.m., Amy’s brother Jason became concerned when his sister had not yet arrived home. He called his mother from the house phone, letting her know Amy wasn’t home yet. Margaret wasn’t overly concerned, as she recalled Amy mentioned a choir audition after school. She told Jason that Amy had choir practice to attend, and that he needn’t worry about his sister. 

Still, a mother’s intuition can transcend logic, and Margaret felt that something was off. But just twenty minutes after her phone call with Jason, Amy called her mother at work. She assured her mother that everything was fine, and there was no panic in her voice to indicate otherwise. 

As there was no caller ID, Margaret assumed Amy was calling from home, and her worries subsided. When Margaret arrived home at 5:30 p.m., the concern she felt earlier turned to panic. Amy was nowhere to be found. Jason informed his mother that his sister had still not come home, and Margaret jumped into action. 

She first called neighbors and relatives to ask if they’d seen Amy. When nobody had seen the young girl, Margaret rushed to Bay Village Middle School, where she found the school empty, though Amy’s bike was still locked up on the bike rack. Without hesitation, Amy drove to the Bay Village Police Station and reported her daughter missing just before 6 p.m. Mark Mihaljevic, Amy’s father, returned home around the same time and began assisting in the search efforts.

The Search for Amy Mihaljevic

Almost immediately after Margaret reported her daughter missing, Bay Village Police began searching for the missing girl. Because of the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, BVPD requested assistance from the FBI. 

Investigators at the location where Amy Mihaljevic’s body was discovered in Northern Ashland County, Ohio. Chic Knight/Times-Gazette File Photo

Agents from the FBI office in Cleveland, Ohio, responded to assist with the search. As the days went by, neither agency came any closer to finding Amy, despite the investigation generating thousands of leads. Over 20,000 interviews have been conducted to date relating to this case, and several suspects in 1989 were asked to take polygraph tests, which ultimately led investigators nowhere. Months passed, and nobody had seen or heard from Amy. The family was cleared of suspicion, and they refused to give up hope.

The search for Amy Mihaljevic ended on February 8, 1990. 

A jogger in Ashland, Ohio, some 50 miles from Bay Village, made a horrifying discovery while jogging through a field just off County Road 1181. Police moved quickly to identify the body, and everyone’s worst fears were confirmed: it was Amy. 

An autopsy revealed that Amy had been dumped shortly after her abduction. Her cause of death was determined to be multiple stab wounds to the neck, and blunt force trauma to the head, along with other bodily injuries. 

Amy was dumped wearing the same clothes she had worn to school that day. There was blood in her underwear, indicating that Amy likely suffered some form of sexual abuse prior to her death. A few items were missing from Amy’s person, which will be discussed later. A curtain and blanket, believed to be handmade, were also found in the field near her body. 

The search for Amy was finished, but the search for her killer had just begun.

The Strange Circumstances

When investigators first discovered Amy’s body, they immediately noted a few odd items missing from her person. Amy’s horse-riding boots were gone, along with her denim backpack, her school binder, and her turquoise horse’s head earrings. 

These items are believed to have been taken by her killer, likely as a sort of trophy. The blanket and curtain found near Amy’s body appeared to be handmade, but despite circulating photos of the items, nobody came forward to identify them.

There were a few strange happenings surrounding Amy’s kidnapping and murder. Foremost, the killer somehow knew Amy’s home phone number. Not only did he know her phone number, but he was also able to call when Amy would be the one to answer the phone. 

The Bay Village Shopping Center was nestled in a busy part of town, and between two and three in the afternoon, it would not have been empty. This kidnapping occurred in a public place in broad daylight: Amy was taken between 2:15 and 3:00 p.m., and there would have been plenty of opportunities for someone to witness the crime. 

County Coroner William Emery addressed the media following the discovery of Amy Mihaljevic’s body in Ashland County. Chic Knight/Times-Gazette File Photo

After Amy had been taken, she made a call to her mother, and the young girl did not sound distressed. The killer must have given Amy access to a phone, and somehow kept her calm enough to not alert her mother that there was any sort of issue. Perhaps the strangest fact from the abduction is that the Bay Village Shopping Center sits directly across the street from the Bay Village Police Department. Whoever kidnapped and murdered Amy Mihaljevic was bold, and his brazen abduction in broad daylight right across from the police station has stumped investigators for years.

The Leading Suspects

The Bay Village Police Department, along with the FBI, have kept the suspect list fairly private over time. Hundreds of people were interviewed, questioned, or polygraphed during the initial investigation. Today, most sources agree that there are three primary suspects in the Amy Mihaljevic murder case: Dean Runkle, Richard Holbert, and Joseph Newton Chandler III.

Of these three suspects, many who have studied Amy’s case believe Dean Runkle to be the most likely culprit. Not only does Dean match the description and the artist sketch, but he was also a teacher in Ohio. 

Dean denied any involvement with the crime, but when the Bay Village Police began collecting DNA samples from potential suspects, he sought legal counsel. It should be noted that Dean was also accused of inappropriate conduct by a former student, and he allegedly set aside a few thousand dollars for his favorite student, though nothing ever came of the relationship.

Richard Holbert, who was not one of the original primary suspects, came under suspicion after confessing to the crime. While attending a Sunday mass service, Richard confessed to killing Amy Mihaljevic. However, he was not the only person to confess that they killed Amy, and Richard’s medical records proved his confession to be false. On the very day Amy was kidnapped, Richard had been institutionalized, so it wasn’t possible for him to have kidnapped and killed Amy.

The last of these three suspects is an investigator favorite. Not many public details have been released about Joseph Newton Chandler III, but in 2018 investigation officials announced that they were pursuing a possible connection between Joseph and Amy’s murder. 

Unfortunately, Joseph Newton Chandler III died in 2002, after taking his own life. After his death, investigators learned that his real name was Robert Ivan Nichols, and he stole his previous moniker from a child that died in a car accident. Investigators were immediately intrigued by this man, believing him to be a potentially dangerous fugitive. The reasoning for his name change, move, and period of disappearance is currently still a mystery, but investigators have been pursuing any possible connection to Amy’s case for several years.

Amy Mihaljevic Case Updates

Although Amy was abducted in 1989, her case is still being investigated. Since her murder, there have been several major updates to the case, including ones in recent years. In 2006, investigators revealed that Amy was not the only young girl in the Bay Village area to receive a suspicious phone call. 

The FBI has launched a campaign featuring new billboard messages aimed at drivers in Cleveland, Akron, and Columbus, urging them to come forward with any information related to the unsolved kidnapping and murder of Amy Mihaljevic.

Multiple girls, all residents of North Olmstead, had received calls from a man who told them he needed their assistance in purchasing a present for their mother. Based on this information, it is presumed that the same man who called these girls kidnapped and murdered Amy. 

Some of these girls had unlisted phone numbers, and the suspect would not have been able to find them in a phone book. However, Amy and each of the girls that was contacted had signed the guest book at the Lake Eerie Nature and Science Center. 

Presumably, the killer could have taken the girls’ information from the guest book, and later used it to contact them. The police obtained a copy of the book, and have extensively investigated the center employees, but no leads have been generated from the staff.

Perhaps the biggest break in Amy Mihaljevic’s case came in 2021, when police announced that a former girlfriend of a man on the suspect list had come forward and implicated her ex-boyfriend in the crime. 

Although the man’s name has not been publicly released, sources say he gave suspicious answers to interview questions, and had possibly met Margaret McNulty prior to Amy’s death. This man also willingly provided a DNA sample, but failed a polygraph test administered by investigators. The potential most condemning circumstance for this suspect is that when questioned, two eyewitnesses picked him out of a lineup, and he was identified by both of them as the man seen with Amy before her disappearance. Police are keeping a tight seal on the information, but it can only be assumed they are pursuing every possible connection between this man and the murder of Amy Mihaljevic.

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