Amy Mihaljevic: 1989 Murder Still Unsolved

Published: Updated: 18 comments

Amy Mihaljevic, 10, of Bay Village, Ohio, received a phone call from a man claiming he knew her mother, Margaret. The man said he wanted to buy her mother a gift for her promotion at work and needed Amy’s help picking something out. He explained to her that he had to keep it a secret.

The man convinced Amy to walk to the Bay Village Shopping Center, where he would meet her to go shopping. He told her to call her mother and tell her not to worry. Amy did as instructed.

School dismissed at 2:10 p.m. on October 27, 1989, and Amy arrived at the shopping center shortly afterward. Two classmates saw her near Baskin Robbins, and a man showed up a few moments later. He walked up to Amy, put his hand on her back, whispered something in her ear, put his arm around her shoulders, and led her away. It was the last time she was seen alive.

Around 7:30 a.m. on February 8, 1990, jogger Janet Seabold found the young girl’s body in a remote area of Ashland County. Evidence at the scene indicated the killer dumped her body there shortly after they abducted her. Blood found in Amy’s underwear suggested she was also sexually assaulted.

Yellow/gold fibers on Amy’s body were later traced to a brown Pontiac. Her boots, a backpack, and some other personal belongings were missing. Police found a blanket and curtain 300 yards away. Several years later, DNA testing revealed Amy’s hair was on both items.

According to the autopsy report, Amy suffered a hit to the back of the head with a blunt instrument. She had been stabbed on the left side of her neck. Amy might have lived about 30 minutes after the attack.

Investigators conducted thousands of interviews, but nothing panned out. DNA recovered at the scene has been tested several times, but nothing has come from it; however, police remain hopeful.

Police later revealed that several other girls in North Olmsted, OH, also received phone calls similar to Amy’s in the weeks before her abduction. Some even had unlisted numbers.

All of these girls, including Amy, had been to the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center in the weeks leading up to Amy’s abduction. According to an old online post written by Cleveland journalist James Renner (who also wrote a book on Amy’s case), at the time, the Nature Center kept a logbook out in the open where kids could write their name and contact info so that the center could send them promotional information.

There’s a chance the killer was at the Nature Center, and this was how he got the girls’ phone numbers.

Amy’s case has never been solved. In October 2014, 25 years after her abduction, police made a public plea for information on those who knew Amy’s mother at the time of Amy’s disappearance.

Mark Mihaljevic remains active in the search for his daughter’s killer. Margaret McNulty, Amy’s mother, passed away in 2001.

Possible Suspects

Dean Runkle: suspect in the murder of Amy Mihaljevic
Image on the right: Dean Runkle

Dean Runkle, former school teacher

Multiple witnesses claim he is the man seen with Amy at Bay Village Shopping Center the day she disappeared. He looks very similar to the composite sketch of Amy’s abductor. (I’m trying to overcome the fact that the composite sketch of the abductor without glasses looks like Harry Connick Jr.) Runkle lived about two miles from where Amy’s body was found and drove a car similar to the abductor’s car. A former student later recalled seeing him talking to the girl who sat in front of her in class. He touched her back and whispered in her ear, similar to how the abductor spoke to Amy.

A witness can also place him at the Nature Center. When asked by LE in 2005 if he had been to the Nature Center, he replied, “I never said I wasn’t there. I just said I don’t remember being there.”

Runkle’s parents lived about 2 miles from where Amy’s body was found. Runkle refused when Ohio required teachers to get fingerprinted when updating their licenses.

(L) Kenneth Robert Stanton (R) Vern Hartenburg

Kenneth Robert Stanton, traveling salesman

Stanton molested girls in the South before fleeing to Ohio in the summer of 1989, just months before Amy disappeared. He also resembles the sketch. He is currently in prison in Georgia.

Vern Hartenburg 

At the time of Amy’s murder, Hartenburg was the director of Cleveland Metroparks. The Nature Center is part of the Metroparks. He also attended the same church as Amy and her parents. Not only that, but it appears Vern is a bit of a creeper. He got caught exposing himself at a park in Minnesota in 1988.

About 10 days after Amy’s abduction, Vern checked himself into a mental facility. He also resembles the sketch and has the thick, bushy hair the witness described.

Case Update

Per Fresherslive.com, “In 2021, a significant breakthrough altered the course of the investigation. A formerly unidentified man, aged 64, emerged as a pivotal figure, implicated by his ex-girlfriend, who revealed their connection during the period of the kidnapping and murder.” Police questioned the man; he submitted DNA and agreed to a polygraph test, which came back inconclusive. They also searched the suspect’s storage facility.

Witnesses, unable to definitively identify the kidnapper, recognized the potential suspect in line-ups. His vehicle, matching witness descriptions, had carpet fibers akin to those found on Amy’s body, linking him disturbingly. The unsettling detail that the vehicle’s make and model matched those near where her remains were found heightened suspicions.

True Crime Diva’s Thoughts

Whoever killed Amy knew she would be home alone at this particular time, so he knew her routine. He also knew her telephone number, that she had a brother, and that her mom had recently gone from part-time to full-time employment.

The killer also knew the numbers of the North Olmsted girls.

I think the killer got the phone numbers from the nature center. But that doesn’t explain how he knew Amy and the others were home alone or that they would answer the phone. It also doesn’t explain how he knew so much about Amy’s mother (the job situation) or that she had a brother. Unless the killer knew the family, both kids from school, or stalked Amy before the abduction, maybe he saw her with friends or family and followed her home.

The girl who saw Amy at the shopping center described the man’s hair as being thick and bushy above his eyes. Vern Hartenburg has thick, bushy hair, but the others do not, IMO. This same witness also described the clothing on the man – a beige windbreaker with plaid lining, front-pressed khakis, and a button-up shirt.

James Renner

James Renner believes the calls are the key to solving this case. What is the connection between the North Olmsted girls and Amy? A mutual teacher? A mutual friend of the parents? Why did the caller phone these particular girls and Amy? Did he randomly call them, hoping one would take the bait? Or did he purposely single these girls out? If so, why? And why did he place most of the calls to girls in North Olmsted?

Kenneth Robert Stanton molested girls, yes, but I have not read where he murdered any of them.

I can’t help but look more at Runkle or Hartenburg. Both were creepers who appeared to have liked young girls and resembled the sketch. However, their background isn’t violent, just weird. So, what led one of them to snap and kill Amy if they were one of these suspects? Was that the intention from the start?

In a 2014 post on his blog, Renner wrote that he believes the whole thing was an accident. Abducting and murdering Amy was not the intention of the killer. Well, I’m not sure I agree with him on that. Granted, Renner knows much more about this case than I do, of course. But if abduction/murder was not the intent of the killer, then why did he meet with Amy in the first place? Why did he phone her first? What was the reason to lure the girl away? Did he only want to molest her and then drop her off at home, taking the risk that she would tell someone? I don’t think so. It is odd that the killer chose to meet her in a public place where anyone could see and identify him. Talk about taking a considerable risk! Maybe he was just a cocky, confident asshole who knew he would get away with it, or he was not from that area and knew no one would recognize him. And what about the other girls who were called? The killer didn’t plan on abducting them? It doesn’t make sense.

Renner also believes this was a one-time killing. Not sure I agree with that either. If you had a thing for young girls and committed the perfect rape/murder, would it tempt you to kill again? If the killer fled Ohio altogether, it is possible he killed again in another state or even outside the U.S.

More Things to Consider

Runkle has his fair share of supporters – many of them former students. One in particular even wrote a blog post defending him. Maybe neither of the suspects killed Amy. I think it could easily have been closer to home, as in a friend of her parents.

Here’s what I want to know: Seabold found Amy’s body within 20-25 feet of the road. If a jogger could see it, why hadn’t someone else found it before February 8? Does this mean the killer placed her body there around February 8, 1990? The coroner was not able to establish a time of death. 

Karen Emery, an investigative secretary for the Ashland County coroner’s office, was quoted in a February 9, 1990, Reflector-Herald story saying the body had been in the field “a considerable amount of time. At least two months, maybe more.” Then-Ashland County Sheriff Kenneth Etzwiler, in a February 8, 1990, AP story, estimated the victim’s body “had been there since, say, the latter part of November (1989).”

Well, which is it?

Let’s discuss Amy’s missing items. It is possible her killer kept them as souvenirs, which is something a serial killer would do. So why would he keep them? Well, from what I read, the killer takes these items to relive the crime in his mind. Every time he touches the object, it takes him back to his victim and what he did to them. Sometimes, the killer will even give the items to a wife or girlfriend as a gift. Did Amy’s killer keep them? Did police ever obtain a search warrant to search Runkle’s home or any of the suspects?

I hope Amy’s case is solved one day, but I only see that happening if someone talks.

18 comments

wendy fairbank December 28, 2016 - 10:57 PM

My mom told me back in 1990 she worked with Amys mom. I never believed her. She said she saw Amy alive in a dark place. Hungry and tired. Then she was dead a few weeks later she told me. My mom worked with mensa and john carroll university psychic division. They predicted the San Fran earthquake. Im not like her nor never believed her. Im 48 now. She died in 1998. I miss her and believe her now. She would often tell me stuff that I was even doing that day. I would get mad. Was she real?

casey March 22, 2016 - 5:34 AM

Sorry if this should be obvious but how do they know about the phone call at all and what the man said to Amy? Did she tell someone?

truecrimediva March 22, 2016 - 7:02 AM

Hi Casey! I believe Amy told a friend of hers about the call.

Ted7 l1j December 31, 2016 - 2:37 AM

I had to wonder that one myself.

Sweetface January 19, 2017 - 1:35 PM

I am also confused about this one. Could somebody elaborate how they knew that’s what the phone call was about? Did they assume it because the other girls received this call?

Hope there will be answers some day. My heart breaks reading cases like this.

truecrimediva January 20, 2017 - 7:03 AM

From what I read, Amy told a friend about the phone call. I’m sorry, I should have put that in there.

Liz November 9, 2015 - 6:32 PM

your full of crap when it comes to this infomation!
as far as I can see it your just hindering the case with all this follow me crud!

truecrimediva November 12, 2015 - 8:10 AM

LOL! And you have no idea what you’re talking about. Go troll elsewhere.

Liz March 9, 2016 - 10:41 PM

Are you kidding me! what kinda crap was that answer? After working on this case for over 26 yrs. I have discovered things that I’m not able to talk about but I certainly know what happened to this child! Which is more than Renner can even begin to imagine let alone you. Hinder, hinder, hinder! You people and your I’ve got this ideas is just plain nuts! How very into yourselves you people are! Whats in it for Amy???? Speaking of TROLLS yea you get the picture! Nuff said!

truecrimediva March 10, 2016 - 7:12 AM

LOL! It took you FOUR months to come up with THAT response?? No wonder you worked on the case “for over 26 years”. But let’s be honest here. You did not work on this case at all, did you? I’m pretty sure that someone who is actually working on this case isn’t going to go on a BLOG and rant and rave, and act like someone Amy’s age or come across as highly uneducated.

You know what happened to Amy? Yes, so does the KILLER.

mark March 8, 2017 - 7:10 PM

I am going to find this dude and make sure he see justice

Manda July 7, 2015 - 6:42 PM

What strikes me as odd is him telling her to call and let her mother know so she wouldn’t worry. If she did call, what did she tell her mom and did that not raise flags? It definitely would me if one of my kids told me that. Maybe I misunderstood, I don’t know. Either way, my money is on the teacher as the the perpetrator. I hope that little girl is at peace now.

truecrimediva July 7, 2015 - 6:56 PM

Manda, the call to her mother was pretty normal. I believe she usually called to check in with her mom but on this day the call was later than usual. However, Margaret assumed Amy was home. I should’ve included that in my post. I apologize. So, the killer knew she made this check-in call to her mom everyday.

Manda July 7, 2015 - 7:36 PM

Okay, then I did misunderstand, sorry about that. 🙂

truecrimediva July 7, 2015 - 7:40 PM

No worries! 🙂

Josette July 4, 2015 - 7:44 PM

Great post! I remember reading this story before. I think it was sad that she was so naive to just go and meet someone. So this makes me think that perhaps it was someone she knew. I have the same weird feeling about the Teacher not only because he looks so much like the sketch but because the caller had to be someone whom she felt comfortable with. I don’t know how the center fits into this perhaps this where he seen her name and made the plans on calling her and other girls whom didn’t fall for his call.
I don’t think it could be called an accident, because it was well planned out. I think the person maybe didn’t think it all through because she could identify him. So I don’t think it was something that “set him off” and that’s why he hasn’t killed at least that we know about since then.
I just think it’s really shady the teacher refused to get printed.

Bellalina July 1, 2015 - 5:19 AM

I have a strange feeling about that teacher. He looks almost identical to that sketch of the suspect. And I would have to agree with you. This not seem accidental in the least. Poor little girl. Obviously, none of the other girls he called went to meet him. Sad case.

truecrimediva July 2, 2015 - 1:33 PM

Yes it is a sad case! It’s hard not to look at the teacher when he almost matches the sketch. When I first compared them, I was like, “Whoa!” 🙂 I just hope we find out who killed her one day so the killer can rot in prison.

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True Crime Diva

True Crime Diva

I've blogged true crime since 2010, happily taking up only a tiny corner of the internet. I'm not here for attention; I'm here to tell you their stories.

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