Hunting for clues Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe (at right) talks with officers from the Union County sheriff's office and the South Dakota Department of Investigation as they ended Wednesday's search at the Kerwyn Lykken farm, rural Alcester. by David Lias A missing persons case involving two teenage girls from Vermillion has baffled local law enforcement for over three decades.
Investigators have never given up trying to solve the mysterious disappearance of Sheri Miller and Pam Jackson in May of 1971.
This week, the search for clues continues.
On Tuesday, Aug. 24, authorities from the Clay and Union sheriff's offices, the Vermillion Police Department, and the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation began the execution of a search warrant at the Kerwyn Lykken farm, rural Alcester.
"The intent of the search is to learn the fate of two Vermillion girls who have been missing since May 29, 1971," said Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe.
A dirty job
Wednesday evening, investigators concluded their second day of searching the Lykken premises. It is a dirty job, judging from the appearance of some of the officers, coated with grime from head to toe.
Law officers dug through the floor of a farm building Wednesday, hoping to unearth evidence that would explain how Miller and Jackson vanished 33 years ago.
"What we have is a 33-year- old case, and we never closed it," Howe said. "We were always picking it up and looking at it. When Ray Hofman came on the police department, he got interested in it. And when (former sheriff) Dusty Passick came on board � over time, different people would pick it up and look at different things."
A number of leads have turned up over the past three decades, ranging from reports of unidentified female bodies found in other states, to claims by captured serial killers that some of their victims were from South Dakota.
None of the claims brought officials closer to solving the case.
"It's always been like that over the years � a little something would come up that we would run down," Howe said, "but we would never turn up anything that was related to this case."
Time may not be on law enforcement's side, but the state has a new weapon in its arsenal to deal with such mysteries.
"This year the DCI put together a Cold Case Unit, specifically for things like this, so the rest of us can go about our day- to-day work," Howe said. "They've been going at it full time for the last couple of months. This is really the first thing that's disruptive enough to attract attention.
"But the case has been worked actively for months. From that, they (the Cold Case Unit) put together enough information to lead them to believe there might be indications on this farm to tell us what happened to those girls," he said.
Law enforcement's efforts this week have, to some extent, been fruitful.
"We've found a lot of items of interest. Specifically what they are, we aren't releasing," Howe said. "Those items will be sent to the (state crime) lab for analysis to see if they might relate to the girls, their car, or anything else that might tell us where they are or who might know where they are."
Without a trace
Law enforcement hasn't been able to come up with a trace of evidence of the two girls since they disappeared in May 1971.
According to a 1991 investigative report in the Plain Talk by then editor Randall Hunhoff, Miller and Jackson, both 17 and both juniors at Vermillion High School, had arranged to get together the evening of Saturday, May 29.
Pam told her parents that they were going to visit Sheri's grandmother at Dakota Hospital and then "go driving."
Sheri told her half-sister, Rita, that after visiting the hospital, she and Pam were going roller-skating at River Sioux, east of Vermillion, and were then going to a slumber party.
Sheri was driving her grandfather's (Nick Jensen) 1960 Studebaker Lark. It was described as beige or light tan with SD plates 19-3994.
The girls were at the hospital visiting Pearl Jensen, Sheri's grandmother, until about 9:30 p.m. They were seen one more time that evening by three classmates in a church parking lot at Garryowen, just east of I-29 at the Akron exit.
The girls met three acquaintances � Pat Gale, Steve Glass and Mark Logterman, at the Garryowen corner. The three young men were waiting for friends to arrive. They were headed to a keg party located south of Union County Park near a large gravel pit.
They never arrived
Gale gave Sheri directions to
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the party. Glass recalled that the girls followed the boys down Highway 77, but he also remembers that they went about a mile past their turn-off and had to turn around. He did not remember seeing the girls when they doubled back.
"The girls pulled in, and didn't know how to get to the party," Logterman said. "We told them to follow us. I remember them following us."
Logterman said the girls followed them when they turned off Highway 77 onto a gravel road. The boys then missed the turnoff that would have taken them down to the gravel pit.
"We went up a hill and down a hill before we turned around. We didn't see them when we came back. We thought they had figured it out for themselves."
Gale, Glass and Logterman never saw the girls at the party.
"I don't believe they ever got there," Logterman said.
There has been speculation over the years that the girls, while driving in the wrong direction at night, may have wound up in the Missouri River.
The party was held at Gunderson's Chute, located several miles west of Burbank. A gravel road off the Burbank Road leads directly to the bank of the river.
Today, the river is calm in that area. In 1971, it was much different. A swift current had cut the bank back about 50 feet that spring.
In 1991, when drought conditions lowered the river's levels, Passick had the channel explored from Clay County Park to the Ponderosa housing development, hoping to find the Studebaker.
Complicating the investigation immediately after the girls' disappearance was an unwillingness by many young people to talk to law enforcement.
Former Clay County Sheriff Arnold Nelson said the young people were protective. Talking to authorities was not a popular thing to do, especially when the questioning involved illegal parties, drugs and missing people.
Howe said Wednesday that investigators would resume their search at the Lykken farm on Thursday, Aug. 26.
"The search warrant covers all of the outbuildings, houses, and barns on the farm. It's a fairly broad search and it's going to take a little while," he said. "The plan is we are going to continue to search here until we feel we have exhausted it. It's not going to end � when we're done here, the investigation is going to continue until we find out what happened to the girls."