BAY VILLAGE, Ohio — Twenty-nine years to the day after Amy Mihaljevic’s body was found, authorities are hoping new advancements in DNA technology may soon bring them closer to identifying her killer.
Bay Village police are confirming that DNA from more then one source was found on Amy when the little girl’s body was recovered from a remote field in Ashland County on February 8, 1990.
“We have DNA that cannot be attributed to Amy or her family,” says Bay Village Police Chief Mark Spaetzel.
The DNA is limited, and is not a complete profile of any one person. It is also not the type of DNA that is used in the nationwide criminal database.
That type of DNA, known as “nuclear DNA” is more exacting.
The other type of DNA, known as “mitochondrial DNA”, is what was found on Amy’s body from sources other then her family.
“There’s no mitochondrial database to insert our DNA into to see what it will match up against,” says Chief Spaetzel.
“You need nuclear DNA to really identify somebody,” says Dr. Fredrick Schumacher, a statistical geneticist at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine.
“Mitochondrial DNA,” he adds, “can really eliminate an individual (as a suspect).”
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for the future.
“We may get to an identification of an individual off of mitochondrial DNA,” Dr. Schumacher says, “if you look at the current literature, there are some groups arguing that’s possible. It’ll just be awhile before that can be confirmed.”
Ten-year-old Amy Mihaljevic disappeared in late October of 1989 from a quaint shopping plaza in Bay Village.
She told friends she was meeting a man who was going to help her buy a surprise gift for her mother, Margaret, who had received a promotion, or a job change, at work.
Two friends, one on either side of the plaza, saw Amy heading into the parking lot that day with the suspect, whose police sketch was soon plastered all over the news.
One friend saw the man put his hand on the middle of Amy’s back. Neither friend saw the two get into a car.
Amy was never seen alive again.
Police would like to talk to anyone who was a friend of Amy’s mother, who died in 2001, because they believe those friends may have information that could be important to the case, only they may not realize it.
“When you look at how this abduction occurred, it all revolved around Margaret, her work, we’re buying her a present, and so forth,” says Chief Spaetzel, “so we’re hoping Margaret shared information with a friend.”
The chief, who as a young officer spoke to Amy’s class the day she was kidnapped, confirms that they know Margaret kept a diary or a journal, but it was never recovered after she passed away.
While police have never named a suspect, they doubt the killer will turn out to be one of the few people who’ve been considered at the top of the list for years.
Chief Spaetzel says, for decades, they’ve been “doing interviews, doing search warrants, we’re doing polygraphs, we’re doing DNA.”
“I would be surprised if (one of) those individuals did (turn out to be the killer) because we’ve done so much work on them,” he says.
The recent airing of a docudrama on the Investigation Discovery channel, brought in 75-100 tips – many that authorities had heard before.
Still, police remain convinced that some tip may help them crack the case – even all these years later.
“Trust us,” Chief Spaetzel says, “we get tips where people say, ‘I didn’t call 29 years ago, and I feel weird calling now.’ That’s okay; that happens all the time.”
Authorities remind people that it is fine to leave a tip anonymously.
The number to call is (440) 871-1234.
Bay Village police, the FBI, and retired FBI agent Phil Torsney (who helped track down Boston mobster Whitey Bulger decades after he disappeared) all continue to work on the case.
Chief Spaetzel says the state of so-called “familial DNA” technology will not help in this case at this moment – given how limited the DNA is that authorities have.
So, unlike with the alleged Golden State killer in California, he says authorities won’t be able to use public websites to see if a family member of Amy’s killer submitted a DNA sample – and then work backwards to find the murderer.
Still, given the rapid advancements in technology, authorities have made the decision to hold back on testing some DNA.
“So we know we have certain things we can do with DNA today,” Chief Spaetzel says, “and if we do that, we will destroy it.”
“So what we want to do is preserve what we have left, “ he adds, because, “we’re hoping that technology develops where we can make a complete profile from what we have.”
Amy’s father, Mark, who is now 72 years old and still lives in the area, believes authorities are on the right track.
“The road is narrowing on the person who did this,” he says.
Twenty-nine years later, everyone hopes he is right.