Amy: My Search for Her Killer
Secrets and Suspects in the Unsolved Murder of Amy Mihaljevic
by James Renner
Poignant and wonderfully well-written. Richard North Patterson, New York Times bestselling author of Silent Witness
“I fell in love with Amy Mihaljevic not long before her body was discovered lying facedown in an Ashland County wheat field. I fell for her the first time I saw that school photo TV stations flashed at the beginning of every newscast in the weeks following her kidnapping in the autumn of 1989—the photo with the side-saddle ponytail . . .”
So begins this strange and compelling memoir in which a young journalist investigates the cold case that has haunted him since childhood.
It's one of Northeast Ohio's most frustrating unsolved crimes. Ten-year-old Amy Mihaljevic (Muh-ha-luh-vick) disappeared from the comfortable Cleveland suburb of Bay Village. Thousands of volunteers, police officers, and FBI agents searched for the girl, who was tragically found dead a few months later. Her killer was never found.
Fifteen years later, journalist James Renner picks up the leads. Filled with mysterious riddles, incredible coincidences, and a cast of odd but very real characters, his investigation quickly becomes a riveting journey in search of the truth.
Illustrations: 19 black-and-white photographs
Poignant and wonderfully well-written. Richard North Patterson, Silent Witness
Reads more like a screenplay than your typical tell all crime story. It is compelling, riveting and hard to set down. The characters are flushed out and frighteningly honest . . . A well written, passionate narrative that has a place on your shelf, but more importantly a place in your thoughts. Sadly, it is necessary to remind ourselves bad people live around us, watch our children and are dangerous. Renner brings that to light all too well. Cuyahoga Falls News Press
Reads like a who-done-it, with lively and fast-paced narrative. Morning Journal
Meticulously-crafted and engaging. coolcleveland.com
Video for Amy: My Search for Her Killer
About James Renner
James Renner is a novelist, freelance journalist, and blogger. In his spare time, he hunts serial killers. His true crime stories have been published in the Best American Crime Reporting and Best Creative Nonfiction anthologies. His film adaptation of a Stephen King story was an official selection at the 2005 Montreal World Film Festival. A graduate of Kent State University, Renner lives in Akron, Ohio. More About James Renner
Question & Answer with the author...
Q: There are other unsolved murders in Northeast Ohio, including other child-abduction cases. Why did you choose to write about Amy Mihaljevic?
A: This is the one that affected me. I was about the same age as Amy in 1989, when she was abducted. I followed the story closely. I wanted to find her—I actually looked for her in crowds whenever I would go to the mall or out in the street. I was heartbroken when her body was discovered in February 1990. It was the first time I realized that there were adults out there who could do evil things.
Q: Amy Mihaljevic's murder was almost seventeen years ago. Why write about it now?
A: As soon as I became a staff writer at a newspaper I went after the story. It was simply the first opportunity I had to write it. It's still unsolved. I think it can be solved.
Q: Have you written about crime before?
A: As a journalist I have written about a number of crimes. I followed the rules of journalism in all cases—except for Amy Mihaljevic. I tossed out the rules for this case because it was so personal to me. I lied to people, I talked my way into places I shouldn't have been in, and I stood on the thin line between what is legal and what is not in order to get the answers I needed. I'm comfortable with that decision.
Q: You started out writing a newspaper article on the topic. Why did this case call for an entire book?
A: Just the sheer complexity of the case and the number of people involved. There were more than sixty FBI agents working it at one time. They looked at about fifty suspects. So many people were affected by this case, and there were so many people to talk to. There were a lot of interesting characters. There was no way to do it justice in a 5,000-word newspaper article. And the more research I did, the more questions I found. I wanted to answer them all.
Q: While the book is about Amy Mihaljevic, it's also about you and how you investigated the case. Why did you decide to put yourself in the book?
A: I don't think I could have written it any other way. Pretty early on I realized that I would be a part of the book. First, I wanted to tell how this affected me and let that serve as an example for the hundreds of other people who have been touched by similar crimes. Also, the writing process itself became part of the story. I basically lost my job because of this article and nearly lost my sanity over it.
Q: How did Amy's family and friends feel about your investigating deeply into the topic, possibly reopening old wounds?
A: For the most part everybody was supportive. They want to share this information so that Amy's killer can be found. The family was pretty open, and they provided me with photographs. Amy's friends helped give me insight into Amy's personality.
Q: Did law enforcement officials help you with your research?
A: The police and FBI were a little bit more guarded with their information. When I discovered information and discussed it with them, they would talk about it and maybe confirm it and give me a little more on that subject, but they wouldn't just hand me information. Some retired law enforcement officials were more forthcoming, though.
Q: Were other people involved in the case helpful to you?
A: Some were, some weren't. I believe that the more information, the more clues we share with the public, the quicker we're going to solve this case. But there were some individuals—I call them “Gollums” in the book—who hold onto tiny bits of information they have about the case. It's their precious little ring that they covet and admire, and they don't want to give it up to anybody because it makes them feel special. Whenever I met a person like that, I made it a point to find out their information no matter how difficult that was.
Q: During your investigation you found yourself in several tense situations. Did you ever actually fear for your life?
A: One time I found myself in a crawlspace behind a tiny door inside a possible suspect's apartment, looking for clues back there, and I came across a hidden nook where someone had scribbled all sorts of messages on the wall. The owner of the house could have come home at any time, and it wasn't a good situation for me to be in. The jogger who found Amy's body helped me track down an individual who so closely resembled the police sketch he was like its three dimensional twin. The moment I met him we kind of surprised each other. Whether or not I should have, I certainly feared for my safety at that moment.
Q: This crime is closely associated with Bay Village where the famous Sam Sheppard murder case also occurred. Are there any parallels between the two cases?
A: That was one of the more interesting things I found in my research, the way in which the Sheppard case and the Mihaljevic case kind of intertwined. I don't really know what it means, but the Mihaljevics moved to Bay Village thirty years to the day after Marilyn Sheppard was murdered. And Sam Reese Sheppard, Sam and Marilyn's only child, moved away from Bay Village in the 1970s and didn't return to the area until October 27th, 1989—the day Amy was abducted. He came back to town to give a speech at the City Club to try to get Bay Village to reopen his mother's case and find the real killer. Not too many people noticed, though, because the next day Amy's face was all over the newspaper. Also, one of the first responding officers to the Sheppard crime scene was a man named Gareu; his nephew was the chief of police in Bay Village when Amy was taken. Just little odd things like that.
Q: What new clues about the case are revealed in your book?
A: A number of things that had been falsely reported are reported accurately for the first time in my book. For example, the fact that Amy was kept alive for a number of days, maybe weeks. Her last meal was some sort of soy-based product, possible an energy bar or maybe Chinese food. So someone was keeping her alive somewhere. Amy was not raped. When she was discovered in that field in Ashland County in February of 1990 she had only been there for perhaps 24 hours, maybe as long as three days. She hadn't been there very long. Her body had been very well preserved. She had been kept somewhere cool somewhere outside, maybe inside of a hunting cabin or a fishing lodge somewhere that didn't have heat. I was able to reconstruct a minute-by-minute account of Amy's last day before her abduction. I've spoken to just about everybody who was in the plaza at the time. I've got the first-ever interview with a confirmed eyewitness of the abduction.
Q: Do you plan on continuing your search?
A: It isn't really something I can let go of, for better or for worse. I do believe there are enough clues and new information that if the right person reads this book, the case can be solved. I'll be writing about any new developments in the ase on my blog [the URL is listed in the back of the book]. But I feel that the book itself is a complete story. Even if it lacks a solution to Amy's case, I think there is a resolution there.
Q: What surprised you the most about the case while researching and writing this book?
A: I think what surprised me the most was the number of people who were affected by this tragedy and how nobody has really forgotten her after seventeen years. It's really altered a number of lives, my own included.
Q: Is there a lesson to be learned from this story?
A: We live in a community of fear, which has certainly never been more true. I think we may deserve that way of life because we don't make a point to know each other any more, to get to know our neighbors or the people who our kids are friends with. We shut ourselves off from the world, and that, unfortunately, leads to things like this, where girls can be taken in broad daylight across the street from a police station and nobody notices.
Contains References to:
Alvin Matlock, Amy Mihaljevic, Ashland County, Bay Village, Billy Strunak, Cleveland Cold Cases, Doyle Matlock, Free Times Magazine, James Renner, Ohio Missing Youth, Ohio Murders, Richard Alan Folbert, Scene Magazine