CLEVELAND - Mark Mihaljevic's memories are all he has to hold on to his daughter. They're memories that filter through years of pain.
Nearly 20 years ago, his 10-year-old daughter, Amy, was abducted, molested and killed. Still, her killer eludes police.
Chief investigator Duane Pohlman asked, "You still miss her every day?"
"Yeah," Mihaljevic responded.
On a warm October day in 1989, Amy, a quiet, confident kid, was lured away from the corner of a Bay Village plaza by a man in broad daylight.
Amy's mom desperately tried to reach her daughter as the search for her became a national fury. Amy's picture became an icon.
Three months later, Amy's body was discovered alongside a remote Ashland County road. The unthinkable had happened.
"He not only took the life of Amy. He took the life of a lot of other people with him," Mihaljevic said.
Kristy Sabo, Amy's best friend, said, "It still haunts me ... I have a child, I have another child on the way ... I see it from a mother's point-of-view now. That there's a killer out there."
After two decades, detectives and FBI agents said they've left no stone unturned in their search for Amy's killer. They interviewed thousands and identified more than 100 suspects.
Still, in a stunning admission, the head of the investigation said he has yet to identify a "prime" suspect.
"I do not have a primary suspect No. 1," Lt. Detective Mark Spaetzel of the Bay Village police said.
But what if a key clue about Amy's killer was right under their noses the whole time?
Rick Burns owns a service station just 25 feet away from the spot where Amy was abducted. On the day Amy disappeared, Burns spotted a car waiting in a spot in his lot.
Burns described the situation, "She was right on that corner and the car was right here. All in that line."
The car was sitting in the same direction that a young girl told police Amy and a man were walking toward.
Burns said the same car came around to the pumps that were at his station at the time. The man inside asked him for directions.
Burns said, "He was like, 'Excuse me, how do you get to 480 from here?' And I noticed there was a girl in the back seat."
Burns said the girl looked out of place and was not buckled up in the back seat.
"She looked confused ... and like he doesn't know how to get to 480? I don't know. She was just looking over the seat," Burns said.
Burns said she looked like Amy in that now famous picture, except her hair was different.
Burns said, "Her hair wasn't up in a little bow. It was down."
Burns didn't know it, but that's how Amy usually wore her hair.
"I may be the last person to see Amy Mihaljevic alive," Burns said.
While Burns only got a glance at the girl, he got a good look at the man behind the wheel, which Burns said matches an official sketch.
Burns explained, "(He had a) plain look, like from the country. He had an old man's car. (He) looked pretty innocent, like a teacher."
Burns said he gave the man directions to 480 and went back to work.
"I believe I saw the man that took her," Burns said.
Within hours of Amy's abduction, Burns told the FBI and police what he witnessed. Agents asked for receipts.
Burns said, "We had to take all the receipts out of the cash box."
But Burns also said no one ever followed up with his description of the girl and the mysterious man.
"It (was) 20 years ago, but (this guy) still sticks out in my head. He just didn't seem in place in Bay Village," Burns explained.
Pohlman asked Burns if he would do something the police never did ... have him look at photos of suspects to see if he could spot the man he saw that day. The suspect photographs included pictures of men not connected with this case.
It didn't take long.
Burns stated, "That's him!"
Burns immediately picked out a suspect that matches that sketch. It's a man who a young girl that day identified and the same man police have already interrogated.
Pohlman told Burns to keep looking through the photographs.
But Burns reiterated, "That's him! No doubt, I remember. I have a good memory. That's the guy. That's the guy I gave directions to, he was here that day."
NewsChannel5's Duane Pohlman immediately took the new information to the FBI and to the Bay Village police. While they remain skeptical, James Renner, the journalist and author of the book "Amy: My Search for Her Killer" says what NewsChannel5 uncovered is the biggest break in this case in 20 years.
The investigation continues Monday night at 11 on NewsChannel5.
Copyright 2009 by NewsNet5. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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