CLEVELAND - Instead of just telling us the address of where a new memorial was erected, Bay Village Police Detective Lt. Mark Spaetzel offered to personally escort myself and photographer Ted Kortan to the memorial the city of Bay Village made to honor Amy Mihaljevic.
As the rain poured down on Wednesday afternoon, Spaetzel stood quietly looking at the memorial in a park on Wolf Road, across the street from where then-10-year-old Amy was abducted at Bay Village Square. [For more coverage of Amy's case, including an interactive timeline, click here. ]
Oct. 27 marks the 22nd anniversary of the kidnapping and murder of Amy Mihaljevic. Spaetzel was on the case then and still is now.
Amy would have been 33 years old this December. But her life ended at the hands of a murderer who has never been caught. It's a violent crime that started with a phone call from her killer.
The memorial has Amy's image and a picture of a horse on it. Amy's passion was horses; riding them and grooming them.
Police said Amy told classmates Oct. 27, 1989 that she was going to meet a man after school who called her house. She left her bike at the old Bay Middle School that afternoon and walked up to the plaza after school on a beautiful fall day, Spaetzel said.
"There was a phone call or phone calls to lure Amy to Bay Square under the guise her mom got a promotion at work and they wanted Amy to go with them to get this present. So Amy thought someone was going to pick her up to go shopping to get a present for her mom," Spaetzel told NewsChannel5 on Wednesday. He added that two classmates saw a man whisper in Amy's ear before she walked away with him.
Several general police sketches of the man were made. After months of Amy's mother, Margaret, and her father, Mark, pleading for her return on local and national TV, Amy's body was found by a jogger along a remote road in Ashland County on Feb. 8 1990.
Police said Amy's riding boots, turquoise horse head-shaped earrings and a Buick "Best in Class" notebook her dad gave her were never found. But investigators and profilers have a theory.
"Those are the type of items that someone who would commit this type of crime would keep as souvenirs. They want something to remember the event by," Spaetzel said.
Over the last 22 years, Spaetzel and his colleagues have received more 20,000 tips and have questioned numerous suspects.
"Thousands and thousands of interviews with numerous people of interest, and we don't feel like we're any closer than we were before," Spaetzel said.
Now, as the anniversary of Amy's abduction approaches, Spaetzel hopes the years have washed away the fear or apprehension that anyone had who wanted to come forward with information, including the killer.
"I'd love for the person who did this to give me a call and let me know why it happened. And give them a chance to explain. And anyone with information, I would love to hear from them, and if the person who did this is still out there feeling guilty about this, we'd love to talk to them," Spaetzel said.
This past spring there was a new twist involving one of the suspects Bay Village police questioned in 1995.
Seven Hills resident Frank Dienes goes on trial Nov. 14 after police said he shot and killed longtime friend Joe Kopp, and buried Kopp in his backyard. Turned out Kopp, whose family said had mental health issues, was telling people for years that Dienes killed Amy.
Police said Dienes did flooring work in Mihaljevic's neighborhood, possibly at her home, and his family owned a hunting cabin near the country road where Amy's body was found.
"We'd like to sit down with Frank and speak with him. He's an intriguing person because he might have worked at her home. And he has shown the ability to kill or he's been charged with that, and that creates an interesting dynamic," Spaetzel said.
Dienes's attorney has said his client was cleared long ago in Amy's case. But Bay Village police said Dienes is still one of several suspects and police want to talk with him again about Amy.
Amy's case was hampered by a lack of technology at the time. Evidence gathering has come a long way since 1989.
"For example, phone calls today. Everything is digitized. Phones can be tracked, but back in ‘89 only long-distance calls could be traced and we did all that. But this was a local call. Had this crime happened today, I'm a hundred percent confident it would have been solved," Spaetzel said.
Twenty-two years later, Amy's disappearance and murder still deeply affects many people and remains a mystery.
"This hits home for everybody. Either everybody has children or nieces and nephews and so on, and people can relate to the innocence of a child. And when that innocence is stolen, we don't easily forget and I don't think this community has forgotten," Spaetzel said.
The day Amy disappeared, it just so happened Lt. Spaetzel spoke to Amy's class about general safety. He didn't realize it was her class, until weeks after her disappearance. Months later he was
assigned the case on a full-time basis at the time.
Spaetzel told me he doesn't like calling Amy's case a cold case because he said the box of files on the case is always open. Everyday when he goes to work he sees Amy's picture and pictures of the likeness of personal items that were never found on a poster inside the Bay Village Police Station.
If you would like to share information about this case you can call Bay Village Police at 440-871-1234.