"I feel as though I am looking for Michaela, but I don’t know where. I honestly feel lost in the dark.”
-Sharon Murch, Michaela's mother
It was the 19th of November 1988. A Saturday. Just a few days before Thanksgiving. Nine year old Michaela Garecht was out with her friend Katrina Rodriguez. They left home at 10am that morning and rode their scooters to the Rainbow Market in Hayward, California, United States which was just two blocks away from where they lived.
Just twenty three minutes later, at 10.23am, the Hayward Police Department received a report that a child had been abducted. That child was Michaela Garecht.
Police discovered that the two girls, Michaela and Katrina, rode their scooters to a store at Rainbow Market and left the scooters outside the store, just at the door. But when they left the store, they found that only one scooter was there. They saw the second scooter in the parking lot at the market. It was beside a parked car. Michaela ran to the scooter to retrieve it and as she bent down to pick it up, she was grabbed by a man who had been sitting inside the parked car. He picked her up with his right arm around her waist and put her into the front seat of his car. As the scene unfolded in front of Katrina and other witnesses, Michaela screamed for help. The man backed out of the parking lot and drove away at speed.
Katrina ran into the store to seek assistance and the store clerk called police.
Miscommunication at the outset led to a description of the wrong man being released to the public. The store clerk told police that the man seen taking Michaela was hippy like, in his thirties with a mustache and drove a burgundy colored car. She thought that it was a different man in the parking lot who had taken Michaela.
But in reality, Katrina and two other witnesses saw the man who took Michaela and he was a white man in his early twenties, 6 feet tall and slender. He had blue eyes and long dirty blond hair. He also had severe acne or pockmarks on his face. The man drove a large sedan and it was either cream or tannish gold in color. The front bumper was damaged and it looked like the car may have been involved in a car accident.
Prints were taken from the handlebars and fork of the scooter, and compared with those of possible suspects but no matches were found.
Michaela's abduction received widespread media coverage but no trace of her was found.
Despite all the coverage, thousands of tips, leads and even possible suspects, nobody was charged in relation to Michaela's case and it went cold. The evidence was looked at again thirty years later. All of the evidence on file, the leads, witnesses and possible suspects were reexamined.
Hayward police got a break in the case when Fremont police contacted them and advised them to look at the possibility that a man called David Misch may be connected to Michaela's disappearance. Fremont police had recently investigated David Misch for a double homicide from 1986.
David was convicted in 1990 of the second degree murder of thirty six year old Margaret Ball in her Hayward home and sentenced to 18 years to life in prison. She was stabbed to death. He was subsequently charged while incarcerated in 2018 with the Fremont double homicide. The Fremont double murder relates to the 1986 killings of eighteen year old Michelle Xavier and twenty year old Jennifer Duey. On the 2nd of February 1986, Michelle and Jennifer, who had been best friends for years, went to a birthday dinner at a restaurant. When they left the restaurant, they were last seen at a 7-Eleven by their boyfriends. They stopped there on the way home.
Shortly after midnight, a motorcyclist found their naked bodies on the side of the secluded Mill Creek Road. They were covered in blood. They had been shot and stabbed.
Michelle’s car was found six miles away in the parking lot of a shopping center. Their purses and identification were never found. Police believed that it was a random killing and the case went cold for thirty years. Due to advances in DNA, David Misch was arrested and charged in relation to their deaths.
The Fremont police who arrested and charged David in relation to the Fremont double murder notified the Hayward police as they believed he may have been involved in Michaela's disappearance.
Michelle Xavier and Jennifer Duey
Hayward police who were looking into Michaela's case reexamined the evidence and David's prints and DNA. The prints found on the handlebars of the scooter were determined to be a match to David's prints. The ability to compare prints had improved since 1988 due to software, technology and science. Two eyewitnesses identified David in a photo lineup as having been in a car in the parking lot just before the abduction.
Thirty two years after Michaela was abducted, fifty nine year old David Misch was charged with abduction and murder on the 21st of December 2020. He faces “special circumstance” charges, murder during the commission of a kidnapping and with a prior murder conviction, which can carry a sentence of death or life in prison without the possibility of parole, because of his conviction for the murder of Margaret Ball.
David's lawyer, Ernie Castillo,said that David “denies the allegations against him and will fight these charges."
Detective Robert Purnell of the Hayward Police Department said:
“I believe that it is reasonable to conclude that having violently abducted the victim, a 9-year-old girl, who hasn’t been seen in 32 years, and whose remains have never been found, that David murdered the victim, disposed of her remains, and has successfully kept her remains hidden from authorities.”
After the charges were announced, Michaela’s mother, Sharon Murch, released a statement. She had hoped that one day she would find Michaela alive but now accepts that she is probably no longer alive:
“What I did not envision was my daughter as a dead child. It was only when I heard this news, that this vision of reality appeared, and I honestly have not figured out what to do with it.”
Sharon asked police for all the details of David's past and the violence he inflicted on others. She said:
“If Michaela could experience it, I could hear it. The thoughts of her fear, her pain, her grief, are overwhelming.”
Michaela Garecht was last seen wearing a white t-shirt with the word "Metro" across the front and pictures of people on the midsection. She had on denim pants rolled above her knees, black shoes, and wore three-inch pearl or white colored earrings which resembled feathers. She has not been seen since the 19th of November 1988.
Michaela was taken at a time when parents feared for the safety of their children in the Bay Area. Michaela was the second of three girls abducted from the area. Seven year old Amber Swartz-Garcia was taken in Pinole months before Michaela's abduction and thirteen year old ice skater Ilene Misheloff disappeared shortly after while walking home from school in Dublin.
Amber Swartz-Garcia was kidnapped on the 3rd of June 1988 in Pinole , California. Amber was not normally allowed to play outside unless supervised by an adult but that day, the 3rd of June, Amber’s mother Kim Swartz allowed her to play outside in the front yard. Amber was playing jump rope.
In the space of just a few minutes, Amber disappeared. Kim couldn’t find her and realized she was missing. Kim ran up and down the street, knocking on doors, and screaming Amber’s name.
Amber was the daughter of Bernie Swartz, a police officer, and Kim Swartz. Her father was shot and killed four months before her birth. He was fatally shot in 1980 while attempting to arrest a murder suspect. The suspect, James Odle, was later arrested and sentenced to death.
In 2009, police and the FBI announced that Amber’s case was closed. They said that a convicted murderer, Curtis Dean Anderson, confessed to Amber’s murder in 2007. Curtis was already in prison in relation to different charges. He was convicted of kidnapping and murdering Xiana Fairchild of Vallejo, California in 2000. She was just seven years old. Xiana disappeared while walking to school. Her partial remains were later found in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He was also convicted of kidnapping and sexually assaulting another girl, eight year old Midsi Sanchez. Midsi managed to escape.
Just one month after Curtis confessed to Amber’s murder, he died in prison and police did not have an opportunity to question him further.
Before his death, Curtis told the FBI that the day Amber was kidnapped, he was driving to his aunt’s house in Arizona. He said that he wanted some company and stopped off in Pinole as it was an area he knew well. He saw Amber in her front yard playing.
Curtis opened the door of his car and dragged Amber inside. On the way to Arizona, he kept her sedated with root beer schnapps. Curtis told the FBI that he murdered Amber in a motel room in the Tucson area, put her body in the trunk of his car and tried to cross the border into Mexico. He was refused entry by border agents as he was intoxicated so he disposed of Amber’s body in the Arizona desert off Highway 10 near Benson instead.
A search was carried out in the area but no human remains were found. No evidence was found to corroborate the confession. Amber's mother Kim wanted the case reopened as she needed something more concrete, some actual physical evidence, to have some sort of closure.
Even though the FBI profiler who conducted the prison interview with Curtis was convinced Curtis told the truth, police have since reopened the case as new technology will allow them to better process age-old evidence.
Curtis Dean Anderson
In the release announcing the case had been reopened, Pinole police said:
"No information or evidence has been received that would dispute the confession made by Curtis Dean Anderson. However, Amber Swartz has not been located and consequently, effective immediately, the Pinole Police Department is modifying the status of the Amber Swartz case from closed to open."
The third girl who went missing from the Bay Area around the same time was thirteen year old Ilene Misheloff. Police in Ilene’s case will also reexamine this case following the charges brought in Michaela’s case.
Ilene went missing on the 30th of January 1989 while walking home from Wells Middle School in Dublin, California. It was a Monday. She was dismissed early as part of a physical education contract where she satisfied the school’s P.E. requirements through ice skating. Ilene was a keen ice skater.
Her mother, Maddi Misheloff, wanted her to take the bus. But Ilene wanted to walk home that day as it was a sunny day.
Ilene left school at 2.30pm that day and likely walked down Penn Drive and turned onto Amador Valley Boulevard. The exact route she took home that day is not known. Her parents said they later learned teenagers would often follow Martin Canyon Creek back home because it was a shortcut.
She was seen walking alone on Amador Valley Boulevard near Village Parkway that afternoon at around 3pm. That was the last known sighting of her.
Ilene's key fob was later found near the entrance to John Mape Park which was along the route she would normally take if walking home. It was less than half a mile from her home.
Maddi expected a call from Ilene that afternoon. Ilene normally rang her to let her know she was home from school. She was a studious girl and had dreams of studying to become a pediatrician so when the call didn’t come, Maddi wasn’t overly worried as Ilene, if she wasn’t studying, would usually be at the ice rink. Maddi was at work that day and after work, she went to the ice rink around 4.30pm or 5pm where Ilene normally practised. But Maddi immediately noticed Ilene wasn’t there and was concerned.
Ilene’s coaches told Maddi that they had driven to the family home around 3.30pm to pick Ilene up but she wasn’t at home.
Maddi called her husband, Mike Misheloff, at his office to see if he dropped off her skates at the rink that day and if he saw Ilene. He hadn’t. No one knew where Ilene was. Maddi reported her missing to the police.
A bloodhound sniffed one of Ilene’s shirts to search for a potential scent within the first few days of her disappearance but nothing was found. Mike walked along the creek for hours calling his daughter’s name. He organized an office staffed by local volunteers who printed and mailed posters with Ilene’s picture on them across the state and country. But, to date, no trace of Ilene has been found.
Anyone with information regarding Ilene Misheloff’s disappearance should contact Dublin Police Sergeant Alan Corpuz at (925) 833-6670. All tips will remain anonymous.
Anyone with information on Amber’s whereabouts is urged to call Pinole police at 510-724-8950.
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