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?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...
“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.
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 Northeast Ohio 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. First love in the heart of an eleven-year-old boy is consuming. One look at that brown-eyed girl and I knew that, if she had gone to my school, she would have been the one I passed notes to behind Miss Kline’s back.
But Amy didn’t go to my school. She went to Bay Middle, which was somewhere on another planet, far from the sub-suburban cow town where I lived with my father. I had a vague notion, though, that Bay Village was somewhere near my mother’s apartment in Rocky River. When I visited Mom every other weekend, I looked for Amy’s face in the crowds at Westgate Mall, hoping to find her wandering the aisles at Waldenbooks—as if she’d simply been lost there the whole time. I would be the one to lead her home.
Throughout the last part of October and the whole of November 1989, local newscasts began their six o’clock coverage with updates on the investigation. It was my routine to come home from school and turn on the TV to see if there were any new developments, to see if she’d finally been found. I watched closely. I learned to pronounce that difficult last name—“Mah-hal-leh-vick.” I memorized the face of her abductor from the police-artist sketches and searched for him in crowds.
With time, the reports became less frequent. A brief news segment in December covered her eleventh birthday party, which her family celebrated without her. Then the reports dropped off altogether. But I knew she was alive. She had to be. I was supposed to meet the girl in that photo. Maybe at a high-school football game five years in the future. Or in college. She would be found, and I would get to tell her that I never stopped looking for her.
On Thursday, February 8, 1990, I came home and flipped on the television. I sat cross-legged in front of it, and when the tube finally warmed up, her face was on the screen. It was that fifth-grade class picture again. I turned the volume up and listened as my innocence died.
The news anchors cut to aerial pictures of County Road 1181 in Ashland County. Men in dark trench coats milled about a wheat field, tiny black specs in a sea of brown. The image was strangely ethereal, like the final glimpse of earth seen by a detached soul. It was here, they said, that Amy’s body had been found. A jogger had spotted what looked like a large doll lying on the frozen ground during a morning run. That patch of road they kept showing looked as far from the civilized cul-de-sacs of Bay Village as anyone could get. I didn’t see a single house in the background. Just a ragged field stretching to the horizon. It looked desolate. It looked unkind.
Police and FBI were guarded with information, but there were some details. We learned Amy was stabbed in the neck and hit on the head with a blunt instrument. No word on time of death. She was found fully clothed, but no one was sure what exactly that meant, yet. The composite sketches of her abductor appeared again, under an urgent voice-over. The news anchor couldn’t stress one fact enough—further tests were being conducted to determine if she had been sexually assaulted.
I swallowed the information like a diluted poison, feeling it burn away a kind of protective inner coating that had once made me feel safe. Years later, when I tried my first cigarette at Seven Ranges Boy Scout Camp, I would remember this feeling—like healthy tissue being singed by flames. Still, I couldn’t stop listening to the details. I couldn’t stop the words from forming scenarios in my head—silent films that obeyed all the new facts and ended with Amy’s body in that field.
I would not be the one who would find her and bring her back to her mother. That was a fantasy I could no longer indulge. Sitting there, staring into the smiling eyes of a girl now dead, I began to entertain a different dream. Adrenaline lit up my senses, making them detailed and fine. Now I pictured myself tracking down her killer, following him back to his lair. I saw myself knocking on his door, a snub-nosed revolver tucked under the waistband of my raggedy jeans. When he answered, I filled him with hot lead. I’d become an eleven-year-old vigilante.
My dad, home from work, interrupted this macabre daydream.
“She’s dead,” I offered as a greeting.
“I know, I heard it on the radio,” he said. He came and sat next to me. He was bulky with muscle, a bushy beard shadowing his face, towering over me at five feet, eight inches. Most days, I didn’t see him until just before bedtime. He owned a fledgling construction business with his brother and often worked late pounding two-by-fours or laying shingle after the crew had already gone home. That day, he was home very early.
I quickly noted the affable expression on his face. His eyes were open wide and he was forcing a smile. I knew better than to trust that mock casualness. Then, as now, when my father adopts a look of non-concern it can only mean there’s some trouble that he’s still riddling out a way to break to me.
At first, I interpreted this as concern for my emotional state. He must have noticed how closely I had followed the case since October. But there was another reason he was home early, and what he said next linked me to Amy in a way that, as the coming years would reveal, not even her death could sever. Her death was about to become a part of me.
“I need you to know something,” my dad said. “I’ve been getting . . . some death threats.”
Inside a scrawny chest, my heart skipped a beat. “What? Somebody wants to kill you?”
My dad snapped off the television. Amy’s image shrank away to a speck of white in the center of the screen.
“No. Somebody wants to kill you.”
I didn’t know what to say. Was he joking? The fear in his eyes told me he definitely was not.
“Remember that guy I fired a couple months ago?”
My dad nodded his head.
“Why is he mad at me?”
“He’s not,” my dad said. “He’s mad at me. He’s really, really mad at me. And he’s crazy. That’s why I fired him. He’s not all there in the head. He left a note for me the other day. It said he was going to come after you. You or your sister.”
I thought of Joline, only four years old. I thought of Amy. I thought of two men I could hate.
“He’s all talk,” my dad continued. “He’s a coward, really. Okay? I don’t think he’s really going to try anything.”
Liar, I thought. I know you’re lying. Why else would you be telling me this?
He looked at me with a mixture of caution and shame. “Do you know what to do if you’re ever abducted?”
I hadn’t watched three months of reports on a kidnapping without learning a little. “Make a lot of noise,” I said. “I should scream for help and try to get away. I should kick him in the nuts?”
My dad laughed a little at that, which was good. It washed away some of the fear from his eyes. But he had reason to worry—especially as his business grew. There would be nights, years later, when we faced off against other enemies as they broke into our house. On those nights my dad carried a baseball bat. I carried a bowling pin. This was only the first day I realized such danger was possible. He wanted me to be prepared, as if he could sense the future.
“Good,” he said. “But what about if you find yourself back at their house and they tie you up or handcuff you to a couch?”
I tried to imagine such a thing.
“They said on the radio that they were going to do an autopsy on that girl, Amy,” my dad said. “I tried to think why they would want to do that after three months. I tried to think what kind of clues they were hoping to find. And then I thought if she was real smart they might find everything they needed.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
My dad paused, perhaps searching for a way to put into words the idea he’d been running through his mind on the way home. Finally, he looked me directly in the eyes. No sign of fear anymore, only cold resolve. “If you ever find yourself in that situation, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to put everything you can into your mouth. Pull out pieces of the carpet. Bits of the couch. Hairs you might find lying on the floor. Knickknacks that you can reach. Anything. I want you to swallow it all down. As much as you can. That way, if this happens—if what happened to Amy Mihaljevic happens to you—when they do the autopsy, we can find out who did it.” He leaned forward. I smelled a hint of Old Spice.
“And then I’ll know who I should kill.”
[Excerpted from Amy: My Search for Her Killer, © James Renner. All rights reserved. Gray & Company, Publishers.]
Pitching the Story
The Curious Case of Richard Alan Folbert
The Second-Worst Way to Die
Interlude I: West Allis Sweethearts
Holly Hill Farms
County Road Eleven Eighty-One
Back to Holly Hill
The Naked Neighbor
Breakfast with Amy
Mark and Henrietta
The Tragic Life of Billy Strunak
Interlude II: Case # BV-8900713
Down the Rabbit Hole
Special Agent Father Dunn
The Man in Charge
New Job, New Lead
Strange Characters in the Firelands
The Gift Giver
The Man Next Door
Interlude III: Minute by Minute
A Return to Bay Village
As Far As I Can Go
Posted August 3, 2007
For being a true story, this book was written with little literary or journalistic regard. The author sensationalizes every aspect of this case and writes like an amature high school paper reporter. He manages to make every person involved look bad, from Amy's mother to classmates who found themselves in the horrible situation of being witness to her abduction. He even goes so far as to insinuate that Amy's good friend tries to tempt him into cheating on his wife when he interviews her. Please! In case someone missed this fact, the author had no relation to Amy, did not live in Bay Village at any point in his life and certainly does not understand what it was like to live in a small, suburban town when every parent's worst nightmare comes true. The author made a choice to sensationalize a horrible story for his own gain. If he really wanted to tell the real story, he would have been careful not to villanize the people who tried so hard to solve this case. He also would have left himself out of the story completely.
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Posted February 7, 2007
This is an excellent book. The author makes you feel as if you knew Amy. His relentless search for justice is very emotional and his honesty shines through. Regardless of how many doors were slammed in his face, he continued his journey. By the time I finished this book, I felt as if I knew Amy. This book made me smile and cry. Once I started this book, I didn't put it down, until I finished it. I highly recommend this book.
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