New evidence in the murder of Amy Mihaljevic, which the FBI believes could have a connection to Amherst, may be the biggest break yet in solving the nearly 27-year-old cold case.
A homemade curtain and blanket were found near Mihaljevic’s body in February 1990, just a few months after she was abducted from Bay Village Square Shopping Center. They were kept under wraps until June 23 when they were revealed at a press conference by the FBI, Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office, Bay Village police department, and Ashland County Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators have long debated whether the items, found down the road from Amy’s body in an Ashland County farm field, were related to the case. Now forensic evidence matches hair collected from the items to hair taken from Mihaljevic’s dog, they say.
“Someone stitched this together inside their home and hung (it) on their tall, narrow window,” wrote journalist and author James Renner, who has followed the case for decades. “Someone missed this curtain when it was gone — or at least noticed it was missing. Other fibers and hairs were discovered on the curtain and blanket as well, meaning they may be able to link these items to the killer and his home in the future.”
Mihaljevic was abducted from the Bay Village Square Shopping Center. She was found stabbed to death and had been dealt a heavy blow to the back of her head.
Renner published a series of articles in 2005 in Cleveland Scene magazine pertaining to the case. He combined this research with what was already known in the official investigation to publish “Amy: My Search For Her Killer” in 2006.
All of his files, which ended up being the largest private collection of material on the case in existence, were donated to the department of special collections and archives at Kent State University.
“I was the same age as Amy,” he said. “When I was a kid I saw posters all over the place. When I became a journalist I knew I wanted to follow it.”
Renner has also run www.amymihaljevic.blogspot.com since his work on the case began. The blog acts as a quick reference for new findings and old points of interest in the case.
He says the FBI keeps a “top 25” list of suspects in the case. Several personalities stand out to Renner.
Kevin Furlong was convicted of killing an 11-year-old girl in Michigan in 2015. He worked for General Motors in 1989, the same company that Amy’s father, Mark Mihaljevic worked for. A source told Renner that Furlong sometimes transferred to Ohio for six-month work stints in 1989.
Vern Hartenburg served as the president of the Cleveland MetroParks from 1988 to 2010. According to Renner, Hartenburg committed himself to a mental health facility 10 days following the Mihaljevic abduction because he feared his own sexual urges. After retiring, Hartenburg was found guilty of public indecency in 2011 for exposing himself to an undercover officer in Brooklyn.
Renner has also looked closely at former Amherst and Vermilion teacher Dean Runkle.
Why so suspicious?
Runkle was investigated by both police and school officials with regard to inappropriate behavior with students during his tenure in both school districts, Renner said. He also frequented the Lake Erie Nature and Science center in 1989 and a number of young girls who spent time at the center, including Mihaljevic, received suspicious phone calls shortly before the abduction. And in 1989, Runkle lived two blocks from where Mihaljevic’s body was found.
Renner said gold fibers found on Amy’s body match those found on the upholstery of the Grand Am that Runkle drove in 1989.
Runkle abruptly quit as a Nord Middle School biology teacher in 2003 when he was asked to provide fingerprints to renew his teaching license.
He then moved to Key West, Fla., and lived at a homeless shelter for six months before becoming a manager at a fast food restaurant.
“I am not certain of anyone’s guilt that I’ve investigated,” said Renner. “There are very few people, though, who are as interesting as Dean Runkle. A former teacher of the year gets as far away from Bay Village as possible without leaving the United States. We don’t know for sure if he is involved in the case but we do know for sure that he acted inappropriately with students in Amherst and Vermilion.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Photos courtesy of Bay Village Police A curtain found near Amy Mihaljevic’s body that investigators suspect to be homemade, which could make it easier to find out where it came from.