SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The disappearance of Pamela Jackson and Cheryl ‘Sherri’ Miller 52 years ago plagued the families, law enforcement and the surrounding community for more than four decades.
On May 29, 1971, the two Vermillion High School juniors were on their way to a keg party at a gravel pit in Union County, driving Miller’s grandfather’s 1960 Studebaker Lark. Friends of the 17-year-olds provided the girls with directions before leading them toward the party in a different vehicle.
According to court documents, Pat Gale, Steve Glass and Mark Logterman were in the car ahead of Miller and Jackson. The boys later said that while driving north, they missed the turn for the gravel pit and had to turn around. When they continued south back toward the party, they no longer saw the headlights of the Studebaker.
Ken Mollet and Mary Kay Larson were in a vehicle behind the Jackson and Miller and recalled that the Studebaker turned left, away from the gravel pit, rather than right.
That was the last time anyone would see the girls alive.
An old tip leads nowhere
After a search for the girls and the car, the case eventually went cold as law enforcement had few leads to pursue.
The only tip for investigators came in June of 1971 when Jackson’s neighbor, Victor Hansen, told the Clay County Sheriff’s Office about a phone call he overheard. Hansen alleged that he heard a conversation between Jackson and a man named David about the man slamming a car door on Jackson’s hand.
Without a last name, though, the tip led to nowhere.
That is until 2004 when the Attorney General’s Office created a cold-case unit which reinvigorated the case as a potential homicide.
In September of that year, the state issued a search warrant against David Lykken in connection with the girls’ disappearance. Lykken, who was imprisoned for rape and kidnapping, became a suspect in the case due to his family’s farm being close to where the girls disappeared. An investigation into Lykken at the time of the disappearance and in the years following showed a violent, angry man according to court documents.
An inmate told police that Lykken had confessed to the murder of Jackson and Miller leading the state to charge the already imprisoned man with kidnapping and murder.
Police searched the Lykken farm in Alcester searching for the bodies of the girls or any evidence that might indicate Lykken’s involvement in their disappearance.
Later, it was revealed that the informant had lied about the alleged confession and charges against Lykken were dropped.
Lykken remains in prison where he’s serving 225 years for rape, kidnapping and burglary.
The case, once again, went cold.
Answers emerge more than 40 years later
After four decades with no answers, the families of the missing girls finally found closure in 2013.
Years of flooding in the Brule Creek followed by a drought brought the 1960 Studebaker to the surface and with it came answers that had long eluded police and the families of the teen girls.
Once the car was pulled out of the vehicle, Attorney General Marty Jackley said that the girls’ remains were found in the front seat of the car, the gear shift was in third gear, the lights were still on and the keys remained in the ignition which was switched on. Also found in the vehicle was Miller’s purse containing her driver’s license and notes written by her classmates.
It was determined that the girls crashed and that there was no foul play involved.
The discovery of the vehicle and the girls remains closed the case that had haunted the Vermillion community for over four decades. For the families of Jackson and Miller, it meant finally receiving the closure they had been searching for since 1971.
“Our day has come through this journey for answers pertaining to our beloved sister Sherri and dear friend Pam, for we will now be able to finish the last chapter of this journey,” the family of Miller said through a statement read by Jackley at a press conference.
While the case is finally closed, it has long stuck with former KELOLAND News reporter Lou Raguse who followed the case for many years. Raguse’s interest in the case led him to writing a book, Vanished in Vermillion.
KELOLAND News reporter and anchor Don Jorgenson spoke with Raguse about the book in a recent Eye On KELOLAND.