SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There’s a new book out about two teenage Vermillion girls who seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth back in the 1970s.
What happened to them was a mystery for decades. The investigation into their disappearance became the most infamous cold case in South Dakota’s history and according to the book, the biggest embarrassment for law enforcement.
KELOLAND News talked with the author and one of the key figures in the book, who says he hopes it gives him and his family vindication.
“In 1971 Memorial Day weekend, two Vermillion High school juniors, Pam Jackson and Sherri Miller were on their way to the end of the year party,” author Lou Raguse said.
But the two teenage girls never arrived.
What happened to them was a story shrouded in mystery for decades and now it’s all well documented in a new book written by former KELOLAND TV reporter Lou Raguse.
It’s called Vanished in Vermillion. The Real Story of South Dakota’s Most Infamous Cold Case.
“You might know how this ends, but you have no idea how it happened,” Raguse said. “There’s a lot of stuff in the book that has never been reported anywhere.”
He knows that for a fact, because of all the extensive research of law enforcement files and in depth interviews he did for his book that took about five years to write.
In it, you’ll find out, the sheriff, at the time, insisted the two girls had run away and it wasn’t long before the case had gone cold.
But it was re-opened in 2004 when South Dakota formed a cold case unit to begin looking into old unsolved mysteries.
The Pam Jackson and Sherry Miller case went to the top of their list and it wasn’t long before David Lykken, a local kid at the time of the girl’s disappearances, became their number one suspect.
“It wasn’t until after David Lykken had been convicted of rape and was at the South Dakota Penitentiary that they started to think, oh well maybe the girls accidentally drove onto his farm, he was 16 at the time, maybe they accidentally ended up there and he did something to them, they even blamed his family of trying to cover it up,” Raguse said.
In 2007, David Lykken was charged with murdering and raping the two girls, even though no bodies had ever been found.
And that’s when investigators began digging deeper. A lot deeper.
They tore up the Lykken farm near Alcester from top to bottom; searching for evidence of any kind.
Raguse covered it for KELOLAND TV at the time.
“Remember when they searched the farm here, they said they found clothing, a red purse, bones, automobile parts, what does that sound like? That sounds like evidence that points right to what happened but in fact, it had nothing to do with the missing girls,” Raguse said.
Raguse has it all well documented in his book and the mistakes that were made by law enforcement.
“It was old clothing they had at the farm a purse the kids played with in a playhouse. Chicken bones, automobile parts that might have been part of an old refrigerator actually not even belonging to a car,” Raguse said.
“We were led to believe they were on the right track this whole time, but the files that I’ve seen show that’s not even close to the truth,” Rague said.
The truth, that’s exactly why Raguse wrote the book; to set the record straight once and for all.
In 2008, charges against David Lykken were dropped after it was determined he had nothing to do with the disappearances of the two girls.
That’s something his brother, Kerwyn, had maintained all along and wants the family name cleared.
“You have to admit now I told the truth and I told the truth from day one, which was in August of 2004 and I continued to tell the truth the whole time,” Kerwyn said.
Kerwyn says he’s read the book and credits Raguse for doing a thorough job of finding the truth.
“I had tried to get a couple of authors to write the book because it’s a story that needs to be told, if could happen to me it could happen to you and that story needs to be told,” Kerwyn said.
So if David Lykken had nothing to do with it, the question remained, where were Pam Jackson and Sherry Miller?
That truth rested in Brule Creek.
“You can see how there’s like a lower bank they think the car slammed into the lower bank and cartwheeled over upside down and sunk into the water,” Raguse said.
We met Raguse at an old bridge in the country.
His investigation into what happened that fateful night had led him here multiple times.
He even got into the water, but he had a good reason to.
“I literally waded into Brule Creek here to get a sense of what it’s like to be in it I wanted no stone to be unturned,” Raguse said.
In 2013, Raguse says a private citizen in the area, who had been following the case closely, got to wondering, what if….what if investigators were wrong.
What if they were looking in the wrong direction to try and solve this cold case.
“So he rode down here on a four wheeler and retraced the steps from the church he drove down to the gravel pits, because he thought maybe they had actually driven into the water there and then he was looking around he doesn’t see any vehicle, so so goes back up here and looks around and holds onto his hat and looks down and sees 4 tires looking up at him he was literally looking for Pam and Sherri and he found them,” Raguse said.
Raguse says in his book, that’s something law enforcement failed to do in all those years.
The 1960 Studebaker the girls were driving the night they disappeared careened off the road and plunged into the water, disappearing out of sight.
When investigators retrieved the car, they found their bodies still inside; the cold case from 1971 had finally been solved.