Saturday, January 23, 2010

"A Lifetime of Waiting"

The Abduction of Michaela Garecht
by Robert A. Waters

Nearly twenty-two years ago, Michaela Joy Garecht was snatched by a stranger outside a store in Hayward, California. She was nine years old. Even though there was an eyewitness, leads were few and the case stalled. When kidnap victim Jaycee Lee Dugard was discovered alive a few months ago, it pumped up an investigation that had never died. Michaela’s mother, Sharon Murch, operates a website dedicated to her beloved daughter and endures what she calls “a lifetime of waiting.”

On her website, Murch describes how her daughter was taken: “It was a sunny Saturday morning, the first day of Thanksgiving vacation, when Michaela and her best friend, Trina, asked if they could go to the neighborhood market to get some candy and sodas. The market was only two blocks away...”

The girls rode their scooters to the store. After leaving their rides parked next to a side door, the girls went inside and bought soft drinks, candy, and beef jerky. Then they left the store and began to walk home, having forgotten that they’d ridden their scooters.

“Halfway across the parking lot,” Lurch writes, “they remembered, and turned back to get them. One of the scooters was not by the door where they’d left it. Michaela spotted it first, about three parking spaces down from the door, next to a car. She went to get it. As she bent over to pick it up, a man jumped out of the car next to the scooter, grabbed her from behind, and threw her screaming into his car as Trina watched in horror...”

Wide-eyed, Trina saw the old car roar to life and heard Michaela’s fading screams as it careened out of sight. Just that fast, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Michaela Joy Garecht was gone.

Despite the largest search ever mounted in Hayward, she has never been found.

Trina described Michaela’s kidnapper to investigators. He had acute acne, she said, and possibly boils on his face. He seemed to be in his early twenties, with a slight build. He had dirty-blond hair and may have worn a pony-tail. “He had fox eyes,” the child remembered. “He looked right at me, but he didn’t even see me.”

The kidnapper’s car was an old four-door gold or tan sedan. It had damage to the front bumper.

Michaela’s was one of a series of abductions of young girls in California. In 1980, seven-year-old Amber Swartz was kidnapped from Pinole. In 1989, Ilene Mishelhoff, 13, was abducted while walking home from school. Jaycee Lee Dugard, 11, was snatched in June, 1991, from a school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe. Four-year-old Amanda “Nikki” Campbell disappeared from Fairfield, California in December, 1991. Each of these stranger abductions struck fear into the hearts of Californians.

Curtis Dean Anderson, a serial killer and brutal pedophile, later confessed to raping and murdering Amber Swartz. After 18 years, Jaycee Lee Dugard was discovered living in a maze of tents and dilapidated buildings in Phillip and Nancy Garrido’s back yard. She’d borne two of his children and had been emotionally tortured, but was still alive. Phillip Garrido had once served ten years in prison for kidnapping and rape, but had been released several months before Michaela went missing.

The other California cases have not been solved.

In fact, the Dugard abduction was so similar to Michaela’s that some investigators are convinced that Garrido committed both. At the time, Garrido had long hair and a pock-marked face. He drove a car similar to that of Michaela’s abductor. Several blonde-haired girls were seen by a neighbor in Garrido’s back yard. Still, no evidence had been found to connect the convicted pedophile to the crime.

The case has been profiled on “America’s Most Wanted,” “Unsolved Mysteries,” and other television shows. Yet she has never been found.

“[My heart] is battered and bruised,” Murch once wrote, “and it has, since the time I lost my daughter, journeyed through the darkness, but it [has] come out again on the other side.”

Sharon Murch continues to wait for her child to return. Here’s hoping it’s soon.


Bill Widman said...

I have noted many parallels between the cases of Michaela and Jaycee. The two girls look similar, and the composite sketch drawn by description given by Michaela's friend looks very much like the police mugshot of Garrido at that time. There are other parallels too numerous to mention here.

Here is a link to Michaela's story in Missing Pieces.

Obbop said...

Do a Web search to learn about a suspect in this abduction being caught. Information is limited.