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A Mysterious Triple Vanishing at Lake Michigan

It all started out as a fun summer day out at the lake with some friends. On Saturday, July 2, 1966, 21-year-old Ann Miller picked up her buddies Patricia Blough (19) and Renee Bruhl (19) in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, and the three headed out to Indiana Dunes State Park, on the shore of Lake Michigan, for a day of fun in the sun at the beach. They arrived at around 10 AM to a packed beach, the pleasant summer weather bringing people out in droves to go swimming, sunbathing, and boating. Among these lake visitors was a young couple by the names of Mike Yankalasa and Frances Cicero, who had a spot at the beach right near the young women. At around noon, they saw Miller, Blough and Bruhl talking to a tanned, dark-haired young man in his 20s who was aboard a 14 to 16-foot-long white boat with an outboard motor, and after laughing and chatting with the young man on board they got on, leaving all of their belongings on the beach. It would have been a totally normal sight at the time, as there were thousands of boats on the water that day and countless people cavorting about in the water, so this young couple would have had no idea at the time that watching them boat off would be the last time anyone would see the three friends. So would begin a strange triple vanishing and cold case mystery that has never been solved or explained.

The couple only realized something was off when at dusk the young women’s belongings were still on the beach untouched and they hadn’t returned. People were starting to head home and it was seen as a bit strange, especially as a cursory look at the belongings showed that their wallets had been left behind as well, and it was odd enough that they contacted park rangers to tell them about it. Rangers arrived on the scene to find that the women had left behind clothing, towels, sunglasses, the car keys, their wallets with money in them, and various other miscellaneous belongings, and the car was still parked where it had been left. The belongings were gathered up, but no one would ever come in to claim them or the car. The stuff was just stowed and shoulders were shrugged. Two days later, on July 4, the ranger office was contacted by Blough’s father asking if anyone had seen her, and that was when they learned that a missing persons report had been filed on their disappearance after they had failed to return home.

The vanished women

Rangers began investigating it all with renewed vigor, scouring the area for miles around and using divers to search the water, but nothing was found. There were also efforts to locate the boat and the man who had been aboard it, but there had been an estimated 6,000 boats out on the lake that day and the description of the mystery man could have been anyone. It seemed like searching for a needle in a haystack, but authorities lucked out when they were approached by a man who happened to have been filming on the beach that day and captured footage of two possible culprits, one being a fiberglass 16- to 18-foot-long trimaran runabout with a three-hulled design, which had aboard a man fitting the description and three young women believed to be the missing women aboard. Footage from later in the day showed what appeared to be the same women again, this time aboard a larger 26- to 28-foot-long cabin cruiser with two other men. Police believed that perhaps the women had gotten on the smaller boat and then been transferred to the larger one later. However, they could not get a name off the boat and it could not be said with absolute certainty that the three women seen on the boats were indeed the ones who had disappeared. A hunt for the boats seen in the video turned up nothing. Some wreckage from a boat was found washed up on shore about three miles away from where the women had gone missing, but no boat had been reported missing, no further debris was found, and it could not be proven to have had anything to do with the vanishing.

In the meantime, authorities looked into other evidence and did background checks on the missing women, turning up some curious clues. They found a letter in Bruhl’s purse directed towards her husband, in which she had written that she wanted to leave him because he was always hanging out with his friends working on cars. An interview with the man in question turned up nothing, and he claimed that he had not been aware of any trouble with his marriage. Family also dismissed it as something she had written in anger and not really meant to send. It was another dead end. Other potential clues turned up as well. One was that Miller had reportedly been three months pregnant and had mentioned to friends her desire to move to a home for unwed mothers, and it was suggested that Blough may have been pregnant as well. There was also the rumor among Blough’s fiends that she had been dating a married man, and that she had mentioned running away to stage her own disappearance. Perhaps most ominous of all was the fact that Blough owned a thoroughbred horse which had won a big race just two years prior, at around the same time she had expressed fear to her friends that she was being threatened by what she called the “horse syndicate people.”

It is all very curious, but also all very circumstantial and hard to connect to the disappearances, but it did lead to some theories. One was that it turned out that a man named Ralph Largo Jr. had been out on the lake that day, who not only closely resembled the description of the man seen on the mysterious boat, but who also happened to have had a notorious aunt and uncle named Helen and Frank Largo, who were known carrying out illegal abortions. The idea was that if Miller and Brough were indeed pregnant, then they might have arranged for covert abortions, with them being taken aboard the boat to be whisked away to an underground abortion mill, one or both of them being botched, and all of the women killed and disposed of to leave no witnesses. However, there was no way to prove any of this at all, and indeed there was no solid evidence that the women had actually ever even been pregnant at all.

Police on the scene

Another idea is that Blough may have been targeted by the shadowy horse syndicate people and the others had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Interestingly, the owner of Tri Color Stables in Palatine, Illinois, where Brough kept her horse, was a man named George Jayne, a big-time horse dealer who had been locked in an intense feud with his brother Silas Jayne. Incidentally, this would come to violence when another horse dealer named Cheryl Ann Rude was killed in 1965 in a car bomb that had been meant to take out George. It would turn out that George had then died of a gunshot in 1970, over which his brother was subsequently charged with conspiracy to murder. It seems the horse business can get pretty hardcore, so did this have any connection? No one knows. Eerily, shortly after his arrest, Silas Jayne told police that he had the bodies of three unidentified people he had killed in 1966 buried at his residence, but the lead was never properly followed up on after the Sherriff responsible for the investigation was killed in an accident and the search was never carried out. Silas was never pursued in relation to the disappearance of Miller, Brough, and Bruhl, and seeing as he died in 1987, he has taken anything he knows to the grave with him.

Other ideas have been proposed as well. An accidental drowning after an accident on the lake was also mulled over, but not only was there no substantial wreckage found, but no bodies were found either, and all of the missing women were described as very strong swimmers. There is also the possibility that they ran off intentionally, as two of the women had allegedly expressed desires to do that in the past, but why would they all do it at the same time on an otherwise fun day at the beach and what about Bruhl, who had never made mention of any desire to leave her life behind? Also, why run off in mere swimsuits while leaving all of their belongings and money behind? It doesn’t make much sense. Indeed, the police would eventually come to the conclusion that there was no evidence to point to them running off and staging their disappearances. In the end, the fact is that no one has ever seen them again, their bodies have never been found, there are no new clues or leads, and the vanishings of Ann Miller, Patricia Blough, and Renee Bruhl will probably never be solved.