YOUNG WOMEN LOST
THE INDIANA DUNES DISAPPEARANCE OF 1966
On a hot, sunny, summer Saturday, three young women in bathing suits left all of their belongings a crowded beach and climbed about a motorboat on Lake Michigan. It was noon on July 2, 1966 at Indiana Dunes State Park, about an hour around the lake from Chicago.
A couple whose beach blanket was beside the young women’s watched at the motorboat glided away, then waited all day for them to return. They didn’t know the girls, but thought it was odd that they would leave their purses unattended on a day when the park was packed with more than 9,000 holiday weekend sunbathers and swimmers. When the couple left at dusk, they pointed out the abandoned blanket to a park ranger. They told him that the young women had left on a boat that was operated by a young man with a headful of dark, curly hair. The ranger bundled up the belongings and store them away.
A day and a half later, on July 4, Park Superintendent Bill Svetic took a call from a Chicago man inquiring about his daughter, Patty Blough, 19. She had not been heard from since leaving home for Indiana Dunes with two friends Saturday morning. Svetic opened the blanket bundle that had been left on the beach and found Blough’s wallet, keys and clothing. He also found clothes and purses belonging to Blough’s friends, Renee Bruhl, 19, and Ann Miller, 21. Miller’s 1955 Buick was still sitting in the beach parking lot. Svetic assured Harold Blough that his daughter would turn up – she’d probably just had a little bit too much fun over the holiday weekend.
But Patty didn’t show up. And neither did her friends. An investigation began belatedly as scuba divers scoured the lake and searchers on foot and horseback combed the sprawling sands and woods of the park, which stretches along 45 miles of the Indiana coastline.
But no sign of the young women was ever found. In fact, they remain missing 48 years later and their fate remains one of the enduring unsolved mysteries of the region. What happened to the three young women? No one will probably ever know, but it’s possible that there are still some clues that might stand out when we trace their movements on the day of their vanishing – and even in the days that came before.
On the morning of July 2, Ann Miller drover her four-door Buick and picked up Patty Blough from her family’s home in Westchester, Illinois around 8:00 a.m. Patty told her mother that they planned to return home early in the evening since their friend Renee Bruhl was coming with them and she needed to be back in time to make supper for her husband. Ann and Patty picked up Renee from her home on West Fulton, on Chicago’s West Side, and then stopped at a drugstore to pick up some suntan lotion. The women arrived at the Indiana Dune State Park at approximately 10:00 a.m. Ann parked in the lot and the women hiked to a spot that was about 100 yards from the Lake Michigan shoreline.
The nearby couple stated that the girls left their belongings on the beach at noon and they entered the water together. The witnesses then saw them speaking to an unidentified man who was operating a 14- to 16-foot long white boat with a blue interior and outboard motor. They were unsure of the time when this man approached them. The couple described all this to the park ranger around dusk, when they noticed that the women’s belongings were still sitting on the beach. The women had gotten on the boat, they said, and had headed west with the driver.
Ann, Patty and Renee have never been seen again.
Renee Bruhl left a large beach towel, shorts, blouse, cigarettes, suntan lotion, 25 cents and her purse, which contained about $55 in checks, sitting on the beach. The other women also left clothing, purses and personal items in the sand. Those belongings were collected by the ranger on the night of their disappearance and stored in the park superintendent’s office until July 4, when Patty’s father called the park, searching for his daughter and her friends. The park rangers soon learned that missing person’s reports had been filed for all three women over the weekend in Illinois by their families. The rangers searched the park and located Ann’s Buick in the parking lot. Her car keys had been left with her purse on the beach, but other items of clothing and personal effects were still inside of the car. The car was still parked in its original spot from July 2 – no one had moved it.
The park rangers soon got other law enforcement agencies involved, including the U.S. Coast Guard. The search was in full swing by July 5, three days after the girls had vanished. Other witnesses who were in the park that day came forward with conflicting stories but authorities came to believe that the first witnesses’ reports were the most reliable – the three women were seen boarding a boat and they did not return to the beach.
The search for the three women continued around the clock. It was extended to a six-mile stretch of beach west of the state park, near Ogden Dunes, later in the week. More witnesses came forward that substantiated the initial report that the women got into a boat with an unidentified man. Later accounts claimed that he was in his early twenties with a tanned complexion and dark, wavy hair. He was wearing a beach jacket at the time. A beach-goer who was taking home movies on July 2 offered his films to investigators. The search was narrowed down to two boats after the detectives watched the footage. One of them was a 16-foot runabout with a three-hulled design, which was operated by a man who fit the description of the man seen with the girls. Three women who matched descriptions of the missing girls were seen aboard the boat in the footage. The second boat was identified as a 26-foot cabin cruiser with three men and three women aboard. The cabin cruiser was seen at around 3:00 p.m., three hours after the women got aboard the smaller boat. After reports came in that Ann, Patty and Renee were seen walking on the beach and eating after this time, investigators came to believe that they had been dropped off on the beach west of the state park by the driver of the smaller boat while he drove back to retrieve his two male friends and the cabin cruiser.
While on the second beach, the girls were reportedly approached by another unidentified man, who accompanied them to the cabin cruiser. Witnesses stated that this second boat was equipped with a radio / telephone antenna, but apparently did not have a name painted on its stern. This final sighting has never been confirmed, but the authorities did consider it reliable.
The search went on, but lead after lead went nowhere. A psychic that was brought into the case claimed to have a vision of a Lake Michigan cabin where the women’s bodies were buried. An extensive search of the property believed to be the place seen by the psychic did not uncover any evidence. However, detectives did point out that the shifting sand dunes may have buried any possible evidence deeply under the ground.
Investigators began looking into the backgrounds of the three women in an attempt to discover if their disappearances could have been voluntary – and it was there that things got ever murkier and stranger.
In Renee Bruhl’s purse, the authorities found a letter addressed to her husband, Jeff. The couple had been married for just 15 months in July 1966, but in the letter she asked for a divorce. She said that she felt her husband spent too much time working on cars with his friends and didn’t seem to have time for her. Her husband, though, told the police that he was not aware of any problems in their marriage at the time of his wife’s disappearance. Her family agreed with the statement, telling investigators that they believed that Renee had written the note in a moment of anger and never gave it to Jeff because she had changed her mind about the divorce.
But that might not have been all there was to the story…
All three women were friends, drawn together by their love of horses. Patty and Ann met while boarding their horses at the same Illinois stable. Renee was a classmate of Patty’s at Proviso West High School in Maywood, Illinois and she had completed a one-year course in medical technology after graduation. The women often rode together and often met at a tavern in Hodgkins, Illinois after their outings. According to a theory created by Dick Wylie, a reporter and photographer who chased crime in northwest Indiana for the Gary Post-Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times during the 1950s and ’60s, the events leading to their disappearance began there.
Both Patty and Ann were single and Wylie believes that fell for married men they met at the tavern and both got pregnant. Later, statements from some of Ann’s friends claim that she was three months pregnant in July 1966 and mentioned going to a home for unwed mothers prior to her disappearance. But did she have plans to end the pregnancy? And what about Patty? Was she pregnant as well?
Abortion was illegal in Illinois in 1966. According to Dick Wylie, some Chicago women who found themselves in trouble visited a house just across the state border in Gary, where a husband-and-wife team, Helen and Frank Largo, performed backroom abortions. Wylie has linked the Largos, now dead, to a floating abortion mill that operated on a houseboat offshore in Lake Michigan. He believes Ann and Patty had arranged abortions on that boat on July 2, and they were ferried there by Ralph Largo, Jr., a nephew of Helen and Frank Largo. He was seen at the park that day and matched the description of the man last seen with the girls on the beach.
Wylie believes that the women got to the larger boat, but something went wrong with one of the procedures and the other two were killed so that no witnesses would be left behind. The girls had left their belongings on the beach because they expected to be back in 90 minutes, Wylie said. The theory has never been confirmed – the younger Largo died in 2009 – but it is plausible. However, unless a body turns up, it’s likely to always remain just a theory.
And it’s not the only one, of course. There have been many unconfirmed sightings of the three women over the years, but no solid leads have ever surfaced. The boats that they were allegedly on in July 1966 have never been located and the men operating them have never been solidly identified. But people have continued to speculate, especially when it comes to their connection with horses.
Ann, Patty and Renee often rode at the Tri Color Stables in Palatine, Illinois, which were owned by George Jayne and his brother, Silas Jayne, who were involved in fraudulent activities, murders and worse in the mid-1960s. Cheryl Ann Rude, a young woman associated with the horse market, was killed at the Tri Color Stables in June 1965 by a car bomb that had been meant for George Jayne. George had asked Cheryl to move his Cadillac from the stable entrance and the bomb exploded. Some believe that perhaps Patty, Ann and Renee (or one or any combination of them) may have witnessed the bomb being planted. However, this does not explain why anyone would have waited an entire year before silencing them. Or does it? In March 1966, Patty received a facial injury that she never explained. One of her friends claimed she made an off-handed remark about it and mentioned trouble with “syndicate people.” But no proof of any trouble exists.
There was a connection between the Jaynes and the missing women, though. Both men’s telephone numbers were found in their belongings after their disappearance. There is no question that the two men were deeply involved in crime. George was shot to death in 1970 and Silas was later convicted of conspiracy in his brother’s murder and sent to prison. He died in 1987. He is also a suspect in the disappearance and probably murder of candy heiress Helen Brach (See my blog about this unsolved case by following this link). In 1997, a man named James Blottiaux was charged with planting the 1965 car bomb that killed Cheryl Ann Rude at the Jaynes’ stables, but neither he, nor the Jaynes, have been positively linked to the disappearances of Ann, Patty and Renee.
It’s hard not to speculate, though, that any of them might have been involved in some way. Silas Jayne reportedly told a sheriff that he had three bodies buried beneath his residence after the 1966 disappearances. Investigators took his claim seriously and planned to search the property, but the sheriff involved was killed in a farming accident before the search took place. For whatever reason, it was not pursued after that, leading some to wonder if the claim was true.
What happened to three pretty young women in July 1966? We’ll likely never know. The case is not unsolvable, but without any bodies or any solid new leads, it’s unlikely that the truth will ever be known.