Vanished in Vermillion by Lou Raguse
Publication Date: February 21, 2023
Summary from NetGalley:
The result of hundreds of interviews, Vanished in Vermillion is a cold case story that flips the script on a typical investigation narrative, revealing the biggest law enforcement embarrassment in South Dakota history.
In May 1971, Pam Jackson and Sherri Miller were two seventeen-year-olds driving to an end-of-the-school-year party in a rundown Studebaker Lark when they seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. Police back then didn’t do enough to try and find them. Investigators thirty years later did too much. Two families endure decades of pain as they await answers of what happened to their girls. When a third family is pulled into the mystery, they quickly learn their nightmare is just beginning.
ARC provided by Post Hill Press via NetGalley for an honest review.
This was such a sad and heartbreaking story. But it was presented in such a way that it was also quite riveting. At its heart is a story about how indifferent and biased police work can lead to heartache and the not knowing what happened for three families.
This book is broken into three parts, the first being the disappearance of the girls and the aftermath and lack of police interest in the case. The middle part is all about how 30 years later a new cold case department totally messed up the whole thing by using unreliable witnesses and holding on to their own biases to take the case in the totally wrong direction. The final part is the truth of what really happened to these two girls and how a single person tried one more time to figure out where they had gone on that fateful day.
It is really hard to believe that it took over 40 years for this case to be solved when all it would have taken is the police paying attention to it in the first place. The police in that era of time, often leapt to the idea that all teens who disappear, just run away. If they had taken the time to interview the girl’s families, friends and coworkers they would have found that there was no way these girls would have just left. But they didn’t.
There were also many mistakes made by the cold case team. Partly because they were totally biased against this one guy and totally believed that he was guilty of killing these girls. Granted he was not a very nice guy, and was already in jail for assault and rape, but the only evidence pointing to him was that he lived near where the girls disappeared. They put his family through a lot of agony because the wanted to believe that this guy was guilty and they were covering for him.
The truth of what happened was the saddest and most surprising of this whole story. The third part of the story was told through the author’s eyes and it became a bit more personal that way. I was glad that they were finally found, but sad that both girl’s parents died without ever knowing what had happened to them.
This is truly a compelling story about how indifferent and biased policing can hinder the truth of what happened in any case. If you enjoy true crime, this is one you don’t want to miss.
I read this book as part of the 2023 Nonfiction Reader Challenge. It is my first one and it was a good one.