Sunday, February 19, 2023

Vanished in Vermillion

Vanished in Vermillion by Lou Raguse
2/21/23; 384 pages
Post Hill Press

Vanished in Vermillion: The Real Story of South Dakota's Most Infamous Cold Case by Lou Raguse is a very highly recommended account of a cold case being solved after over forty years but only after a series of unbelievable investigative deficiencies.

In May 1971, Pam Jackson and Sherri Miller were two seventeen-year-olds who disappeared when driving to an end-of-the-school-year kegger being held at a gravel pit out in rural, south eastern South Dakota. The girls, who were in Sherri's grandfather's rundown Studebaker Lark, didn't know exactly where the party was but they ran into some boys they knew from school and were following them down a dirt road when they disappeared. The boys assumed they went back to Vermillion to another party by the Missouri River.

It is at this point, right at the start, that the investigative failures began with a sheriff who treated the search very lightly, assuming, with no evidence, that the girls just ran away so he didn't bother to seriously look into their disappearance. The families all suffered, the girls were never heard from, and the case went cold. Thirty years later it was reopened by the cold case unit took and the twists, turns, and incredible incompetence that followed was unbelievable and went on for over a decade.

Raguse, an investigative journalist, does an excellent job thoroughly presenting the many details of this case from the start to the conclusion. The entire narrative follows the timeline of the events as they occurred so it reads like a procedural while it also clearly reveals the facts, failures, and foibles swirling around all of the official investigative attempts from start to finish. The actual closure of the case is found in such a careful, logical way it will dumbfound readers that no one thought to undertake that particular search.

The descriptions were true to life. Knowing the area well due to the presence of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, it was easy for me visualize and place the local small towns and distances between them. It also gave me a clear understanding of the layout of the land while following the revelations in the cold case. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Post Hill Press via Edelweiss.

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