Jerry Davich: Did Mount Baldy ‘holes’ swallow up cold case from 1966?
JERRY DAVICH August 16, 2014 10:40AM
Mount Baldy at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan City. Investigation continues on the dune to discover the cause of a hole in which a 6-year-old boy was buried on July 12. | Guy Rhodes/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 18, 2014 6:16AM
On July 2, 1966, three Illinois women visited what then was called Indiana Dunes State Park to cool off from a hot, humid Saturday on a holiday weekend.
Patricia Blough, 19, of Westchester, Illinois, Renee Bruhl, 19, of Chicago, and Ann Miller, 21, of Lombard, Illinois, arrived about 10 a.m. and made fast footprints to a spot about 100 yards from the Lake Michigan shoreline. There, they spread out their blanket on the side of a dune.
That beach, which now is Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore property, was jammed that day, with a crowd estimated at nearly 9,000 visitors over the course of the day. The women blended in like, well, sand at a beach.
A young couple, though, noticed the three women leaving their spot and never returning for their belongings. About noon, the women entered Lake Michigan and talked with a man operating a boat just offshore, the couple told a park ranger around dusk.
The three women were never seen again. Not to this day. And the case now is colder than that same beach in mid-January.
Theories abound about what happened to them. One claims they boarded that boat and were murdered by its owner. Another claims they staged an elaborate drowning accident to escape their troubled lives. Another claims they earlier got involved with criminals through their mutual interest in horses, they learned too much and had to be silenced. For good.
A more intriguing theory cites a houseboat on Lake Michigan used for backroom abortions, years before Roe vs. Wade came into play. (One or two of the women may have been pregnant, their friends told investigators.) Maybe something went wrong with the procedure?
You name it and someone has hypothesized it through the decades. Cops, family, investigators, even curious onlookers had theories, some who remember the women’s disappearance without a trace. But a relatively recent incident, involving mysterious “holes” found near that area, has sparked yet another theory.
“What if those three girls were climbing the dune and one of them went into a void like the young boy last summer near Mount Baldy?” said Harry Dickson, of Merrillville. “And what if the other two girls went to help her and they, too, were sucked into the void? What if there were no witnesses to see this and try to help them?”
Dickson is referring to the incident involving Nathan Woessner, the then 6-year-old Illinois boy who sunk into a hole at Mount Baldy on July 12, 2013. The boy’s father was with him and he was rescued a few hours later — the so-called miracle at Mount Baldy.
“What if that little boy had not been in view when he was swallowed up by the sand?” asked Dickson, echoing others. “What theories would already be out there as to his demise? Drowning? Kidnapping?”
He has a point there. If the boy wasn’t found immediately, and saved, I doubt anyone would have imagined he stepped into a hole and disappeared. We would have first figured that he wandered off or was abducted or worse.
“No one has come up with the answer since 1966 as to what in the world happened to those girls,” Dickson said.
He has a point there, too. A simple Internet search will pull up countless guesses as to what happened to those women, and a wealth of credible research since their disappearance. But no definitive answers and no closure to that case.
“I think this is a plausible answer, since no one ever dreamed that what happened last summer could even happen,” Dickson said. “Even though it cannot be proved, it is still awfully darn interesting and thought-provoking.”
This past Thursday, park officials and geological researchers announced they found a new hole in Mount Baldy, deepening its mystery. The towering sand dune has been shifting at a rate of about 4 to 5 feet each year, for decades, they said.
Mount Baldy has been closed since last summer, and it will remain closed indefinitely. Just like that cold case of the three women from 1966.
Could the bodies of those three women be buried deep inside that massive dune, along with what may be a beach house and other structures? I’m not so sure.
While doing research for this column, I came to my own conclusion that those women were killed by that boater, or his accomplices, and their bodies were either dumped into the lake or buried elsewhere. But, again, it’s pure speculation on my part.
“It would be inappropriate for me to speculate about something like that,” replied Ken Mehne, a law enforcement specialist with the National Park Service.
I asked Mehne, who is involved with the Mount Baldy incident, if anyone had even mentioned that case from 1966 since last summer’s incident.
“The holes at Mount Baldy are part of a natural progression and are different from sinkholes, according to the research that is being compiled,” he told me.
He didn’t know anything about the cold case. Not many people do, unless they remember when it happened, such as Dickson.
“What if?” he’s been asking me since February.
What if those three women got swallowed by that dune? What if they weren’t abducted, killed and buried that day so long ago? What if today’s column prompts someone to finally step forward to shed some light on their mysterious disappearance?
“You would be bringing a cold case file to the forefront, and then who knows?” Dickson asked.
One thing is for sure. No one ever imagined there were mysterious holes in Mount Baldy that those women could have stepped into.
In hindsight, I guess it comes down to how we view our world or when we crossed that proverbial line in the sand between facts and fiction, proof and theories, reality and mystery.
Were Renee Bruhl, Patricia Blough and Ann Miller freakishly swallowed by nature or killed by man?
If I didn’t lean toward the latter, I’d feel my head was buried in the sand. How about you?
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