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Her Name was Siobhan

By Steve Huff in homicide, unsolved
Tuesday, September 23, 2008 at 11:22 pm

smcguinness2.jpgHer name was Siobhan McGuinness. She was only 5 when she died. Someone abducted her from a sidewalk in Missoula, Montana.

Siobhan was brutalized; her killer stuffed her body in a culvert.

The case went cold.

Then, in April of this year, 34 years after Siobhan was taken, the case was re-opened. Police in Missoula began receiving tips again. They received at least 80 phone calls.

It has been 3 decades, but many people in Missoula remember Siobhan...

She vanished late on a Tuesday in February from a quiet neighborhood on the north side of the city. Right away, police feared the worst.

There had been a report earlier that day of a man who tried to molest another 5-year-old girl. Investigators believed that the attempted assault and the kidnapping could be related.

Police sought a man with curly, red hair. He was between 18 and 20, 5'11" or so, and had a medium build. He may have been driving a late 60s-early 70s model Cadillac with New York State plates. The girl who got away and gave this description said that the stranger tried to coax her into a shed. She managed to break free. She ran home, terrified.

At least 130 people volunteered to search for Siobhan the night she disappeared. They canvassed the whole northside, looking through sheds and empty, abandoned homes. Sometime during that night, it began to snow.

Siobhan McGuinness was found the following day. Searchers found her under the highway, 10 miles east of Missoula, in a culvert. There were no human tracks in the newly-fallen snow. Siobhan had been in the culvert since before the snow began to fall. Early press reports about her murder indicated that she'd been dragged into view by "animals."

Siobhan was raped and beaten about the head. She died from multiple stab wounds. Curiously, she was fully dressed.

Siobhan McGuinness wasn't the only little girl to vanish from Montana in 1973-74.

Susan Jaeger, age 7, vanished on June 25, 1973 from a campground close to Three Forks in southwestern Montana. On July 31, just over one month later, Karen Tyler and Jessica Westphal disappeared while out riding bikes near Marion, MT.

Was there a pattern? It seemed like it at the time.

Then, in September of 1974, a Bozeman handyman named David G. Meirhofer admitted to kidnapping and killing Susan Jaeger. He also confessed to murdering two teens and a 12-year old -- 19-year-old Sandra Dykman Smallegan, Bernard Poelman, age 13 and 12-year-old Michael Raney. Meirhofer committed suicide shortly after his taped confession.

As for Jessica Westphal and Karen Tyler -- their bodies were found on November 1, 1976. They were murdered by Karl Randy Bachman, who received two life sentences for the crimes. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that Bachman, who was the same age range as the unknown suspect at the time of the McGuinness disappearance, might be a good fit for the Missoula girl's murder. But his physical description -- at the time -- was wrong -- he was too short, too thin, wore glasses and had dark hair.

Siobhan McGuinness's murder was officially a cold case by 1976.

Still, after police opened up the tip lines in April this year, they received new and detailed reports like the one given by a woman who lived in Turah, MT, near the site where Siobhan was found. Missoula Police Det. Dean Chrestenson related the tip to a Montana television station, saying that the woman couldn't "remember the color but she said she saw a vehicle stop right at that intersection, right directly where the culvert was where Siobhan's body was found."

Then there was a former resident of the neighborhood where the little girl lived. According to Chrestenson, this person heard a little girl screaming around 6 p.m. on the evening of Siobhan's disappearance. Chrestenson told the TV station that the woman "didn't even really know a the time that Siobhan was being abducted, but she did hear that and later reported it to a friend, who then, after all these years called me when she found out we reopened the case."

Such things seem ephemeral, fleeting, potentially useless. Yet if you string enough of them together, you might come up with something. It's worth it to try. Three decades have passed without anyone answering for this little girl's murder. If Siobhan's killer is alive, he may possess a great deal of stealth and patience; police have already tried to find a match to DNA culled from the evidence in this case, with no results. Siobhan's killer may have avoided imprisonment for any major crimes. He may have died. He may have left the country.

But what if he just kept right on killing? Thirty-four years later, such a thought certainly gives one pause. It's hard to really imagine such a long, well-concealed trail of death.

It would only be right if somehow the killer was arrested in connection with this girl's death, even if he committed other, similar crimes.

Her name was Siobhan. She died just before the snow fell that February night, a victim of something much colder than ice. Hers is the kind of death no one can -- or should -- ever forget.

[MontanasNewsStation.com; historical sources include AP articles published in Montana papers in 1974 and 1976, found via NewspaperArchive.com. Additional links: Policestar.com; for additional information about vehicles sighted at the time of Siobhan's disappearance as well as contact info if you think you have information that may help in this case, see Missoulian.com.]

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