Amy Mihaljevic has been dead nearly 25 years, but investigators are closer than ever to finding her killer.
Amy Mihaljevic has been dead nearly 25 years, but investigators say they are closer than ever to finding her killer.
It's thanks to "manhunter" Phil Torsney. He's been on the job since November.
"You're darn right it's personal. It's very personal," he says, of the case he first worked the day after Mihaljevic disappeared in 1989.
"You can't let somebody get away with this."
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty hired Torsney after he retired from the FBI, saying there's no better bloodhound in America.
Torsney says his secret weapon is tenacity.
In a 30-year career, he's tracked down a list of infamous international criminals, including convicted rapist Jean Paul Ayers and Gates Mills Dr. Yazeed Essa, convicted of murdering his wife.
His most recent success was mobster Whitey Bulger, off the grid for 16 years before he was located.
"Sometimes you need a little luck, but sometimes you make your own luck, and its through hard work and through trying to do the right thing," he said.
Torsney first started working the Mihaljevic case 24 years later.
"The night of the abduction, a couple of us were in North Olmsted at a bank robbery down there," he said.
"We heard about what had happened and we were up here the next day. And really, myself and a lot of the investigators spent almost a couple years working this full-time trying to get this thing figured out."
Torsney was assigned to work the case, examining thousands of leads alongside Bay Village Police.
Bay Village Police Chief Mark Spaetzel was a patrolman at the time.
"It was October 27, 1989, but it was a gorgeous, sunny day. I remember it well. I actually had an opportunity to go into the Bay Village police department and talk to a class that day," said Spaetzel. "I found out later that Amy was in that class."
Hours after school, Amy's mother called police when the little girl still hadn't returned home.
It was Amy's friends, just 10-year-olds themselves, that linked her disappearance to a phone call. They told police Amy was planning to meet a stranger who'd called, offering to buy a present for her mother.
"We started to put together that she was lured to Bay Square, basically, to be abducted," said Spaetzel.
While there are more than 100 child abductions each year, most are random. This was premeditated. And even now, after thousands of leads and interviews, years of both Spaetzel and Torsney's time investigating…it's this that stands out:
"The phone call is definitely unique. You don't see that very often," said Spaetzel.
Torsney says today's approach is to find similar cases, and search them for new connections.
They hope a new digital billboard campaign launched last week will get attention from drivers and from law enforcement across the country, who have all received an FBI request to search for crimes matching Amy's story.
"We're in a position to take information we had in 1989 and maybe use that information or that evidence to bring us that step closer and that's already happened to some extent," Torsney said.
They've retested old physical evidence and talked to witnesses, now adults like Amy would be, who might have a new recollection of what went wrong.
Torsney even returned to the area in Ashland County where Amy's body was found, where he senses a strong connection to the killer.
It's all a part of finding that man who's gotten away for almost 25 years. While there are several individuals investigators are looking at, Spaetzel says there are no strong suspects at this time.
"We're going to move forward and solve this thing," said Torsney.
Torsney and the detectives working every day on her case say they're in touch with Mark Mihaljevic, Amy's father. Her mother died in 2001, her family says in part due to her grief.