AKRON, Ohio — Cold Cases Not Forgotten is a series of unsolved mysteries WKYC is reexamining through the month of February. One episode will air every Friday at 11 p.m.
She’s an American girl. Forever locked in 1974.
Her fresh face, serving up hot dogs and root beer after high school classes.
Her shiny, new orange Mustang hitting the highway, jettisoning her to friends.
At 17, the music and Linda Pagano died that Labor Day weekend 1974.
For four decades.
"I pretty much gave up," said her older brother, Mike Pagano. "I was an angry young man for 40 years."
Angry at his loss. Angry at his violent step-father, who was the last to see Linda alive.
Angry at law enforcement who, either through apathy or incompetence missed early clues that could have spared the Pagano family decades of uncertainty and possibly led to her killer’s identity.
It took a curious college kid, who wasn’t even alive in 1974, to unearth the truth behind Linda Pagano’s disappearance and death.
Now, all that’s left is justice, as fleeting as it may be.
Linda Marie Pagano was the baby of the family. Mike Pagano, tough and rebellious, was a year older and constantly in trouble. Cheryl was the oldest, by about six years. The three lived for varipis times in a home headed by a stepfather prone to violent and unpredictable outbursts.
Linda seemed unaffected by it all. She was the good kid. Smart, hard-working, and honest as they come. She’d take money from her siblings to stay quiet when they misbehaved, then tell her parents anyway when the guilt overtook her.
She had tons of friends and seemed to somehow get along with her stepfather, for the most part.
“Linda had a good head on her shoulders,” Mike Pagano said. “She always did the right thing. Things were going good for her. She had a lot of friends.”
A senior at Springfield High and a server at the A&W in Tallmadge, Linda loved her new Mustang and rock music. And on Aug. 31 she took in both, driving with a boyfriend to Cleveland to attend a World Series of Rock concert at the old Stadium.
According to her stepfather at the time, she came home early the next morning, sparking an argument. He kicked her out of the apartment in Akron, curiously leaving her new car behind.
Linda was never seen again.
"That was it. it's like she vanished right off the face of the earth," Cheryl Pagano said.
The next day, the stepfather called Mike’s mother at their home in a Springfield mobile park. He was looking for Linda.
“At first, I didn’t panic," Cheryl Pagano said. “I just thought she was with friends.”
Police treated the case as if Linda ran away from home. Unlike today, there was not massive media attention. None at all, in fact. Only the Paganos were looking, drawing up their own missing person’s fliers.
“We always kept searching,” Cheryl Pagano said.
Still, there was only silence.
In February the following winter, Mike Pagano heard a TV news report about the remains of a young woman being found in a park in Strongsville, 30-some miles from Akron. Against his mother’s wishes, he made the call, he said, to police in the Cleveland suburb.
A woman answered.
“I gave her the description, told her the name and how long Linda had been missing, and she said, ‘Oh, no. This girl is a little older and probably a little taller. Oh no, that’s not your sister.’ And that was the last of it,” Mike Pagano recalled.
Police tried to link the bones to Patty Hearst, the heiress missing from California, thousands of miles away. They never tried to link them to Linda Pagano, missing just a short drive away.
The remains went unidentified and were later buried in Potter’s Field. They were, however, noted in a directory that Christina Scates would read: Forty years later.
“Unknown white female bones. Strongsville Ohio. 20 years old. Gunshot wound," Scates read aloud.
Now a senior at Cleveland State University, Scates was researching her family history when she came upon the coldly worded cemetery entry that noted a nameless woman’s violent ending.
'It's just... it's just a weird feeling, it really was. I really can't describe it." Scates said. "Kind of confusion as to why she wasn't identified..."
Scates then went on a mission, taking her findings to the internet, contacting police and park rangers, looking for any clues on who this woman was and why she was never identified.
Months passed before the remains were added to a national missing person's database. But when they did, Akron police and its cold case detectives quickly made a potential link.
The remains were eventually exhumed. DNA tests were eventually performed. And finally, Linda Pagano’s disappearance was solved in a press conference in 2018.
“It was pretty shocking. I wasn’t expecting anything like that to happen,” Scates, 27, said. “Surreal. Like, I don’t know how to feel. It feels like it’s not as important as it definitely is.”
Mike and Cheryl Pagano know their little sister would never have been found without the determination of Scates.
“If it wasn’t for her, we never would have found Linda and she’d still be in that Potter’s Field.”
Police are now trying to determine who killed Linda Pagano. The case hasn’t moved, a police spokesman said. The Pagano children’s stepfather is dead. Mike and Cheryl believe he was responsible in some way, but they want to be sure, even against great odds.
“If this could happen, anything could happen,” Cheryl Pagano said.
Anyone with information about the Pagano case can call Akron police detectives at 330-375-2490 or Metroparks rangers at 440-331-5530.