Retired detective reacts to developments in SD cold case - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Retired detective reacts to developments in SD cold case


After 41-years, questions are finally answered for a former Vermillion police detective who spent his career trying to crack one of South Dakota's longest unsolved cold cases.

"She goes, 'Hey Ray, I think they found the car.'  And, I go, 'what,'" recalled Hofman of the day a coworker told him the news.

Those were the words Ray Hofman hoped to hear during his decade-long search for clues to the disappearance of 17-year-olds Cheryl Miller and Pam Jackson.

"I thought in my lifetime I would never see the car found or anything found," said Hofman.

For Hofman, the search for answers goes back to high school.  He was finishing his freshman year at Vermillion, when the girls disappeared in May of 1971.

"What happened to the girls?  What could have possibly happened to the girls," he'd wondered since he was a kid.

He had been a dishwasher at the restaurant where Miller's grandmother, Pearl Jensen, cooked. 

"I knew that car real well, because her grandma always drove it to work," said Hofman.

As a Vermillion police detective in the 90's, he made it his mission to crack the case.

"We thought, wow, we can maybe solve this," Hofman remembered.

Authorities who originally investigated the girls' disappearance didn't leave him much evidence. 

"It wasn't much of a file.  It had a few notes," he recalled.

In 1971, investigators thought the two had run off.

"Someone took a photo at a rock concert and said, 'oh, I think these are the girls,'" Hofman pointed out.

However, a letter in the file from Jackson's family put an end to that theory.

"She'd just put a bicycle on hold at the hardware store that she was making payments on.  This girl wasn't going to run away. No doubt about that," stated Hofman.

There were the three boys who'd last seem them.  Miller and Jackson met up with them in the parking lot of this church.  The girls decided to follow them to a party down the road, but on the way there, got separated.

Two of the boys were interviewed and told investigators they lost the girls on a blacktop not a gravel road.

That sent investigators and the case in the wrong direction, toward the Missouri River. 

The third passenger in the car, remembered the girls turning onto a gravel road, not a blacktop.  However, authorities never interviewed him. 

When Miller's grandmother died two weeks later and they didn't come back, some doubted they ever would.

"An important part of the investigation said, they're gone," said Hofman, pointing out that Miller visited her grandmother the night she disappeared.

When Hofman got the case in 1991 he developed a new theory.

"Where I focused, and where I thought my best interest is, was the gravel pit.  I thought they drove into one of the open water areas," he explained.

After Hofman retired from the force, authorities focused on David Lykken, a man serving a life sentence for raping several women.  Hofman arrested Lykken on the original charge back in 1989. 

"He knew the girls and the girls knew him," Hofman explained.

However, when the case came back to the 310th Street bridge, he knew foul play would be ruled out.

"If David Lykken would have got them, he would have not brought them back to the scene, to put the car in the water," added Hofman.

The car was found in Brulee Creek, just half a mile away from where Hofman concentrated his search.

"It's one of those cases that you think about your whole career, and say, 'gee, I wish I would have solved it," said Hofman.

Reaction you'd expect from a man who dedicated his police career to solving a cold case.

"It's kind of like Vermillion's mystery, and it's been solved, that's the best, and we have some closure now ." added Hofman.

Authorities say the remains found in the 1960 Studebaker belong to two people.

They've sent those bones to another lab to be identified.

They've ruled out foul play, and say the car matches the one the girls were in the night they were last seen.  Their families have been notified.


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