Missing Michaela: A Hayward Cold Case

This November will mark the 30th anniversary of the kidnapping of Michaela Garecht. She was nine years old on November 19, 1988, when she was abducted by a stranger in broad daylight from a grocery store parking lot on Mission Boulevard.

That morning, Michaela and a friend were riding their scooters down to Rainbow Market, currently Mexico Super. They parked the scooters in the store’s lot and went inside to buy some candy and treats. When they returned to grab their scooters, Michaela’s had been moved and laid beside a parked car. She walked over to retrieve it, and a man came out of the car and grabbed Michaela. He pulled her into the vehicle with him and sped away, careening down Mission Boulevard. Michaela’s family has not seen or heard from her since.

Michaela’s friend saw the whole kidnapping play out. She gave police a description of the abductor: tall and slender, in his twenties, with shoulder length dirty blonde hair. His face appeared scared with pockmarks or broken out with acne. The car he drove was described as a dinged and scratched up tan sedan. Some witnesses reported seeing flecks of white paint spattered on the car’s exterior.

Most child victims of kidnapping are taken by people who are known to them: parents or relatives. Michaela’s was a stranger abduction, rare occurrences which account for less than one percent of child kidnapping cases in the US. Hayward Police immediately began their investigation. They sent officers to her home that day, collecting evidence and asking questions about Michaela, her friends, her habits.

The Missing Persons Project, a now-defunct advocacy group, also got involved the day of the abduction. They sent representatives to Michaela’s parents’ house, where they set up a command post. They installed a new phone line, dedicated to fielding calls about Michaela, the case, and any information from the public. Local news stations sent reporters to cover the initial investigation and search efforts.

Despite this prompt response, the police were not able to apprehend the kidnapper that day. In the days that followed, they conducted searches near the kidnapping site, and private citizens helped, scouring the undeveloped foothills east of Mission Boulevard. No substantive leads turned up.

Time passed. The searches died down. The investigation dwindled.

The police received 5,000 leads in that first year alone. A composite sketch of the kidnapper was drawn based on the witness descriptions and was disseminated on TV news. Posters with Michaela’s picture were posted around town, on bumper stickers and at police stations and in post offices.

Michaela was a typical nine-year-old. She was an intelligent little girl, enrolled in the Gifted and Talented Education program at her elementary school. She wore her blond hair in a short bob with bangs. She had blue eyes and a bright smile. That is how her mother, Sharon Murch, remembers her today.

Murch, who still lives in the area, keeps a blog online where she writes about her experiences in the wake of her daughter’s abduction. She shares anecdotes and little stories about times with Michaela, all those years ago. She also writes directly to Michaela, in case her daughter is out there looking for her too.

Those that knew her daughter would sometimes write to Murch. They all share similar memories of Michaela. “They write to me and say how sweet, kind and caring they remember Michaela being back then,” says Murch. “There was a light shining from her.”

Murch’s online presence has attracted a variety of responses. People still write telling her that they think they know what happened. Most are well-intentioned. Some are not.

A few strange people have insinuated themselves into Murch’s life. They seem convinced that they possess some secret, basic intuition that will help the investigation. Some are men, whose passions for finding missing children border on obsession. Some are adult aged women, convinced that they are Michaela themselves. None of them have turned out to be related.  

In the last three decades, thousands of leads have piled up in Michaela’s case file. “I”m convinced that somewhere in all those files is the answer to what happened to Michaela,” Murch says. “It’s just a matter of finding the needle in the haystack.”

However, Murch is less than hopeful that police work will be the answer to finding her daughter. At this point, Murch says, “Michaela will have to find herself.” Publicity, she thinks, can be a great ally to families of missing children. The media can help spread information and promote interest once the investigation and local awareness have waned.

Officials from the investigations unit of the Hayward Police Department were reticent regarding any possible progress in the case, as it is classified “Open/Unsolved.” They said it is still being actively investigated and they will continue to follow up on tips provided.

Sharon Murch hopes that if someone is certain, they know what happened to Michaela that they will call in their tip to the police today. If they contacted police back in 1988, they should call it in again.

You can find Murch’s blogs at DearMichaela.com and SeekersRoad.com. Any tips or information regarding Michaela’s case can be phoned into the Hayward Police Department at 800-222-3999.

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