The Indiana Dunes Mystery took place during the fourth of July weekend in 1966. Whilst enjoying a visit to the Indiana Dunes State Park three friends mysteriously vanished without a trace. They were never seen again. Did they plan there own disappearance? Were they involved in a tragic accident? Or had something far more sinister taken place? 

The Indiana Dunes Mystery
Patricia Blough, Renee Bruhl and Ann Miller

A Trip To The Beach

It was a hot summer day on Saturday, July 2nd 1966 when Ann Miller, aged 21, got into her car and went to pick up her two friends Patricia Blough and Renee Bruhl, both 19, from there Chicago homes. Ann had become close friends with the other women after meeting Patricia and Renee, who were already close from high school, at the stables were the trio kept horses.

After collecting her friends Ann began the hour’s drive to visit the Indiana Dunes State Park. Ann and Patricia had visited the area on the shores of Lake Michigan the week prior and enjoyed the visit enough to return but this time with Renee. After a brief stop along the way to buy suncream, the threesome arrived at the beach at around 10 am.

The combination of hot weather and a holiday weekend assured it was a busy day with almost 9000 visitors attending the beach that day. Amongst the visitors were a young couple, Mike Yankalasa and Frances Cicero, who set themselves down near to Ann, Patricia and Renee, not knowing at the time they would become key witnesses to the disappearance of the three friends.

The Disappearance And The Man In The Boat

At around midday the young couple watched on as the trio entered the water in their swimsuits, leaving all their other items behind on the beach. The couple shortly after saw the three women in the water talking to a man on a boat before boarding it. 

As the hours passed and the sun started to set Mike and Frances began packing up to leave. At this point, the two realized that the three young women had not returned. All there belongings were still there, amongst them a purse, cigarettes, car keys, money and clothes. The couple decided to hand in the items to a nearby park ranger, Bud Connor, informing him they had last seen the women boarding a boat.

Mike Yankalasa and Frances Cicero would days later describe the boat. They stated it was approximately 16 to 18 feet long with an outboard motor, white in colour with a blue interior and had three hulls.

The man was described as being a white well-tanned male with dark hair in his twenties. A hunt for the boat several days later proved fruitless (US Coast Guard estimated around 6,000 boats on the lake that day) and the description of the man could have fit any number of young men on the lake that day.

trimaran boat
A Trimaran boat similar to the one the women were alledged to have boarded.

The Investigation

It would actually be another two days before the rangers would realize the items belonged to three women who had been reported missing. The station took a call from Patricia Blough’s father looking for information. He knew his daughter had visited that Saturday but Patricia and her two friends hadn’t been seen since.

At this point, Park Superintendent William Svetic remembered the items handed in two days prior. He saw the car keys belonging to Ann Miller amongst the items and set out to locate the vehicle. Svetic found the car in the parking lot and after confirming its owner the authorities were contacted.

Sgt Edward Burke was placed in command of the initial investigation. He set about questioning staff members of the park and composing an index of the articles Ann Miller, Patricia Blough and Renee Bruhl had left behind on the shore. A search of the beaches surrounding the south shore of Lake Michigan and the water itself was requested.

Unfortunately, the delay from the women disappearing to the search taking place meant locating any clues would be near impossible due to the extent of visitors who had been on the beach and lake throughout those 48 hours. Ann Miller’s car hadn’t been moved since the trio arrived on Saturday morning and no additional indication of the women’s whereabouts could be determined from the vehicle.

The Letter

Amongst the possessions left behind by the women, one article was of special interest. Inside Renee Bruhl’s purse officers found a note penned by Bruhl, dated two weeks earlier, directed to her husband Jeffery. Renee wrote that she wanted to leave him as he spent all his spare time working on cars with his friends.

This led investigators to interview Jeffery. He informed officers that as far as he was aware the pair had no difficulties in their marriage. Renee’s family also rejected the significance of the letter, concluding she had penned it in a moment of anger before calming down and deciding against giving the letter to her spouse.

Wreckage

On July 6 whilst administering yet another search of Lake Michigan’s shoreline debris was discovered. The wreckage was located washed up on the shore approximately three miles from were Ann, Patricia and Renee were last viewed.

The Coast Guard inspected reports, but they found no one had reported a missing boat. An Air Patrol of the encompassing area of the lake was ordered. Alas, no further debris was discovered and more importantly there was still no trace of the three women. Divers also detected nothing at the foot of the lake in the area.

A Second Boat

Appeals were made for information on the three women which led to numerous claims of sightings. Callers from Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Chicago all professed to have seen the women since there disappearance on Saturday, July 2. None of the sightings though could be confirmed.

The most significant lead came from an Indiana man who had been filming on the beach that day at around the same time the women were last seen. After inspecting the footage and accumulating additional witness statements two boats became of special interest. The first was the same boat mentioned by the young couple from the beach. Now known to be a 16 or 18-foot trimaran made of fibreglass and with a distinctive three-hull design, Sgt Burke seemed certain the women had been on the boat.

The second boat of interest was a 26 to 28-foot cabin cruiser. Witnesses, including a lifeguard and an Indiana lawyer, informed detectives that they had seen three women climb aboard a boat with three men. Additional witnesses gave a comparable account.

These sightings happened later in the day than the ones seeing the women on the smaller boat which has left some to wonder if the two were connected. One instance theorized is that the man on the smaller boat dropped off the women on the shore before returning with his associates in the larger cabin cruiser.

Despite the best efforts of law enforcement investigating the leads offered there was still no trace of Ann Miller, Patricia Blough and Renee Bruhl. Some 54 years later that remains the case.

What Happened To Ann Miller, Patricia Blough And Renee Bruhl?

Boating Accident

The wreckage found three-mile up the shore from were Ann Miller, Patricia Blough and Renee Bruhl were last seen makes this hypothesis an obvious one to point out. The women could very well have been involved in an accident in which the boat they climbed aboard got into difficulty, crashed and led to their deaths.

Despite a pretty extensive search no more wreckage was found. No boats were reported missing around that day. The four bodies, if you include the boat owner (and as a sidenote no men were reported missing in the area that matched the description of the man described by witnesses), were never found. Add to that the fact that investigators were unable to say how long the wreckage they did find was there and the boat crash theory begins to hold up less well.

Perhaps worth mentioning is an unlikely twist on the theory. It is not impossible that an accident did occur in which the boat owner survived and covered up the incident to avoid blame for the women’s deaths.

Drowning

Another suggestion put forward by investigators was that the three women drowned after getting into trouble whilst swimming. Park Superintendent William Svetic certainly seemed to believe this was the case at one point in the investigation and it isn’t hard to understand why he felt this way.

Statistically more victims drown at Lake Michigan each year than at any of the other Great Lakes in the US, in many years more than the other 4 lakes combined totals. Even though all three were strong swimmers according to reports, Lake Michigan’s rip currents and cold waters can be a match for anyone. The question of why none of the women’s bodies were discovered, however, does point away from drowning.

The Abortion Theory

Shortly before the threesome vanished from Indiana Dunes State Park Ann Miller had apparently informed friends she was pregnant. In the years following the disappearances uncorroborated stories have also alleged that Patricia Blough was also pregnant, and like her friend the father was a married man.

At that time abortion was still prohibited in Illinois, this has led to the theory that at least one of the women died during an illegal abortion and the other two women then murdered to cover it up.

Helen and Frank Largo were known to offer abortions for women in need and there nephew Ralph Largo Jr, who shared a home with the couple, admitted to being on the beach that day. Ralph Largo Jr matched the description of the man on the boat so the theory is he collected the women, took them to a houseboat or cabin somewhere to have the abortion or abortions. It is here something went wrong and led to the murders of the other two women.

There is one problem with the theory. Not a single piece of proof points to any of it having ever happened. Even neglecting that tiny fact so many other things point away from the theory. It seems outlandish to me that any woman would go to have an abortion in a swimsuit, not taking any clothes for after the procedure is even more bizarre. Also, why would you arrange to get picked up in the water, surely there are better, safer, and easier locations to meet?

Starting A New Life

During the investigation, Sgt Burke learned that all three women had personal problems. This led to the feasibility that Ann Miller, Patricia Blough and Renee Bruhl had planned their disappearance from the beach that day.

The letter found amongst Renee’s belongings pointed towards her being unhappy in her marriage. Ann Miller meanwhile had reportedly told her friends she was three months pregnant, with the child’s father said to be a married man. Ann suggested she would enter a home for unwed mothers when the time came.

Patricia Bough apparently had even told a friend that she was going to leave and that no one would find her. Months prior to the disappearances Patricia had said bruising on her face was due to trouble with the well known “Horse Syndicate”. The Horse Syndicate was a criminal network involving trainers, veterinarians, owners and riders who killed horses to collect insurance money.

It is theorized the women somehow became involved with the syndicate and needed to escape. Of course for this theory to be plausible the driver of the boat would almost certainly have to be a part of the plan.

Items left on the beach that day perhaps suggest this wasn’t the case. Renee Bruhl had $55 in cheques in her purse (this would be over $400 today according to Dollar Times) and Patricia Blough had $5 in her purse. Away from the beach Patricia Blough had also just won $900 (over $7,000 in today’s money) with her horse in a race in Winnipeg, those winnings were never claimed, a lot to leave behind when trying to start a new life.

Murdered By Silas Jayne

The Horse Syndicate were not nice people. Amongst the nastiest of the bunch was a man named Silas Jayne. As mentioned previously, Patricia Blough had previously mentioned a run-in with the syndicate. The three women also had horses at the stables of Silas’s bitter rival, his half-brother George.

The potential trigger point most often associated with this theory is in connection to a failed attempt on the life of George Jayne in June 1965. A car bomb meant for George took the life of 22-year-old Cheryl Lynn Rude at the Tri Color Stables owned by George when she was moving his Cadillac.

It has been suggested that Ann Miller, Patricia Blough and Renee Bruhl were eyewitnesses to the event and thus why they were hushed in a hit ordered by Silas Jayne. Silas Jayne was unquestionably capable of such an act, in fact, Silas served a prison sentence for ordering a hit and was suspected of others. The hit he was sentenced for occurred on October 28, 1970, when he finally fulfilled a promise made to his half-brother. On his own son’s 16th birthday George Jayne was killed, shot through the heart under the orders of Silas Jayne.

Another intriguing account also adds to the feasibility of Silas Jayne been involved. Sometime following the Indiana Dunes Mystery, Silas Jayne allegedly made a confession to a local sheriff. Although he didn’t mention the women by name, he apparently did confess that three bodies were buried on his land.

The sheriff took the claim seriously and began forming plans to search the premises. However, before the search could start the sheriff was killed in an apparent farming accident. After the sheriff’s death, the lead was dropped and no search took place.

One person of interest in relation to Silas Jayne is a known associate of his named Ed Nefeld. Nefeld, who was a serving police officer, had been the go-between in the hiring of a hitman to carry out the murder of George Jayne. The reason Ed Nefeld is of interest in the disappearances of Ann Miller, Patricia Blough and Renee Bruhl is an insurance claim he reportedly lodged several days after they were last seen. Nefeld supposedly notified his insurance company that a boat he owned had been destroyed in an accidental fire. If the story is true the timing of it would make Nefeld a very compelling suspect.

Despite unmistakably been a dreadful human being, it has to be said that the evidence that exists against Silas Jayne been involved in the women’s disappearances is actually very little. It must also be said that a hit ordered to take place on a packed beach also seems a little out of the ordinary and overly risky.

Sources And Further Reading

Without A Trace – Chicago Tribune

Dunes Disappearances Remain A Mystery

NY Daily News Story On The Case

Lake Michigan Statistics

Death And Horses – About Silas Jayne

https://casetext.com/case/people-v-jayne-4

Man Sentenced For 1965 Car Bombing