Schoolgirls Patricia Spencer and Pamela Hobley were only teenagers when they went missing in Michigan on October 31, 1969. Authorities thought they’d died, but then, more than 40 years later, a new detective was assigned to the case. And in 2013 police revealed they had pinpointed some people of interest.
Patricia and Pamela played truant from Oscoda High School around 2:30 p.m. According to Chief Mark David of Oscoda Township Police, “there was a bomb threat” at about the same time. Whether this was related to the girls’ disappearance is not clear, but it’s possible the pair left as the school was evacuated. What is known is that the classmates walked down the town’s River Road – but to a unknown fate.
Patricia Ann Spencer, known as Patty, was 16 and fairly short in stature, standing at around 5 foot 3 inches tall. She had blue eyes and dark blonde hair. Furthermore, Patty had a distinctive mark on her leg: a vivid scar, courtesy of a dog bite.
Pamela Sue Hobley was known as Pam, and at 15 was the younger of the pair. She had darker coloring, with brown eyes and hair, and was a few inches taller than Patricia. Interestingly, she too had scars, but on her face, around her nose and mouth. In spite of their apparent similarities, the two girls weren’t judged to be particularly friendly, yet they were spotted together prior to them vanishing.
It wasn’t until the evening of October 31 that anyone twigged that the two were missing. By any standards, it was a big night in the students’ social calendar. Presumably like many of their peers, they had planned to go to a Halloween bash following the homecoming game. Pamela told her family she intended to come home once she’d been to the party. The other Hobleys went out trick-or-treating, but when they returned, Pamela wasn’t there. More worrying still, Pamela’s mother learned that Patricia was also unaccounted for.
It’s thought Pamela’s relations disapproved of her errant ways. If certain claims are to be believed, both she and Patricia indulged in drink and dabbled in illegal substances. This, combined with the climate of that period, set against the backdrop of the swinging sixties, meant that police perhaps didn’t take the case as seriously as they should have done. It’s possible they believed that the girls had simply bunked off school and run away.
That said, police still asked locals for help in their efforts to find the missing girls. Initial reports placed the pair on River Road as their last known point. However, on the day after the disappearance, cops interviewed a man who had apparently given the girls a lift into Oscoda while on his way to work. But this crucial information was never written up. It’s entirely possible this man could have been the last person to see the girls.
Another fruitless lead came from a man who said he gave Pamela and Patricia a ride on the day they vanished. But this, along with so many other red herrings, proved to be unreliable. Moreover, the man in question has now passed away, so any useful information he did possess has been taken to the grave.
There was also a possible connection to the mysterious Oakland County Child Killer, who is thought to be reponsible for the deaths of at least four children. Had this person struck again to claim another two victims? It was deemed unlikely and this theory was eventually discounted.
Authorities initially thought that the two girls had skipped school and headed to Flint, the biggest city in the state. However, with no sightings of the pair, weeks later they were forced into a rethink. Meanwhile, Pamela’s family offered a cash reward for information in an attempt to make a breakthrough. None came – and no bodies were ever found. As a result, the case went cold. The victims’ families were likely devastated that they were left with nothing but the absence of their daughters to mourn.
Then in 1985, almost 20 years after the case began, cops were informed that “two area men” had killed Pamela and Patricia and buried them close to an old barn in Wilber Township. Belonging to a man named Jack Searle, the barn was apparently popular with teenagers. But, shockingly, this essential clue was never followed up.
Moreover, Pamela’s sister Mary Buehrle very much doubts that her sister ran away voluntarily. She insists that Pamela was content with her lot and had recently gotten engaged, a fact that raises many questions and makes any answers arguably more tragic. Furthermore, neither girl had their ID or a purse on them, let alone a change of clothes. These details could suggest a trip taken against their will. Speaking to Crimesider, Buehrle was steadfast in her conviction. “I think her and Patty were picked up by the wrong person, and they murdered her,” she said.
Tragically, Buehrle has now lived most of her life without a sister. But she has never given up hope. Indeed, finding answers has become Buehrle’s mission, so she stays up to date with police developments, something she made clear when speaking to ABC12. “I’ll do this til the day that I die, til she’s found,” she said. Moreover, with so much time elapsed since the girls vanished and no solid leads, it’s likely been tough for the two families to remain hopeful. And sadly, Pamela’s mother died none the wiser about what happened to her daughter.
However, in 2010, hope was rekindled after another detective was put on the case. Mark David was only a teenager when the girls hit the news. Yet if Buehrle’s assertion that “someone in this town killed them” is correct, then Chief David is perfectly placed to effectively investigate. After all, for him it’s almost personal: the cop was born and bred in the area and has worked in Oscoda for three decades. Chief David has taken on a mysterious case full of conjecture, wild rumor and unreliable witness statements. And so far Oscoda’s chief of police has eliminated one potential culprit; according to David, the man who proposed to Pamela all those years ago is not a suspect.
Were they still alive, both Pamela and Patricia would have already celebrated their 60th birthdays. And in 2011 the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children issued age-progressed images that showed what the pair might look like as older women. Pamela and Patricia are also in a nationwide database of missing people.
In May 2013 the man who declared he’d given Pamela and Patricia a lift into Oscoda repeated his claim. He’d been interviewed at length back in 1969 and was baffled why news bulletins were still maintaining that the girls were last spotted walking away from the school. And it seems this time police could corroborate his evidence, as Chief David has other reports that the girls were indeed in town that day.
Moreover, Chief David has also examined the theory that existed when he was younger, that Pamela and Patricia were killed by “two area men” before being buried by a barn. So, decades later, the area was finally searched. However, those efforts proved in vain: no evidence was found and no human remains discovered.
Nevertheless, Chief David’s persistence seemingly bore fruit when, in 2013, police released a statement saying they had “persons of interest” that they were looking into. They also qualified this news by saying they needed more information to keep the case alive. Also in that year, ABC12 ran a news report on the 44th anniversary of the disappearances, that Chief David hoped may jog viewers’ memories.
During the bulletin it was revealed that police were following several leads, including one involving a musician called Ron Collins. He’d lived in Flint in 1969 and had performed in Oscoda. Meanwhile, Oscoda’s head of police still believes that the case can be solved, though with nearly 50 years having passed since the girls were last seen, some might see his optimism as misplaced.
For the time being, according to the International Center For Unidentified & Missing Persons, Pamela and Patricia are classed as “endangered missing.” Maybe one day someone will come forward who knows the truth, and perhaps Chief David is right to trust that the case can be put to bed. Whatever the outcome, the girls’ families have spent almost 50 years waiting for their loved ones to return. As things stand, they will have to wait longer still.