Some people might not be aware that there’s a book of the Bible that never once mentions God. Surprised? I thought it over today and realized that if the Bible can make one exception to its overall theme, so can I. Thus, today is a very unique column in the two years that I’m written material on the Examiner. This is an intriguing story about a local event in Chicago, but aside from this sentence, it doesn’t once mention Catholicism. Why discuss it here? Read on and find out. You might take away something unique from the story.
The New York Daily News reported this week that a missing person’s case that has been unsolved since 1966 is now on the verge of being solved. Considering that the still open case has “gone cold” for over 44 years, that’s rather remarkable in itself. There are lots of unsolved mysteries on Lake Michigan, but this one was particularly tragic and baffling to investigators.
The story takes us to the Indiana Dunes Beach by Lake Michigan, during a Fourth of July weekend more than 46 years ago. Three friends: Patty Blough, age 19, Renee Bruhl, age 19, and Ann Miller, age 21, were spending the Saturday of that holiday weekend together. Blough, Bruhl and Miller, all hailing the Chicago suburbs, were drawn together by their love of horses. They rode and worked at the same stable, and Blough owned a Thoroughbred racehorse. Blough and Miller were single, while Bruhl was a newlywed. The women often met at a tavern in Hodgkins, Illinois to plan weekend get togethers.
Around noon on July 2, 1966, the three women were spotted in bathing suits. They left their belongings on a crowded beach and climbed aboard a small motorboat on Lake Michigan, an hour southeast of Chicago. Another couple witnessed them depart and waited for the women to return, as their beach blanket was beside the couple’s belongings. It seemed odd that the women would leave their purses unattended on the beach, given that the area that was packed with more than 9,000 holiday sunbathers enjoying the shimmer waters and hot sun. When dusk arrived, the women still hadn’t returned and the couple pointed out the abandoned blanket to a park ranger. They reported that the women had left on a boat “operated by a tan young man with a mop of coal-colored curls”. The ranger bundled up the sandy possessions and stored them.
Eighteen hours later, on July 4th holiday, Park Superintendent Bill Svetic took a call from a Chicago man inquiring about his daughter, Patty Blough, 19. She had not been heard from since leaving home for Indiana Dunes with two friends Saturday morning. When police opened the blanket, they found that it contained Blough’s wallet, keys and clothing. Likewise, there were other items, including clothes and purses, which belonged to her friends Renee Bruhl and Ann Miller. Miller’s 1955 Buick was still in the parking lot — one of 2,200 cars that had entered the park that busy Saturday. It was assumed that Blough would eventually turn up. Given that she was young and it was a big holiday weekend, the most likely scenario is she had probably snuck off and spent a long weekend partying with the hunky sailor and decided not to tell her parents. But since she was missing, an investigation began belatedly, and teams scoured the lake itself and the 45-mile-long coastline.
To this day, no sign of Blough, Bruhl, or Miller has ever been found.
Dick Wylie (who is now 78 and retired), was a reporter/photographer who covered crime stories in northwest Indiana for the Gary Post-Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times during the 1950s and ’60s. He was the first newsman at the park that July 4th, and while the police investigation ran cold, the situation always gnawed at him. “I’ve never been able to forget it” he mentioned in a recent news account “I can’t stand to think of three young girls just thrown to the wind, like their lives didn’t matter. I’ve always wanted justice.” Now, he believes he has finally put together what happened. He has written a 120,000-word manuscript containing his theories about the fate of the women. What’s Wylie’s conclusion?
The women had many dark secrets they apparently kept from their families. Blough and Miller were single, and Wylie said they often fell for married men at the tavern. Both got pregnant, something they didn’t discuss with relatives. Bruhl, though married, was in a very stormy marriage and had problems of her own. One piece of evidence was in the purse she left on the beach. Police found a letter she wrote (but didn’t mail) to her husband, Jeff. In it, she told him that she wanted a divorce. The single women couldn’t let their families know about their pregnancies. Abortion was illegal in Illinois in 1966, seven years before Roe v. Wade. At that time, a husband-and-wife team performed illegal abortions just across the state border in Gary. "These abortionists had what they called runners that would find these girls in taverns and other places needing a way out" says Wylie. Because of the illegal nature of the business, a boat house, anchored off the coast of Lake Michigan, could serve as a floating abortion clinic. The women went to the beach on Saturday, the same day as did Ralph Largo, Jr., whom they likely met up with. His aunt and uncle, Helen and Frank Largo, were the ones who performed abortions in Gary. Renee Bruhl had a bit of health care training that would've come in handy for her unmarried friends.
So how come the trio never returned from the boathouse? The Largos are long since dead, but Wylie has a good theory to go on. He believes Miller and Blough had arranged abortions on that boat on July 2nd, and they were ferried there by Ralph Largo, Jr., leaving their ID and belongings back on the beach because they were embarrassed by what they were doing and didn’t want to be identified by the Largos or anyone else. The problem then, is everything was placed in the trust of the Largos. The couple had to perform two risky, illegal abortion procedures on a floating boathouse, a difficult operation to kill and remove the unborn babies. “I believe the women got to the houseboat, but something went wrong with one of the procedures,” Wylie said. “They might have lost one girl” Killing a woman, even accidentally, during an illegal, unsafe abortion procedure meant they would probably face grave legal ramifications: losing their careers and going away to prison for decades. Of course, the only witnesses to what happened during the abortion procedure were the other two women, alone with the Largos on a boat away from shore. Wylie concludes “They did away with the other two because they couldn’t leave witnesses.” Wylie’s theory makes sense. After screwing up one abortion, they decided they had to make the second witnesses disappear. They were out in the middle of Lake Michigan at dusk, and it’s a big lake.
One of the reasons the case was never resolved is because of the unique timing of it happening during a busy July 4th weekend, and the nature of crime scene investigation back in the 60s. “Today, there would be a task force assigned to investigate,” he said. “Back then, it was two guys who never once met.” In the 1960s, the press used far more discretion than they do now about “personal peccadilloes”. Yet those details might have helped smoke out clues. Wylie said his own long investigation points to the hidden pregnancies as a key to the case. He notes, “I made a promise to [Blough’s father] that I would investigate this case until the day I die… I intend to keep it.”
So what can we learn from this tragedy? Someone who supports Roe v. Wade and abortion rights would probably tell you that such a scenario unfolded because abortion was illegal in those days and thankfully with “modern, progressive” society, women wouldn’t die during a nice, safe, legal abortion at a hospital. Yet as I wrote in an Examiner article just a few months ago, that certainly wasn’t the case in 2012, when a Chicago woman began hemorrhaging and died while undergoing a “safe, legal” abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Legal or illegal, there’s always the risk of something going wrong during an abortion procedure. In 1966, the abortionists accidentally killing one woman may have resulted in them purposing killing two more. Why? It was simply due to selfishness and desperation to protect their careers. What I take away from this story it shows a turning point in our society as we slowly stopped focusing on the human person and now see all human life as expendable instead of sacred. That’s really had grave ramifications when you jump ahead 46 years to present day. Many people who are faithful churchgoers see it, but sadly we are outnumbered by those who aren’t. Let this unsolved mystery from the past be a lesson for a future.