When Maddi Misheloff speaks of her daughter, Ilene, the girl with the frizzy black hair and shy smile is always in the present tense. About to walk through the door.
The fact that Ilene vanished exactly 20 years ago this Friday at the age of 13 while walking home from school matters less to Maddi Misheloff than her belief that Ilene is still out there somewhere. Kidnapped, but alive. Waiting for a chance to return.
Misheloff, 59, sat in her living room with husband Michael this week, talked of the annual candlelight march for Ilene that they will lead Thursday night in their hometown of Dublin, and recalled the horror of Jan. 30, 1989, when they discovered their daughter was missing.
It was a horror shared by millions around the Bay Area back then, as Ilene's poster went up all over the nation and news outlets carried innumerable stories about the hunt for her. Her abduction culminated a string of mysterious snatchings of young local girls - kidnappings that left parents around the Bay Area in a hyper-protective state.
The anguished days that followed the 1989 abduction and the unfilled promise of relief in the years since showed in Misheloff's face as she spoke this week - but then she opened up a photo album of Ilene's b'nai mitzvah (Jewish coming-of-age ceremony) with her twin brother, Brian. And Misheloff's entire being changed.
Her eyes suddenly shone again. Her shoulders perked up. As she paged through pictures of Ilene posing with relatives and standing tall and proud in a white dress, Misheloff seemed suddenly ... happy.
When she got to the last photo, a shot of the twins grinning at the camera, tears came to the corners of Misheloff's eyes. She kissed a finger and tenderly touched Ilene's picture.
"Love you, baby," she whispered.
A terrible time
Before Ilene vanished, Misheloff recalled, the Misheloffs "were just your basic nondescript family, running the kids all over town. Ilene was ice skating, the boys (Ilene's twin and older brother Rob) were in soccer and Little League. We were pretty busy."
Ilene was a scholarly middle-schooler who wanted to be a pediatrician. She was also a promising figure skater, competing against future Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi and winning first-place ribbons all over the Bay Area.
Then she was snatched - and not only were the Misheloff's lives thrown into chaos, the Bay Area went practically berserk with worry.
Ilene was the third girl in seven months to be abducted, after 7-year-old Amber Swartz-Garcia in Pinole and 9-year-old Michaela Garecht in Hayward. Combined with other high-profile kidnappings in a handful of years before that, most notably that of 10-year-old Kevin Collins in San Francisco in 1984, it seemed like a serial child-snatcher was on the loose.
Parental comfort was never quite the same again.
"It definitely changed the whole approach of that generation of parents," said Melissa Paredes Scampini, head of the Vanished Children's Alliance, a national nonprofit founded in 1980 and based in San Jose. "There were suddenly these great fears, and then a light went on in all our heads that parents really need help."
Missing children's groups began to sprout, and though many of them have since folded, some - such as the KlaasKids Foundation, created by the father of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, who was abducted and murdered in 1993 - remain. They pushed for parents to store children's fingerprints with police in case they're needed for searches, lobbied for faster police response to abductions, pushed for Megan's List, which shows where registered sex offenders live, and advised parents to always keep a watchful eye on their kids.
As a result, two decades later, parents are far more reluctant to let young children walk alone to school or play out front with no supervision. Still, more than 50 California children are typically abducted each year by strangers, according to the state Department of Justice.
Most cases never solved
Some local cases in the next few years after Ilene's disappearance got solved, most notably that of Polly Klaas. But that wave of East Bay girls' abductions was not.
More than 3,000 tips about Ilene's case came into FBI and Dublin investigators in the first year, and similar torrents came for the others. A priest in the Sierra Nevada was suspected, along with a utility worker in Oakland and a drifter in Texas. All were dry holes, as were the tips from psychics, amateur sleuths, and just plain creepy people who said they knew where Ilene was because they had a gut feeling.
"There is no way to know if her kidnapping was related to the other girls' or not," said Ilene's 64-year-old father, Michael. "It is just a total mystery."
The case will never be closed until it is solved, said Dublin Police Sgt. Nate Schmidt.
"We continue to get leads here and there, especially with the age of the Internet, and follow them through," he said. "Hopefully someday, somebody will come forward and give us that tip that will finally give us answers."
Michael, an engineer, and Maddi Misheloff, a human resources coordinator, don't delude themselves. Federal statistics show just 1 percent of abducted children are returned home after 10 years. But they say no other attitude than hope is acceptable.
The couple still rents a search office in Dublin, spending up to $20,000 a year of their own money on it and the nationwide mailing of 10,000 flyers offering a return reward of $100,000. And they know exactly what they'd say right now to Ilene if they had the chance.
"If you are reading this or hear this or watch TV, we love you, princess," Maddi Misheloff said quietly. "We want you home. Now. Enough is enough."
She grabbed her husband's hand, and the two sat silently for a long moment. Thinking.
Re: Ilene Misheloff
Re: Ilene Misheloff
March for Dublin girl, who went missing 28 years ago
DUBLIN (KRON) — An annual march Monday was held in honor of a 13-year-old Dublin girl, Ilene Misheloff, who went missing 28 years ago.
The candlelight march began around 7 p.m. at 600 Penn Drive near Wells Middle School, now called T.D. Wells Middle School, where she went to school.
Misheloff disappeared on the day of Jan. 30, 1989 after she was excused early from her physical education class.
She was last seen walking on San Ramon Road and Amador Valley Boulevard.
Each year Misheloff’s family, friends, and community members gather to recreate the 2-mile walk she took on that ill-fated day.
The walk begins at T.D. Wells Middle School and then continues to St. Raymond Catholic Church at 11555 Shannon Ave., where a short ecumenical service is held.
Misheloff’s father, Mike Misheloff, believes his daughter is still alive and holds out hope that she will return.
“We’re just waiting for Ilene to come home. We still think she is out there,” Mike Misheloff said.
Anyone with any new information about Ilene’s disappearance is encouraged to report it to Dublin police.