Details of Disappearance
Michaela and a friend rode their scooters to the Rainbow Market on Mission Boulevard in Hayward, California on November 19, 1988. The store was two blocks from her home.
Michaela noticed that her friend's scooter had been moved in the parking lot when the girls exited the store; when she went to retrieve it, an unidentified Caucasian male grabbed her and forced her into his vehicle. Michaela's friend went inside the Rainbow Market for assistance, but the abductor was able to escape with Michaela. Neither has been seen again.
The abductor is described as between 18 to 24 years old in 1988, with a pockmarked or pimpled face. He wore a white t-shirt and had longish dirty blonde hair and a slender build. Two sketches of Michaela's abductor are posted with this case summary; the original sketch was later revised.
The abductor drove a large older model American-made sedan. It was possibly a four-door vehicle and was cream, gold, or tan in color. The car may have had cement splatters on the sides and lights set into the rear bumper. The front bumper was battered; the vehicle may have previously been in an accident. It appeared to be run-down. The car was last seen speeding south on Mission Boulevard towards nearby Union City, California with Michaela inside.
Two men have been named as possible suspects in Michaela's case. Authorities announced that Timothy Bindner had a possible connection to her disappearance, as well as the disappearances of Ilene Misheloff
, Tara Cossey
and Amanda "Nikki" Campbell
. A photo of Bindner is posted with this case summary. He maintains his innocence and successfully sued Amanda's hometown of Fairfield, California in 1997 for defamation of character.
Bindner, a married sewage treatment plant worker, came to authorities' attention after he began sending birthday greetings to young girls in the East Bay area. One child's parents contacted authorities and handed over a letter Bindner had written to their daughter. The note was printed backwards and could only be deciphered by holding it up to a mirror. Bindner claimed he sent the cards as a kind gesture because the girls were "lonely."
Bindner also visited the Oakmont Cemetery gravesite of Angela Bugay, a five-year-old girl girl who was abducted and murdered in Antioch, California in 1983. A photograph of Bugay is posted below this case summary. Bindner was never considered a suspect in her murder and another man has since been arrested in that case.
For many years Bindner was also considered a suspect in the June 1988 disappearance of Amber Swartz-Garcia
from Pinole, California. Bindner approached many of the mothers of missing girls from the East Bay area offering his assistance, including Amber and Michaela's families. Investigators asked Amber's mother to maintain a quasi-friendship with Bindner in hope of learning if he was connected to any of the girls' cases. She and authorities agreed that Bindner appeared to playing mind games with victims' loved ones and law enforcement.
Many people theorize that Bindner enjoyed taunting families into thinking that he may have been involved in the presumed abductions. He was once arrested for annoying two little girls whom he was trying to lure into his van, but the charges were later dropped. Bindner often drove around in a light blue Dodge van with a license plate that said "Lov You." The inside of the van was wallpapered with many pictures of children.
Bindner refers to himself as a "good Samaritan." He asked Linda Golston, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, to interview him at Oakmont Cemetery at 4:30 a.m. He played his favorite song on her car stereo, "Jesus, Here's Another Child To Hold." Bindner told Goldston that he thought of the missing girls as "his children." She asked him how he believed the abductions occurred and he said one child was submissive, but another fought back against her assailant. Bindner added that he was "guessing" about the girls' reactions.
Bindner wrote a letter to a law enforcement agency in the late 1980s, stating that he believed the next girl who would be abducted from the area would be nine years old. Michaela disappeared shortly thereafter; she was nine at the time of her abduction. Bindner also sent a holiday card to a profiler for the FBI in 1990. The card depicted an image of a young girl holding up four fingers. Amanda vanished in 1991 at the age of four. Search dogs traced Amanda and Amber's scent to Bugay's grave.
Authorities never had enough evidence to prove Bindner was connected to their cases, although he was known for visiting the cemetery on occasion. Bindner was given a heroism award by the California State Patrol after assisting victims in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. He has never been charged in any of the cases.
James Daveggio has been considered as a possible suspect as well. He and his former girlfriend, Michelle Lyn Michaud, were charged with the 1997 abduction, rape and murder of Vanessa Lei Swanson. Photos of Daveggio and Michaud are posted with this case summary. They were also charged with additional counts of sexual assault in unrelated cases in the mid-1990s. In 2002, Michaud and Daveggio were convicted of Swanson's murder and sentenced to death. They are awaiting execution.
Curtis Dean Anderson, who was convicted of the 2000 kidnapping and molestation of a young California girl, was also mentioned as a possible suspect in Michaela's case. Investigators searched Anderson's mother's residence in June 2001 for evidence linking him to other missing girls' cases, but nothing was located.
In 2009, however, they announced that Anderson had confessed to Amber's murder a month before he died in prison in 2007, and they were closing her case and ending the search for her. Police spent eighteen months investigating his statement and couldn't find any evidence to refute it. He is also considered a suspect in the 1999 disappearance of Karla Rodriguez
So-called "Speed Freak Killers" Wesley Howard Shermantine Jr. and Loren Joseph Herzog surfaced as suspects in Michaela's abduction in 2012. Photos of both men are posted below this case summary. They were a team of serial killers who were arrested in 2000 and ultimately convicted of murdering several females in the 1980s and 1990s; authorities believe they had as many as fifteen victims.
Shermantine is on death row. Herzog's sentence was reduced from 78 years to 14 years after the court ruled his confession had been coerced. He was paroled in 2010 and then took his own life in January 2012, after he found out his former partner had begun cooperating with authorities and had offered to reveal the location of victims' bodies in exchange for a payment of $33,000.
Shermantine led investigators to the skeletal remains of Chevelle Wheeler and Cyndi Vanderheiden, who'd been missing since 1985 and 1998 respectively. He also pointed out an abandoned well in Linden, California that contained some 300 human bones and personal items. Shermantine stated the well contains up to twenty victims, Michaela being one of those. He blames Herzog for all the murders and says he only helped with disposing the bodies. Authorities are in the process of sorting out the contents of the well and attempting to identify the bones.
Shermantine and Herzog are being investigated in other missing persons' cases, including Ruth Leamon
, Phillip Martin
, Susan Bender
, Gayle Marks
and Sylvia Standly
. Victims Kimberly Billy, a 19-year-old who disappeared in 1984, and Joann Hobson, a 16-year-old who disappeared in 1985, have already been identified.
Michaela's mother believes she could have become the victim of human trafficking and was taken out of the country after her abduction. There have been reported sightings of her in Mexico and more recently in the United Arab Emirates, a small country in the Persian Gulf. Her mother is actively searching for her and hopes she is still alive and will be found. Michaela remains missing and her case is unsolved.