Friday, November 02, 2018
Dean Runkle's Photo Album
A little background: 10 years ago I learned the name of a man who some FBI agents viewed as the "prime suspect" in the Amy Mihaljevic case. His name was Dean Runkle and he was a former teacher from Vermilion and Amherst, Ohio. There was a number of reasons he was interesting to investigators, including but not limited to:
- A witness picked him out of a lineup of 30 photographs
- A girl in his class got a phone call at home that said, "You're going to end up like Amy Mihaljevic"
- There was an attempted abduction in Vermilion during which the woman's attacker tried to force her into a car after explaining that he was a friend of Dean Runkle's
- He gave mice to the Nature Center in Bay Village, where Amy visited (and lied about being there)
- He lived a mile from where Amy's body was found in Ashland County
- He had inappropriate relationship with a 5th grader in Vermilion
- He drove a vehicle that matches the type of vehicle in which Amy's body was transferred
- 29 years into his teaching career he quit and disappeared. Several months later he turns up in a Key West homeless shelter
It's all circumstantial, every bit of it. And he could just be the unluckiest man in all of this.
I learned Runkle kept a storage locker in Vermilion and that the FBI once searched it in the middle of the night, sometime around 2005. I made a deal with the manager to let me buy everything inside in the event Runkle stopped paying on it. I have been patiently waiting since then.
Yesterday I was contacted by the two people who bought the unit after Runkle stopped paying on it. Turns out the manager I spoke to had since left the job. They wanted me to see a photo album they found in a box at the back of the unit. Luckily they took pictures of the pages before they turned it over to police. A week or two after Bay Village got the album, they held a press conference to release the information about the strange, hand-sewn curtain they found near Amy's body.
Last night, Bill Huffman (who runs the podcast), and I sat down with these people in Vermilion and went through the photographs. It appears to tell a story.
The first several pages are photographs of Runkle's classroom, taken sometime around 2005. His classroom was a kind of small zoo, with dozens of aquariums containing snakes and fish and all kinds of critters. After this, there are photographs and items from his earlier life. There's a photograph in his tan car, taken around the time he disappeared from 1987 - 1989 to wander the country for a bit. During that time he performed as a ragtime piano player at Cedar Point.
Side note - Runkle also played ragtime piano at Disneyland in California from 1971 - 1973.
Also in this album was reference to Lutheran Hospital on W 25th in Cleveland, a mental health facility.
Then there were more photos of his classroom taken after 1989. These showed an alcove or separate room off his science room that he kept separated by what appears to be a handmade curtain of the same shape and size as the curtain found near Amy's body, though a different color. This curtain, too, had hoops on top to slide a bar through. There are photographs of a single, young boy in his classroom who I cannot identify. There are handwritten captions throughout as well.
Finally, the album ends with a photograph of Dean Runkle in what appears to be the Cleveland MetroParks Rain Forest, which opened in 1992. He is standing beside a couple. The caption reads: "I am the one you've been looking for."
I can make no sense of that caption.
My question is, who is the intended audience of this photo album? There are private things in there. If it was for Runkle, himself, why did he leave it behind? Was it intended to be found when the unit sold?
I hope to show pictures, eventually.
I don't know what Runkle is responsible for. I know for a fact he crossed the line with at least one student and was investigated twice more before he left Vermilion. I am very interested to know the identity of the man who tried to abduct the woman from Vermilion, who mentioned Runkle during the attack - but Vermilion PD refuse to release the name.
For their part, the Bay Village police are actively trying to get answers from DNA that might finally tell us once and for all. They have several hairs found on Amy's body that are being tested. The new techniques of using DNA to identify family members of suspects may tell us who the killer is. Fingers crossed.