How The Investigation Of The 1988 Abduction Of Michaela Garecht Got Off On The Wrong Foot

On November 19, 1988, Michaela Garecht and a friend rode their scooters to Rainbow Market in Hayward, California (per KIRO 7). As the girls were only 9 years old, Alta Online reveals that Garecht's mother, Sharon Murch, was hesitant to allow it. As she explained, Garecht pleaded, "Please, please, please, can I go?" In a decision that she now regrets, Murch caved in and let Garecht and her friend Katrina Hogue make the short journey to the local store. It was, after all, Thanksgiving break. Murch notes that the last words they spoke to each other were "I love you."

When they arrived at the store, SFGATE writes that the girls bought snacks and soda. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley later described the situation. She said (via KIRO 7), "They were just kids. Carefree and certainly not suspecting the danger that lay ahead." However, everything changed when Garecht and Hogue left Rainbow Market. According to The Mercury News, the girls were walking through the parking lot when they realized they had left their scooters. They returned to get them, and Alta Online states that Hogue's scooter had been moved next to a parked car. When Garecht went to pick it up, a man in the car grabbed her and took off.

The police were given the wrong description of the suspect

According to KIRO 7, Katrina Hogue witnessed the entire abduction unfold in front of her. Michaela Joy Garecht screamed as the man placed her inside his car. The Mercury News reports that Hogue went back inside the Rainbow Market for help. The store clerk subsequently called the police and told them a white man in his 30s with a mustache and a burgundy car had taken the young girl. But there was one problem: this was not the person that Hogue had seen take Garecht. She told the clerk that whoever had taken her friend was young and blond. The store clerk ignored this information and provided the wrong description of a random person he had seen at the store who he deemed suspicious.

The police took this description and ran with it. The Mercury News writes that two days after the abduction, police talked to Hogue and realized they had been given a bad lead. Due to the trauma of what had occurred, Alta Online explains that the police waited to speak to her. It was then that Hogue revealed that she had seen a tall, blue-eyed blond man with a scarred face inside a tan-colored vehicle take Garecht (per the FBI). The police subsequently released a sketch from the information provided by Hogue. Of this blunder, Dennis J. Oliver, a former reporter that is familiar with Garecht's case, explained (via The Mercury News), "Here's a drawing of this completely different person, and for two days the Hayward Police Department allowed the media to publish false descriptions of the suspect."

A scooter provided answers

Ultimately, this mistake may have negatively altered the search for Michaela Garecht. Per The Mercury News, Dennis J. Oliver went on to say, "The first opportunity and best opportunity to rescue this girl was immediately after it happened, and for two days, they were looking for the wrong person. The dispatcher took information from the wrong person — and from there on out communication was just not handled correctly in the crucial first 24 to 48 hours." That said, the search for Garecht continued for decades to no avail. SFGATE adds that all leads regarding Garecht's abduction led to dead ends and disappointment.

KIRO 7 explains that at the time of her abduction, investigators successfully dusted one of the girl's scooters for prints. Since then, the prints that were lifted have been used to eliminate any potential suspects. However, everything changed in 2018, 30 years after Garecht was taken. Per SFGATE, the Hayward Police were given a tip by the nearby Fremont police: perhaps Garecht's abductor was David Emery Misch. According to The New York Times, the Hayward Police Department decided to test the prints found on the scooter with Misch's prints. They were a match for his palm, and in December 2020, he was charged with Garecht's abduction and murder.

The alleged abductor murdered three women

The New York Times reports that David Emery Misch denied being involved in Michaela Garecht's abduction and death. His attorney, Ernie Castillo, subsequently released a statement that read, "No one in his family believes David would hurt or kill a child." However, SFGATE points out that these charges mark the fourth time Misch has been charged with murder. In fact, Misch is and has been in prison since 1990 for murdering 36-year-old Margaret N. Ball, who, like Garecht, was from Hayward (via KIRO 7). In 2018, Misch was also charged with the murders of 18-year-old Michelle Xavier and 20-year-old Jennifer Duey from Fremont.

According to People, Xavier and Duey were best friends. After leaving a convenience store in February 1986, the two women were shot and stabbed to death. KIRO 7 adds they were also sexually assaulted. Their remains were left on the side of the road in Fremont and discovered by a motorcyclist. The case eventually went cold until DNA evidence concluded that Misch was likely their killer, per Alta Online. Investigators believe that Misch chose them at random, as Xavier and Duey had no known connection to him. Prior to these murders and Garecht's abduction, CNN states that Misch had been convicted of two felonies: assault with a deadly weapon and commercial burglary.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

What happened to Michaela Garecht?

Despite the abduction and murder charges against David Emery Misch, KIRO 7 reports that Michaela Garecht has not been found dead or alive. Nevertheless, The New York Times writes that DNA evidence has painted a clear but tragic picture of what likely occurred to Garecht. In a probable cause document, Detective Robert Purnell of the Hayward Police Department wrote, "I believe that it is reasonable to conclude that having violently abducted the victim, a 9-year-old girl, who hasn't been seen in 32 years, and whose remains have never been found, that Misch murdered the victim, disposed of her remains, and has successfully kept her remains hidden from authorities."

According to KIRO 7, it's believed that Misch killed Garecht to prevent her from identifying him. However, it's unknown how she was murdered or if she was sexually assaulted. All investigators can do is look at his previous murders and assume a similar modus operandi. Ultimately, these charges and theories destroyed any hope that Garecht's mother had (per CNN). In a statement (via The New York Times), Sharon Murch said, "What I did not envision was my daughter as a dead child." She added, "It was only when I heard this news, that this vision of reality appeared, and I honestly have not figured out what to do with it."

A mother and friend still grieve for Michaela Garecht

According to an article published on Alta Online in 2021, both Sharon Murch and Katrina Hogue have accepted that they will never see Michaela Garecht alive again. Like Murch, Hogue believed for years that her childhood friend would one day reappear (via ABC7). Now, Murch is dying of terminal cancer while Hogue harbors guilt that she, instead of Garecht, should have been abducted. Hogue notes that the killer moved her scooter, but Garehct was abducted because she grabbed it. Knowing the crimes suspect David Emery Misch has committed — including the murders of Michelle Xavier and Jennifer Duey , which are similar to Garechts's abduction — she told Alta Online, "I honestly feel like my brain cannot go down these paths right now."

In a statement, Murch divulged (via The New York Times), "The thoughts of her (Garecht's) fear, her pain, her grief, are overwhelming." Per KIRO 7, Murch also said, "It's not about me. It's never been about me, about my feelings. It has always been about Michaela. What I have been through is nothing." SFGATE states that Misch is currently locked up at the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, California. At the time of this publication, Mish has not been convicted for Garecht's abduction or murder. Alta Online explains that he will likely be prosecuted for the murders of Xavier, Duey, and Garecht in one trial.