Filming Took Place In Vermillion Last Spring
Rita Allen knows that there’s nothing she can do to bring her sister, Cheryl Miller, back into her life.
She can, however, tell her story. That’s what compelled her to participate in a documentary entitled “Gone” that will air at 8 p.m. Monday, July 31, on the Investigation Discovery channel.
“Teenagers Cheryl Miller and Pam Jackson go out to enjoy the first day of summer break in the small town of Vermillion, South Dakota and vanish,” reads the description of this episode on the Investigation Discovery website. “Although rumors spread for years, the families never gave up hope. Then one day, the mystery is revealed.”
Not giving up, Allen, who lives in Watertown, is the one message she hopes she gets across loud and clear.
Allen was 9 years old when her sister disappeared. She remembers the last time she saw her sister. She said she was going to go roller skating with friends, but Allen suspected that she may have other plans for that night, including an end-of-the-school –year party with classmates.
The girls never made it to the party, and were never seen again. Their disappearance was a mystery that hung over the Vermillion community for four decades until September 2013, when a motorist crossing a bridge over Brule Creek in Union County spotted an overturned car in the water.
Skeletal remains found in the car were months later positively identified as belonging to Cheryl Miller and Pam Jackson.
The cause of the two girls’ death was a car accident, said Attorney General Marty Jackley at press conference held in April 2014 in the Union County Courthouse in Elk Point.
Miller and Jackson, both 17-years-old, were last seen in May 1971 driving in the 1960 Studebaker which was discovered in Brule Creek. The two girls had planned to attend a party held at a gravel pit located near the creek.
There was a time when local law enforcement believed the girls may have fallen victim to foul play.
In August 2004, investigators focused on the Kerwyn Lykken farm of rural Alcester. Armed with search warrants, authorities searched the Lykken farmhouse, and went through barns from top to bottom, digging up floors in some buildings.
David L. Lykken was 17 and residing at the farm at the time of the girls' disappearance.
The investigation eventually led to his indictment and arrest. Lykken is already serving a 227-year sentence in the South Dakota Penitentiary for kidnapping and rape.
Lykken was 52 at the time he was indicted Friday, June 29, 2007 on two counts of premeditated murder, two counts of felony murder and two counts of murder.
He was arrested Monday, July 2, 2007 at the penitentiary where he has been incarcerated since 1990.
The indictment charged that Lykken murdered Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson on or about May 29, 1971.
Prosecutors were forced to drop the double-murder charges against Lykken, however, after problems were discovered with a key piece of evidence. His murder trial, scheduled for late March, 2008 in Elk Point, was cancelled.
The documentary was filmed in March, and features Allen’s younger sister, Dawn Hewlett, who lives with Allen in Watertown, Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe and Ray Hofman, a retired Vermillion police detective who worked on trying to find the two missing girls.
Allen said she hasn’t had a chance to see the documentary; she will watch it for the first time when it airs Monday night.
“It was very difficult going through the whole process, because you were reliving a lot,” she said. “There were many happy tears, but a lot of very sad tears as well.
“I would give anything and everything to have her back,” Allen said of her sister,”but knowing that’s impossible, I believed that she deserved this – that she deserved to have her story told. I also want to thank the community of Vermillion for their prolonged support. We’ve received many blessings from them; their support is what helped us get through it all.”
She hopes, too, that any other families with missing loved ones will find encouragement from the program.
“I hope it helps,” Allen said. “All I can say to anyone out there who is missing someone is to never, never give up.”