HAYWARD, Calif. — Michaela Joy Garecht was last seen on Nov. 19, 1988, wearing jeans rolled over her knees and feather-shaped earrings. She hasn’t been seen since, but now the crime appears to be solved.
Michaela was nine-years-old when she was abducted by an unknown male assailant in the parking lot of the Rainbow Market in Hayward, California, on the November morning. She was attempting to retrieve her friend’s scooter that the abductor had moved closer to his vehicle while the girls were inside the market when she was grabbed by the assailant and pulled into a car, according to the FBI.
More than 32 years later, the 9-year-old girl with blond hair and blue eyes remains missing.
However, California authorities announced Monday that they have charged convicted killer David Misch with Michaela’s kidnapping and slaying, a cold case that stunned the San Francisco Bay Area. Police said they only recently were able to match a partial palm print at the scene to Misch, KPIX reported.
The little girl whose body was never recovered would have been 42 next month.
“In the last year, I had to come to a place accepting that Michaela was probably no longer alive,” her mother, Sharon Murch, wrote in a statement. “But somehow, that acceptance was far more wrapped up in the idea of Michaela sitting on a fluffy pink cloud walking streets of gold, dancing on grassy hills, soaring among the stars. What I did not envision was my daughter as a dead child.
“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,” Murch said.
On Nov. 19, 1988, Michaela and her best friend rode their scooters to a market in Hayward to buy a snack days before Thanksgiving. It was their first trip there without teenage neighbors.
They left their scooters outside, and officials allege that Misch moved a scooter to isolate one of the girls. When Michaela went to retrieve it, he forced her into his car and drove away. The palm print that led to Misch’s charges was found on the scooter. It was too small to be scanned through a computer database and had to be analyzed manually.
Misch, now 59, has been charged with murder and kidnapping, KTLA reported.
“Today is about family, community and healing,” Hayward Police Chief Toney Chaplin said. “We can announce that 59-year-old David Misch has been charged with the murder of Michaela Garecht … The disappearance of Michaela Garecht is a tragic story that has gripped the Bay Area for decades.”
Misch was already in a prison for the 1989 murder of a woman in the Hayward area. Furthermore, the convicted killer is also a suspect in a 1986 case where two women were killed in Fremont, another city in the Bay Area. He has been charged with their murders, KPIX reported.
Fremont police reached out to Hayward detectives about Misch, thinking there might be a link between their cases even though some of the circumstances were different. Authorities would not say what led police to believe the cases were connected.
Hayward detectives are treating Michaela’s disappearance as a murder even though her body was never recovered.
Rows of filing cabinets, each drawer marked with a photograph of the young girl, have filled the police station for more than 32 years.
Alameda District Attorney Nancy O’Malley told reporters Misch has been charged with murder and two special circumstances. If found guilty, he could be given a death sentence. Misch was scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday.
“There are no words that can adequately describe the horror of a kidnapped child,” she told reporters. “Especially when the child or the child’s remains are never found…They were just kids. Carefree and certainly not suspecting the danger that lay ahead. Michaela’s kidnapping devastated her family. Paralyzed them with grief and terrorized them with the unknowing of what happened to Michaela. Their pain was and remains indescribable.”
The charges have brought little solace to Michaela’s mother.
“I feel as though I am still looking for Michaela, but now I don’t know where,” she wrote. “I honestly feel lost in the dark.”
Micahela’s father expressed his thoughts.
“I’m just glad he got caught, you know. That’s all I can say. Now they got somebody. It’s gonna start the process all over again,” said Michaela’s father Rod Garecht, 71, who drove from his home in Amador County to Hayward for Monday’s announcement.
“I’m kinda relieved that they caught somebody over it so now I don’t gotta – they’ve got a suspect they can grill and hopefully he’ll cough up wherever the body is,” he said.
Chaplin said his department remains hopeful that they will be able to locate Garecht’s remains.