A MURDER RUNS THROUGH IT
Born: March 6 1965 — Body Discovered: October 5, 1984
The last time Michele Frank was seen alive she had just finished a late shift at the Jack in the Box restaurant in Saint Louis, Missouri, where she worked as a night supervisor. As she pulled out of the parking lot on the corner of Union Road and Bayless Avenue, she waved good-bye to colleagues and headed out into the night.
Michele, who was nineteen-years-old at the time, had graduated in 1983 from Bayless High School —located less than a mile from where she worked. This part of Saint Louis was not unfamiliar to her, and there was no reason to think that she would get lost or have trouble finding her way home.
The corner of Union and Bayless
When Michele made her way out of the parking lot early on that October morning in the black, 1983 Pontiac that had belonged to her grandfather, there was no reason to think she would fail to make it home and was instead driving to her death. Had she known, I’m sure she would have changed her course.
But as far as anyone knew, Michele was heading back High Ridge, Missouri — approximately an 18 mile drive — where she lived with her mother.
A late night/early morning call
Michele’s mother was not thrilled that Michele was working the closing shift at the Jack in the Box. She didn’t feel it was safe, and so every night that her daughter went to work, she waited up for her return. When Michele didn’t make it home that night, her mother did not wait; she called the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office before sunrise. Jefferson County is where Michele’s mother’s home in High Ridge, Missouri, was located, and while later it would become clear that Michele probably never made it Jefferson County, at the time, her mother had no way of knowing that.
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office in Jefferson County did not share Michele’s mother’s concerns and declined to investigate. It was the standard at the time for law enforcement not to get involved in a missing persons case until at least 72 hours had elapsed; a 19-year-old getting home late from work was not, in their estimation, something to worry about.
But it did worry Michele’s mother, and after two more days had passed and Michele had still not come home, Michele’s mother decided she needed to take more action.
Another phone call
On October 3, 1984, forty-eight hours after Michele had last been seen, her mother called the Saint Louis County Police. Saint Louis was county where the Jack in the Box Michele worked at was located. The Saint Louis County Police did not start an investigation that day, but the following day when a call came in that a 1983 black Pontiac had been found abandoned on Sweet Gum Drive, two miles south of the Jack in the Box where Michele Frank worked. They secured the scene, processed the car, and questioned the people in the neighborhood where the car was found.
There were, however, no signs of violence either in or around the car, and nobody they spoke to seemed to know anything about the missing young woman or why her car was there.
Friday, October 5, 1984
While the Saint Louis County Police continued their investigation, across the river in Monroe County, Illinois, a hunter — walking in a wooded area not easily reached by car — discovered the body of a young woman. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.
Without meaning to, the hunter had solved the mystery of where Michele Frank was, but thirty-five years later, the mystery of how she got there and who murdered her has yet to be solved.
Where the body was found
In 1984, the Jefferson Barracks Bridge — which was near to where Michele Frank’s body was found — was a work in progress.
Today, two bridges span that section of the mighty Mississippi River, but at the time of Michele Frank’s murder, only the northern bridge had been completed; it would be another 8 years before the southern bridge was finished, but one thing that was true then and is true now: it’s not the kind of place you end up by accident.
The trail of evidence
Seventeen years passed, and Michele Frank’s family still had no answers. In 2001, her sister, Debbi, spearheaded an effort to solve the crime, arranging for an experienced private eye, Suzanne Shephers, to look into the case. In addition to her work as a private eye, Ms. Shepherd had also worked as a police officer in Phoenix, Arizona, but even with her skills, she was not able to make a break through in the case.
Based on what has been reported, it doesn’t seem that there was a lot of physical evidence for law enforcement to work with, and while trying to solve the crime so many years after the fact isn’t easy, it that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try.
While the Illinois State Police have ruled out some suspects, I think that using some of the newer tools available to them (like geographic profiling), they should consider revisiting old suspects and look to develop new ones.
Michele’s known locations — Jack in the Box, Sweet Gum Drive, and then somewhere north of the northernmost part of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge — all show her taking a fairly straight forward route to her death that did not include side trips or detours.
Having gotten lost myself while driving in this area of Illinois and Missouri, I also think that whoever killed Michele had to be very familiar with the terrain. If you don’t know where you are going (as I didn’t) you can take an exit too early or too late, and find yourself on the side of the river that is the opposite of what you intended.
In order to get in and out all while dumping a body, means that you need to know where you are going and how to avoid any would-be hunters.
It is not the kind of place you can go without a map or a GPS, and certainly not on the spur of the moment in the middle of the night when you don’t know where you are going.
All of those truths of the geography point to the perpetrator being someone who was familiar with the area and had planned to abduct Michele. The lack of any physical evidence of an attack in her car also suggests that she knew, and to some degree trusted, her attacker enough to get in his car.
To my mind the most likely scenario is that Michele agreed to meet up with someone she knew after work for something that she thought would take just a few minutes, and then she would head home. Instead, she found herself in over her head with someone she could not trust, and by the time that became to clear to her, it was too late
Another scenario that might explain some of the incongruities of the case is that while Michele was well known to her attacker, her attacker was not as well known to her. In this instance, I think it’s possible the attacker was a somewhat regular customer at the restaurant who knew Michele’s comings and goings, and may have even made false promises to get in her good graces.
Michele Frank was young woman with big dreams. She enjoyed singing and aspired to become a performer. In fact, in addition to her duties at Jack in the Box, she was about to make her debut at a concert in nearby Fenton, Missouri, with her band.
But she never got that chance.
Instead her father, her mother, her sisters, and her brother have had to go forward with and live out their lives not knowing how she came to meet her end, and the most I can hope for is that each of them has managed to bring forward some part of her, so that Michele is in someway, always with them.
Now buried in Saint Trinity Cemetery in Lemay, Missouri, Michele Frank is at rest, even if her family must continue to agitate to get some justice, and if not justice, then a small measure of peace.