Cold Cases: The disappearance of Veronica Blumhorst–part 2
By Jim Hagerty
The Rockford Record
Editor’s note: Following is the second installment in a series focused on the Sept. 20, 1990 disappearance of Veronica Blumhorst.
For Paul and Betty Blumhorst, nothing seemed out of place in the early morning hours of Sept. 20, 1990. Betty left for work at a nearby nursing home before 6 a.m. Paul was finishing a 24-hour shift at the Mendota Fire Department.
Todd, 16, was waiting for his sister to wake up in time to drive him to school.
It was 7:30. Veronica’s car was in the garage. Things appeared as they did each morning–except for one thing.
When Todd, a high school junior, discovered he was alone in the house, the landscape of Mendota, Ill., would be forever changed.Veronica, 21, had not come in after arriving home from her late shift at the SuperValu grocery store. In an instant, a household known for its laughter, love and close ties, began to unravel, each second taking a toll.
As afternoon approached, Paul was out of options. Veronica hadn’t gone to breakfast with her boyfriend, Jeff. After coming up empty at the home of his eldest daughter, Caroyln, and signing Todd out of school, returning home seemed like the only thing to do.
Veronica could be one step ahead of him, Paul thought. Maybe she’d be waiting for them.
Instead, dozens, including police officers, were gathered around Betty, who was visibly being taken under by a wave of confusion and horror.
“I got out of the van and the crowd opened up and I saw Mom standing there sobbing,” Todd said. “She grabbed me and hugged me. I’ll never forget her words: ‘Where is your sister?’”
For Todd, emotions take control often when he recalls that first day when Betty pleaded for answers he couldn’t provide.
“I hated to tell Mom that I never heard Veronica come in the house,” Todd recalled. “I was sleeping (on the couch) six feet from the door she would have entered. I could only get out, ‘I don’t know.’
“Still, (more than) 21 years later, I recall that scene and the tears flow.”
Hundreds of volunteers, dozens of whom were central Illinois firefighters, searched for Veronica. An airplane and helicopter with an infrared tracking system joined the hunt.
Fields were fanned. Not a yard was overlooked. Alleys, buildings, vacant lots and wooded areas all failed to produce signs of Veronica Blumhorst.
“We found socks, underwear, purses and billfolds,” Denny Saam, who helped organize the search, said. “We even found a dead cow a farmer buried in a grave. That’s how thorough we were.”
The only sign of Veronica was her blue 1989 Chevrolet Corsica, its engine as cool as the autumn air. Her purse, driver’s license and work smock were not found.
Her boyfriend’s class ring and the video Veronica rented before leaving work have also never been recovered, leading searchers to believe the items were destroyed or kept by a possible assailant.
“If those things were out there, we would have found them,” Saam said.
By Sept. 22, investigators learned from 23 SuperValu employees that although battling mononucleosis, Veronica was in high spirits. She seemed eager to return to work. Her only complaint was similar to those of many young adults: she wished she had more money. Other than that, coworkers said, Veronica was content, happy.
Connecting the dots…
A plan for a K9 unit to work an area from the Blumhorst garage to nearby IL Route 251 was a logical start. Police hoped to be led away from the Monroe Street alley, in the right direction. Instead, they got something else.
“The dog picked up her scent immediately,” Saam said. “But, it just focused on the garage and a small area in the alley.”
The dog’s work was done. The trail was cold. Veronica was likely driven from the alley in another vehicle. But, whose? Was there a predator lurking in the Mendota darkness, hungry for unsuspecting prey? Or was Veronica a willing passenger?
A common practice in missing persons cases, Mendota Police Officer John Pakenham interviewed Veronica’s boyfriend, Jeff Veverka, Sept. 23.
“I started talking to Jeff and we went over the nights of Sept. 18 and Sept. 19,” Pakenham stated in the police report.
According to the report, Jeff suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident and had trouble remembering things. In turn, investigators got little in terms of concrete information. Ambiguity became a familiar dance partner.
“Jeff stated that it was possible that after (Veronica) called him at 9:30 p.m., Sept. 19, 1990 from the store,” Pakenham wrote, “(she may have) told him she was going to a doctor’s appointment with her sister the next day (and) he might have thought she was pregnant.”
Jeff, then 22, also stated he may have driven to Mendota, picked up Veronica, argued with her and pushed her, causing her to be “hurt real bad.” Even as Veverka stated that it was possible that he hurt Veronica for attention, to “make headlines,” police had no evidence.
Jeff was written off as a confused, grieving boyfriend with a possible neurological disorder.
To be continued…