VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — The year was 1994: O.J. Simpson was on the run. Nancy Kerrigan had been attacked during practice. As huge headlines were coming out nationally, local news stations were covering the murder of Mistie May Mitcheletti.
“Somebody came in the house and took Mistie,” her aunt Kellie Karlson said just after the murder. “They killed her.”
The 11-year-old vanished from her Vancouver apartment on January 15, 1994. Two days later, her body was found in the Columbia River.
“I might as well have lost one of my own children because that’s how close we were,” Mistie’s grandmother, Yvonne Sluder, told KOIN 6 News. “That little thing loved fairy tales, anything that was sweet and kind. She always wanted to just be a princess and be happy.”
The family has held onto those comforting memories throughout the years, but the nightmare of what actually happened to their beloved Mistie lives on.
On the night of her disappearance, Mistie was home alone with her 2 brothers while her mother was at work. Sluder said she remembers waking up to a frantic call from her grandson.
“He said, ‘Grandma, Mistie is gone and I heard somebody talking. Somebody has taken her,'” she recalled.
Days later, authorities said fishermen found Mistie’s body floating in the Columbia River near the I-205 bridge.
“It destroyed [her mother], she just more or less went into a shell,” Sluder said. “My grandsons, John and Josh, have nearly gone crazy and now they are just shut away.”
As the investigation continued, the medical examiner said semen had been found on Mistie’s body. The discovery led to dozens of DNA tests in search of a suspect.
“They had done them on close friends, family,” Karlson said. “They did background checks on everybody that was close to her… friends, any of the neighbors.”
But the tests didn’t get investigators anywhere.
Twenty-three years later, the family still has no answers or closure. No suspects have been identified.
“I keep thinking, if I had just kept Mistie with me, maybe she would still be alive,” Sluder said.
But recently, through the power of social media, the family stumbled upon a case similar to Mistie’s out of Salt Lake City, Utah. The victim: 6-year-old Rosie Tapia.
Private investigator Jason Jensen said Rosie’s family hired him to solve her case.
Like Mistie, Rosie was abducted from her room while she and her siblings slept. Her body was found in a nearby canal. Investigators said she had been sexually assaulted.
Jensen said Rosie’s sister helped police create a composite drawing in 1995, and at one point there was a person of interest in the case. Rosie’s sister said she didn’t know the suspect, but saw him with Rosie earlier in the night.
The suspect was described as a white man with dark complexion, about 30 years old, 5’9″ tall with a thin build.
“We are trying to figure out why this guy has some correlations with Rosie’s case a few hours earlier, and if we can tie the same individual to Mistie’s case then there must be something there,” Jensen said.
The private investigator said he can’t confirm if the man is connected to both killings, but it’s possible he could have been in the Vancouver area when Mistie was killed in 1994. He said the similarities between the 2 cases are eerie.
If someone in the Northwest recognizes the man in the sketch, it could be a big break in the case. Mistie’s family said that possibility is enough to give them a little hope.
“I still can’t hardly face it,” Sluder said. “Even after all these years.”
Sluder said she’ll always miss her little girl, but her faith keeps her strong.
“I think she’s at peace, I get that feeling,” she said. “I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed that she’s at peace and I feel she is, and to me that’s really important.”
Anyone with information on Mistie or Rosie’s cases should call 360.487.7399.