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The Disappearance of Paige Renkoski

Hello, my loyal true crime readers! I’m excited to present a guest post by Michelle. Michelle is a freelance writer and the owner of Unsubs Central, a true crime blog where she writes book and film reviews about serial killers. This is her first article dedicated to a missing persons case. As a fellow Michigander, this case was one of the earliest cases that made a deep impression on her, and the one that foretold her interest in true crime. You can reach out to Michelle on Twitter and Instagram to discuss this case or just to chat about true crime.

Enjoy the guest post ~ Christine

Introduction

It was May 24, 1990, the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend. It’s a time when many Michiganders partake in the time-honored tradition of going up north. For those in the mitten state, traveling on a holiday weekend is hectic and stressful. Long drives and congested roads, therefore, push many to leave for their mini-vacations on Thursday to avoid the hassle. It was on this day, at somewhere between 3:15 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., that Paige Renkoski was last seen alive on one of the busiest highways in the state and a main thoroughfare for those traveling to Lake Michigan for the weekend. There are no reports of anyone seeing Paige after about 4:30 p.m.

Born on February 2, 1960 in Lansing, Michigan, Paige was working as a substitute teacher. She had hoped to work with deaf students. Engaged to be married in November of that year, she was living in DeWitt, Michigan. In addition to mother Ardis and father Carl, she had three sisters, Tami, Michele, and Sheril. Her family fondly remembers her love of skateboarding, singing, and swimming. They describe her as a tomboy with a bubbly personality (Roose-Church).

Case Details

Earlier on the day of her disappearance, Paige dropped her mother off at the Detroit Metropolitan airport and then stopped to visit a friend in Canton, Michigan. Between 2:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., she stopped at a liquor store for beer before heading westbound on I-96 on her way home. Paige was driving a 1986 silver Cutlass Calais; the car belonged to her mother’s employer.

At about 6 p.m. near Fowlerville exit 129, police found the Cutlass with its lights on, the keys in the ignition, and the car running. The driver’s side door was closed but unlocked, while the passenger side door was closed and locked. Her purse and shoes were in the car. Initially, the scene was treated as an abandoned car, so the car was tagged and towed without being processed as a crime scene.

Vehicle interior

Inside of Paige Renkoski Vehicle
Source: Livingston County Sheriff Department

Many witnesses report seeing Paige and the car she was driving. Many witnesses report her talking to a man. Some say she was talking to two men. Most witnesses report a burgundy minivan parked near, but others said it was a white pickup truck, or a red cargo van, or a black truck with an emblem. As one can imagine, considering the passage of time and the fact that most eyewitness testimony was from people in cars traveling at 65 miles per hour, the information received varies dramatically. The Livingston County Sheriff’s Department estimates that at least 80% of nearly 800 tips report Paige speaking to an African American man, while others say a Hispanic man. A few witnesses state they saw a man leaning with his hand on the Cutlass, and in fact fingerprints and a palm print have been lifted from the car. Unfortunately to this day, no match has been made on any of those prints. At the time of her disappearance, Paige was wearing a white silk shirt with multi-colored loose fitting pants and a long beaded necklace. 

Composite sketches of person(s) of interest

Person(s) of Interest in Paige Renkoski Case
Source: 62CBS Detroit

The Letter

About six months after Paige disappeared, investigators received a letter with a map enclosed. The letter reads: the information may be a “red herring however I have recently come into some information about Paige…that may or may not be true. I have tried to verify as much of this information as I could and have found many of the details to be true.” The author continues to say that the map is the “supposed route taken by her abductors.” The unsigned letter ends with, “Thank you for your attention to this.” In November 2011, using the map, the FBI, state, and local police excavated a property in Conway Township, but no remains were found. According to an article in the Lansing State Journal, though, investigators “may have read the map incorrectly.” There are no reports of further attempts to search the area (Roose-Church).

Possible Theories

Someone impersonating a police officer? The same year Paige disappeared, a woman reported to police that a man pulled up beside her and flashed a police badge in an attempt to get her to pull over near the same area where Paige disappeared.

Was it a staged accident? There was slight damage to front of the Cutlass Calais, but per investigators, it was not “overly glaring” (Roose-Church).

Suspects

Quite simply, no viable suspects have ever emerged in Paige’s disappearance. While there have been persons of interest, including a 17 year old who flunked a polygraph test, there has not been enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime. 

Update

May of 2019 marks 29 years that Paige has been missing. After years of tireless devotion advocating for missing persons, Paige’s mother, Ardis, passed away in December 2017. In 2015, her family created a Go Fund Me page that raises money for cold case teams around the country. I recently spoke with Deputy Edwin Moore of the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office and while investigators continue to work on solving the disappearance of Ms. Renkoski, according to Deputy Moore, investigators have “no new news items to release that have not already been released.” 

Paige Renkoski

Photo of Missing Person Paige Renkoski
Source: Wikipedia

If you have any information about what happened to Paige, please contact the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department at (517) 546-2440, or the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department Tip Line at (517) 546-8477. If you’d like to submit an anonymous tip, you can do so at the website: www.1800speakup.org

Go Fund Me: Paige Renkoski Missing 5.24.90

Paige Renkoski 5.24.90 Never Give Up Facebook page

Roose-Church, Lisa. “Mom: I Hope They Can Bring My Little Girl Home.” Lansing State Journal. May 25, 2015

Howell, Brian. “Cadaver dogs find potential burial site of Okemos woman missing since 1990.” MLiveMichigan. November 11, 2011

Chichester, Jen. “Michigan’s missing: Five unsolved disappearances from the Mitten State.” Criminal. 2018

“Paige Maire Renkoski.” The Charley Project. October 12, 2004

“New search in the case of Paige Renkoski: Missing for over 20 years.” 62CBS Detroit. May 31, 2011

“Interests narrowed in Renkoski case.” Click On Detroit. April 14, 2010

“Rest in peace, Ardis” John Schneider Blog. December 15, 2017

“Ardis Wait Renkoski of Okemos, Michigan | 1933 – 2017 | Obituary.” Palmer, Bush & Jensen Funeral Homes

Interested in missing persons cases? Check out the mysterious disappearance of Holly Painter.

Liked it? Take a second to support Christine on Patreon!
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5 Comments

  1. Todd Todd

    It’s amazing that someone could disappear without a trace in broad daylight… but, like was stated in your article, the people driving by are going at a high rate of speed and apparently nobody saw anything sinister to rise and suspicion. Hard to say but I suspect a staged accident, but who knows. Praying for a miracle here! Appreciate the article!

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Todd. I know, right? And on one of the busiest travel days. I find it all very unsettling. Michelle will be happy to know you liked her guest post! As always, thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.

  2. Jay Jay

    As a forensic investigator, the truth is even more creepier and out of this world than what we call fiction! I appreciate your work.

  3. Bill Bill

    The problem with all of the witness accounts is that we can’t know whether they are accounts of the people who took the victim or accounts of good Samaritans stopping to see whether everything was okay. For all we know, all four of the vehicles that were seen could have been concerned citizens who stopped because they thought the car by itself looked suspicious. These good Samaritans could have been three different black men and one Hispanic man. The result is that the tip line includes tips on all of the vehicles mentioned and all of the men mentioned. One of the good Samaritans may have touched the car, so even identifying the fingerprints and palm print may not help.

    If the damage to the front of the Cutlass was minor, the damage may have come from a parking lot bump long before the disappearance.

    When I took my first handgun safety course, we were looking at shoot/no shoot scenarios. One was considered the typical convenience store robbery. The bad guy goes into the store, grabs a single six-pack from the refrigerator, and goes up to the counter. He then pulls a gun to rob the place.

    The police officer teaching the class said that he’s never heard of a convenience store robbery where the robber doesn’t get a six-pack before robbing the place. He joked that if he were working in a convenience store late at night and some guy walked directly to the beer, got a six-pack, and walked directly to the counter, he’d shoot the guy immediately.

    I say this to ask whether the six-pack was in the car. If she was abducted by someone staging a false accident and then intimidating her with a weapon, I can imagine the abductor telling her to bring the six-pack. If she was abducted by someone posing as a police officer, I don’t think the person would tell her to bring the six-pack.

    I’m also curious whether the driver’s side window was rolled down. While I can see either type of abduction starting with the window being rolled down, I associate the rolled down window with a police stop. After a staged accident, I can see someone getting out of her car to look at damage without first rolling down the window.

    I’m curious about the exact ruse that the person impersonating a police officer used in the previous incident. Did the police officer try to suggest that the woman had broken the law, or did he try to suggest some other reason for the contact? For instance, if he tried to get her out of the car by suggesting that there was a warrant for her arrest, she would likely have put on her shoes and taken her purse. If he told her that a family member had been in an accident or had a health issue, a woman might get out of the car without thinking of her shoes or purse. Obviously, the ruse is less likely to draw attention if the abductor can get the woman in his vehicle before threatening her. If he has to start making threats from the moment he comes to her car door, there’s a greater chance that she makes a desperate attempt at resistance that would have drawn attention.

    If I’m reading this narrative correctly, the police received the letter in 1990 and waited twenty-one years to follow the map to a property and search for a body. I don’t understand that delay. If the map was so poorly made that no one could really interpret where the letter’s author was trying to send the police, I can understand some delay, but twenty-one years seems excessive. Was the delay caused by the FBI needing twenty-one years for some kind of behavioral expert to figure out what the author was trying to say? Was the delay caused because the letter and map were simply lost in a file? Roads change in twenty-one years, so I’m even wondering whether the location that they searched is the one that the author expected them to search.

    This one seems to offer no real evidence.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Bill. Like always, thanks for reading and for your comments. I’m glad you liked the guest post. I am far from an expert on this case, as I did not do the research and writing. But you do touch on many of the things that grabbed my attention. That is quite a list of suspects, and I wonder how many of them might actually have just been trying to help. There is so little evidence in this case that it is really hard to know what happened to Paige. The six-pack story you told is both intriguing and amusing. What a great observation by the police officer about the habits of criminals. And if we knew more it could actually help in this case! If Michelle, the author of the article, sees your comments she might chime in. Hope you have a great weekend!

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