DAYTON — One of Dayton’s biggest mysteries began 50 years ago when a 13-year-old girl vanished without a trace.
Her sudden disappearance traumatized her family and baffled the police.
News Center 7′s Cheryl McHenry recently talked with cold case detectives and the missing girl’s brothers, all of whom still want to know what really happened to Sharon Pretorius.
Doug Pretorius, Sharon’s brother, has not seen the Cornell Drive house for over 40 years.
After their father’s sudden death, the family lived in the house with their widowed mother, Marycarol Pretorius.
Doug Pretorius showed McHenry a family picture from their church directory in 1973. He said, “In that summer we had been out to Los Angeles. My mother has a sister who lived out there with her family.”
The Pretorius family spent weeks enjoying the sand and ocean with 13-year-old Sharon who was happy and carefree.
That fall, Sharon, so smart she skipped a grade, started her freshman year at Fairview High School getting up early to deliver the Journal Herald. On Friday, Sept. 28, Sharon told her brother, Richard, that she was going to collect on her paper route.
Richard Pretorius said, “And, I said that was fine and I’d see her when she got back.”
Around 5:30 p.m., Sharon walked out the door and never came home.
“My brother, Doug, and I went to the first several houses on her paper route and found out that she had not actually reached even the first house,” Richard said.
Sharon’s mother became alarmed and called Dayton Police that evening. They quickly determined Sharon had not run away and alerted the news media.
Sharon’s youngest brother, David remembers people meeting at the house to look for his sister.
“These were just friends, family, church, I don’t know. And they all had flashlights and they were going to go out and start searching,” David said.
Police questioned Sharon’s friends, teachers, and witnesses who thought they’d seen her.
The strongest lead came from a woman who told police she saw a girl struggling with a man who was trying to get Sharon into a car at the stoplight at Cornell and Philadelphia, which was right around the time Sharon had left the house.
Retired Detective Dough Roderick with Dayton Police said, “At the time, that lady thought that was just the man’s daughters and she was acting out,” He continued, “Later, when she heard about the missing report of Sharon, she realized she probably saw Sharon and the person who abducted her.”
The witness described the man as a 30–40-year-old white man and the car was a 1965 dark blue Ford sedan. But how Sharon ended up four blocks in the opposite direction is still a mystery.
“One theory I have is that she was abducted maybe on this side of the street or close to the house and was immediately driven that way,” Roderick said. “There’s a stoplight down there so the car would have had to slow down at least and that’s when she would have tried to get out, I think.”
Doug Pretorius said, “I suspect she was abducted, raped, and killed. I suspect it happened in a short period of time,”
Sharon’s brothers all believe she met a violent end-though her remains were never found, and that perhaps more than one person was involved.
“Most likely two or probably three males pulled her into a vehicle,” Richard Pretorius said.
The detective thinks the lack of leads indicates a lone abductor who knew to keep his mouth shut.
“I think this was not necessarily random. I think it’s maybe somebody who did it more than once, and maybe not in this area but traveled around,” Roderick said.
Like Sharon’s brothers, Roderick believes the killer could still be alive.
“Perpetrators could be in their 60s, could be in their 70s,” David Pretorius said.
Doug Pretorius is a Lutheran church pastor in Wapakoneta who said, “I have family members and extended family members who are still extremely traumatized by it,”
He believes answers would bring peace to those he loves. “And any kind of information at all would be life-changing for them.”
If you have any information at all about what may have happened to Sharon Pretorius, call the Dayton Police Cold Case Unit at 937-333-7109 or Crimestoppers at 937-222-STOP.
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