New book on Vermillion cold case uncovers flaws in South Dakota's crime investigations
"In 2004, the state of South Dakota came to my farm and showed me a search warrant," said Kerwyn Lykken, "and the first words that (Det.) Michael Braley said to me was, what were you doing on May 29, 1971? And I answered him back. What were you doing on May 29, 1971? He shows me the search warrant and he says, 'we have reason to believe the two girls are disappeared and they are buried on your farm'."
May 29th, 1971 was the last time anyone saw 17-year-olds, Sherri Miller and Pam Jackson. The Vermillion teenagers were last seen driving a 1960 Studebaker Lark trying to find a rural keg party. They never made it. And never made it home.
Their disappearance became known as South Dakota's most infamous cold case and is now the subject of a new book, "Vanished in Vermillion".
"So I covered the case when I was a reporter in Sioux Falls. And it was one of, at the time, most interesting cases I was working on, but then the cold case completely fell apart while I was working on it." Lou Raguse is a reporter for KARE-TV in Minneapolis, but in 2005, he was a reporter for KELO-TV in Sioux Falls. "And then I had this feeling like I was missing something because I wasn't going to see what happened," Raguse said about leaving KELO, "and the biggest worry is we'd never find out what happened to Sherri and Pam."
South Dakota's Division of Criminal Investigations, or DCI, opened a new investigation into the teens' disappearance in 2004. As Raguse details in his book, investigators pointed their finger at one man. David Lykken was in prison for unrelated crimes in 2004 and was suddenly suspected of killing the teens.
"My biggest misconception was at the time they made me feel like David Lykken was a suspect back in the 70s when he was young, and then they just found the missing link to be able to charge him now," Raguse said. "And so to learn that his name was basically just floated because he was a person that lived in the area and had a criminal past, that was basically it."
"And then from there, they matched everything they found to what they wanted it to be." Kerwyn Lykken is David's brother and he and the Lykken family were also implicated in the teens' disappearance. Three search warrants on the Lykken farm in the 2000s uncovered what police detailed as evidence. That evidence, Raguse shows in his book, wasn't really evidence at all. When police later filed murder charges against David, the evidence they used wasn't as it seemed.
"As I went through the case files, it was surprising how much of what we were being told at the time completely contradicted reality in what police were putting in their reports," Raguse stated.
On September 21st, 2013 a local man by the name of Jim Sorensen discovered the 1960 Studebaker Lark in Brule Creek. The teens weren't murdered by the Lykkens as South Dakota's DCI team said. They died in a tragic car accident.
"I hope the public can see how easily an investigation can spin out of control," Raguse said. "And somebody's got to be able to pump the brakes."
For Kerwyn Lykken, the accusations that he helped his brother cover up a murder are still something he deals with today. "The people that knew me and knew me from softball and curling and things, my activities, they knew we didn't have a thing (to do with it)," Kerwyn told me. "But it's the people on the peripheral that say 'I think they did it and I got away, they got away with it', you can see it in the book."
Kerwyn hopes Raguse's book can help the community understand you can't believe everything you hear. "When you don't sit down and weigh the facts, what I've always thought was our judicial system, the courthouse shows the scales and it shows her blindfolded. And nobody in our case was blindfolded and the scales were like this here," Kerwyn stated, showing his hands in an uneven line.
"And what can we do to fight the state? They had every resource. They had all this money. And what can we do? And I said to somebody one time, how do you clear your name when you're innocent?"
Raguse says the laws in South Dakota keep the public and the press from seeking answers from police. "I hope the public understands that in other places around the country, there are laws that allow you to check up the work a little bit easier of what's been done by law enforcement. Those laws can be passed here and they should be."
Raguse spent years with this cold case, interviewing countless people involved. One thing he hopes his book, Vanished in Vermillion, brings is closure.
"I hope that the Lykken family doesn't have to think about this and doesn't have to walk down the street wondering if people think that they committed murder. Because it was really sad to me when I got here and started working on the story of how many people thought that they still had something to do with it," Raguse said about his book's purpose. "I hope for Pam and Sherri's family that even though they got some answers when Pam and Sherri's bodies were recovered, I hope that this gives them closure, and they could go on without thinking about it every day."
Ever since Pam and Sherri's deaths were ruled accidental, there's just one thing Kerwyn wants that he has yet to receive. "I hope that we finally... if the law enforcement people and the court systems, I want them to be held accountable."
Actually, two things.
Katie: You're still waiting for that apology?
Kerwyn: I've never gotten an apology from anybody.
The murder charges against David Lykken were eventually dropped and he remains in prison for unrelated crimes. But there's a lot more to the story.
You can read the book for yourself, it's on sale now at many area book stores or you can visit VanishedInVermillion.com to purchase it online.
SEE THE VIDEO
Leave a Reply.
Web articles from my time at Siouxland News.