Patricia Meehan — known as Patty to her family and friends — hadn’t been acting like herself during April 1989. It’s unclear if something specific was bothering Patty, but those who saw her around that time described her behavior as odd; she seemed to be more hyper than usual and slightly disoriented. Patty herself had been concerned enough about her mental state that she made an appointment to see a psychologist on April 21, 1989; she wasn’t sure exactly what was wrong with her but realized that she needed to speak to a professional.
Patty had been born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After she graduated from high school, she attended college in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; she had always enjoyed being around children and decided to get a degree in early childhood development. While she was in college, she decided that she liked working with animals more than kids, and she eventually dropped out of school without completing her degree. She moved north to Bozeman, Montana and found work as a ranch hand.
Although Patty enjoyed her work — she loved horses — she soon found that she wasn’t earning enough money to make ends meet. In order to supplement her salary, she began doing odd jobs for her landlord. She wasn’t living a lavish lifestyle, but she had always appeared to be happy with her life.
Patty called her parents on the evening of April 19th and asked if she could return home to Pennsylvania and move back in with them for a while. They told her that was fine, and Patty promised to call the following day to work out the details. It was a phone call she would never make.
On the morning of April 20th, Patty spoke with her landlord for a few minutes. She mentioned that she was going away for a few days, but she didn’t tell him where she planned to go. In light of the fact that she had scheduled an appointment for the following morning, her impromptu trip seemed oddly timed. Her landlord didn’t question her, though, and Patty climbed into her Chevy Nova and left her Montana apartment for the last time. It’s unclear if she had a particular destination in mind, but she got onto Montana Highway 200 E and started driving. By 8:15 pm that evening, she was more than 380 miles away from Bozeman.
As Patty approached the town of Circle, Montana, she seemed to lose control of her car. Peggy Bueller, who was driving west on Highway 200, was startled to see Patty’s Nova had crossed over the center line and was headed directly at her. Peggy quickly swerved and managed to avoid Patty’s car; somewhat stunned, she pulled her car over on the side of the road to catch her breath. As she glanced in her rearview mirror, she saw Patty smash head-on into a car that had been behind Peggy.
Carol Heitz, an off-duty police dispatcher, hadn’t seen Patty in time to react and was directly in her path. The resulting head-on collision totaled both Patty’s Nova and Carol’s Monte Carlo, but both women somehow survived the violent crash. Carol had suffered a blow to the head and had a few bruises, but she managed to get out of her mangled car without assistance. She saw Patty climb out of her crushed Nova, and Carol walked towards her and asked if she was okay.
Although Patty looked directly at Carol, she seemed dazed and appeared to not see the other woman. She didn’t respond or even acknowledge that Carol was there; bizarrely, Patty walked over to a fence that ran alongside the road and climbed over it. She stood on the other side for a few moments, staring back at the crashed cars. Then she turned and walked quickly into a large field adjacent to the road. She soon disappeared completely into the darkness.
By this time, Peggy had gotten out of her car to check on the accident victims and watched in stunned silence as Patty disappeared. Noticing that Carol needed medical help, Peggy quickly left to call for help. An ambulance arrived and took Carol to the hospital where she would spend the next several days recuperating.
Both Peggy and Carol were able to provide police with a description of Patty, although they didn’t know her name. They described her as being around 35 years old, 110 pounds, 5 feet 6 inches tall, with a freckled face and reddish-blonde hair. They weren’t sure if she had been injured in the crash, but noted that she had appeared to be in shock.
Police ran the license plate and registration for the Chevy Nova and determined that it was owned by a Patricia Meehan living in Bozeman, but they had no idea if she had been the woman driving it at the time of the crash. They immediately started searching the area where the woman had last been seen, worried that she might be injured and unable to call for help. Tracking dogs were brought in to aid police in their search of the field and surrounding area; nearly a mile away from the crash site, the ground started to get softer and they located their first sign of footprints. They were later determined to have been made by someone wearing the same size shoes that Patty wore. Police followed these footprints for hours, finally losing the trail at 3:00 am. There was no sign of the Nova’s driver.
After a little investigation, police were able to determine that Patty had indeed been driving the Nova at the time of the crash, but they had no success in locating her. Although they thought at first that she might have left the scene out of fear, after speaking to family members they were more concerned about the fact that she had been in mental distress prior to the accident. They considered that she might have been suicidal and intentionally caused the crash, but had no evidence to support or disprove this theory.
As soon as the sun came up the following morning, a plane took off to conduct a flyover of the area surrounding the crash site. Several searches were conducted over the course of the day by two different pilots, but they found no evidence that Patty was hiding in any of the fields nearby. A large-scale ground search was conducted by the Montana Highway Patrol, the Circle Police Department, and ambulance crews. They were assisted by local ranchers and an area work crew, but the search turned up no sign of Patty.
Up until Sunday, the weather had been dry and fairly mild, but rain had started to move in and the temperature was dropping. If Patty were still outside without shelter, it was critical that she be located soon. A team of search and rescue personnel along with a search dog continued to scour areas of McCone County while two pilots conducted several flyovers, increasing the radius of their search each time. By the end of the night, investigators believed that Patty had most likely left the immediate area. If she had hitched a ride with someone along the highway, there was no telling where she might be.
The storm that hit the area on Sunday night brought wind, rain, and hail. Search teams combed through a number of vacant buildings near Circle, but found nothing to indicate that Patty had sought shelter inside. Once the skies cleared, another air search was conducted, but like all the others, they found no sign of the missing woman.
Several of Patty’s siblings traveled to Montana to help in the search for their sister. They still hadn’t fully processed the news; it seemed inconceivable that Patty would simply walk away from the scene of an accident. She was usually quite responsible and reliable, and they were worried that she was in the midst of a mental health crisis.
Once it became clear that Patty was not going to be found in the Circle, Montana area, her siblings began to travel along major highways running throughout the state. They distributed missing person posters at various truck stops and rest areas; although there were numerous potential sightings of Patty, none of the tips they followed led to their missing sister.Patty (Photo provided by NamUs.gov)
On May 25, 1989, Patty’s parents arrived to join in the search, along with their son, Terry. Tom and Dolly were devastated by the situation, but were also cautiously optimistic that they would be able to find their daughter. There had been a large number of sightings reported, and they intended to follow up on each one. They brought a number of pictures and video of Patty, hoping it would help people verify if they had seen her or not.
Tom and Dolly spoke to dozens of people who believed they had run into their daughter. Using the photos and video to eliminate false sightings, they identified five people who they felt had actually seen Patty. If they were correct in their assumptions, Patty had been seen in Luverne, Minnesota on May 4th; Murdo, South Dakota on May 5th; Billings, Montana on May 11th and May 13th; then was back in Bozeman on May 19th. They believed that their daughter had suffered amnesia in the crash and was wandering aimlessly around Interstate 90, likely hitching rides with truckers.
The people who saw Patty at these diverse locations all reported that she was soft-spoken and polite, but appeared to be tired and somewhat unkempt. She tended to be seen in fast food restaurants, where she would quietly sit with her hands tucked between her knees. Several of them noted that she mentioned not having a lot of money, and she would use change to pay for her purchases. She also had a tendency to linger in restaurants for several hours at a time, as if she had nowhere else to go.
By the second week in June, Tom and Dolly had expanded their search area, following up on several reported sightings in Idaho and Washington. They concentrated on areas around Interstate 90, as all the reported sightings seemed to be centered around that highway. Patty did have an ex-boyfriend who lived in Spokane, Washington, but there was no indication that she had attempted to visit him.
Tom and Dolly spent weeks looking for Patty, but eventually returned to Pennsylvania without her. They remained in touch with investigators, and continued to be optimistic that Patty would be found.
By September, Patty was still missing and her case was featured on Unsolved Mysteries. After the episode aired, detectives received a flood of tips regarding potential sightings of her. Some seemed more promising than others, but all of them were investigated thoroughly.
One particularly compelling report came from a woman who had picked up a hitchhiker in Victor, Montana in late September 1989. The woman said she was looking for a ride to Missoula. Because it was late and nothing was open, the woman allowed the hitchhiker, who said her name was Patty, to spent the night with her and her husband at their home in Lolo, Montana. She had a soft-spoken voice and told them about her love of horses, and she matched the description of the missing woman. The couple had dropped her off at a Missoula truck stop the following morning; from there the woman planned to hitch a ride to Whitefish, Montana. She claimed that she was going there to stay with a friend.
Police received other tips that Patty was seen in the same area around the same time the first caller had seen her, and this made them believe that they were legitimate sightings. Unfortunately, the tip didn’t lead them to Patty’s whereabouts and she remained missing.
After seeing Unsolved Mysteries, a psychic in Florida called detectives and told them that she didn’t think Patty had ever made it out of the Circle, Montana area. She believed they would find her body in a cave or mineshaft somewhere near the accident site. The Dawson County Search and Rescue Team was brought in to comb through a number of abandoned mines in that area, but they found nothing to indicate there was any truth to the psychic’s claim.
In December 1989, a man was so convinced that he ran into Patty at a bar in Kalispell that he not only called police to report the sighting, but he also grabbed the woman by her wrists and refused to let her leave the bar before police got there. The woman was adamant that she was not the missing woman, but the man was just as adamant that she was lying. The woman angrily waited for police to arrive and set her free. When an officer arrived several minutes later, he also believed that the woman was Patty and insisted that she come down to the station to be questioned. Once she was able to prove her identity she was allowed to leave.
Over the years, thousands of potential sightings were called into police, but none of them led to Patty. Her family remained convinced that she had amnesia and simply couldn’t find her way home, and it’s a possibility that police were never able to exclude from consideration. She may also have succumbed to injuries that she sustained in the car accident. Although authorities conducted a massive search for her, there’s always a chance that her body remains hidden somewhere in one of Montana’s many sparsely populated areas.
Thomas and Dolly spent years traveling the country looking for their missing daughter. Unfortunately, both of them died without ever knowing what happened to her, but her siblings and other family members still hope that her case will be solved.
Patricia Meehan was 37 years old when she went missing in 1989. She has reddish-blonde hair and gray/green eyes. At the time of her disappearance, she was 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed approximately 100 pounds. She was last seen wearing jeans, a brown coat, and white high-top sneakers with a blue stripe. It’s possible that she was injured and she may have been suffering from amnesia when she disappeared. If you have any information about Patty, please contact the McCone County Sheriff’s Office at 406–485–3405.