Sharon Pretorius got home from school at her usual time on the afternoon of Friday, September 28, 1973. After finishing her weekly piano lesson, the 13-year-old left her Dayton, Ohio home to collect money from the customers on her paper route. Sharon’s brother saw her leave with her Dayton Journal Herald collection book in her hand, but she didn’t make it to any of the houses on her route that afternoon. Sharon never returned home and she was never seen again.
She was a very trustworthy teen, and Sharon’s mom, Mary Carol Pretorius, was sure she hadn’t run away from home. At 10:30 pm, she called the Dayton Police Department to say her daughter was missing. But, she was told she had to wait at least 24 hours before she could file a report. It was Saturday when Mary Carol called the police again, and she was freaking out.
Investigators knew right away that Sharon wasn’t the kind of teen who would voluntarily go missing. Her mother and father were very close. Her father died when she was only seven years old. She was a straight-A student all through high school and had just started her first year at Fairview. She was so smart that she skipped eighth grade, and she couldn’t wait to start high school. Sharon was in the high school band and played the flute. She was excited to perform with her bandmates that Saturday night.
Sharon looked older than 13 years old. She was tall for her age, at about 5 feet 7 inches. Her mother, however, said she was “really quite innocent” and that she didn’t date or have a boyfriend. She liked having a paper route and spent most of her free time studying or practicing with the band. A classmate named Holly Samuels said, “She never wore makeup and always wore jeans or long skirts.” She was quiet, but she was never rude, and she was always nice.
Sharon had two younger brothers, but she was the oldest daughter and always helped take care of her sister and two younger brothers. She took care of her responsibilities well. A cousin of Sharon’s told her that she sometimes feels like running away from home. Sharon told the cousin that she never did because she had nowhere to go. It made it even stranger that she had disappeared.
The band’s performance on Saturday night was canceled when school officials learned that Sharon was missing so that all of the band members could help look for the missing teen. While volunteers looked through Sharon’s Dayton neighborhood, police began going door-to-door to talk to people to see if anyone had seen anything strange that Friday afternoon. They had talked to more than 250 people by Sunday morning.
Some of Sharon’s neighbors said on Sunday afternoon that they would pay $1,000 for information that would help them find the missing teen. Twenty different neighbors each gave $50 to help pay for the reward. They hoped it would help get Sharon home safely.
Police Sgt. Robert Hahn of Dayton said that they were still trying to figure out what happened to Sharon. We have been working hard on it, but we haven’t found anything yet. A lot of people saw her before Friday, but not that day.
On Monday, police talked to a witness who said she had seen a girl fight with a man at 5:30 p.m. on Friday at the corner of Cornell Drive and Philadelphia Drive, not far from Sharon’s house. The witness thought the man, who she said was between 30 and 40 years old and about 6 feet tall, got out of a dark blue 1965 Ford Sedan. Reporters talked to Officer James Paxton, who said, “The woman did not see whether the young woman was forced into the car or what eventually happened.”
However, police stressed that they couldn’t say for sure if the man the witness saw was involved in Sharon’s disappearance because the witness wasn’t sure if the young woman she saw was Sharon. The man had a medium-sized build and a full beard. He was wearing dirty white T-shirt, blue jeans, a brown jacket that reached the waist, and a hat that had brown trim around the edges.
Chief of Police for the 5th District of Dayton, G. H. Thurman, said that all of the police officers in the district were looking for Sharon. “We are following up on all leads we get, no matter how small or unimportant they seem.” He told anyone who thought they knew anything to call the police station.
Officer Paxton talked to every person who lived within a mile of Sharon’s house for 92 hours in the hopes that at least one of them could have seen something that could help the police with their investigation. They couldn’t remember seeing Sharon at all that Friday afternoon.
At Dayton’s Messiah Lutheran Church on Wednesday night, more than 40 people came to pray for Sharon’s safe return. Reverend Dale Truscott told reporters that he was going to hold a prayer vigil every night until the teen was found. He knew Sharon well because she went to his church.
The reward for help with the case was up to $4,000 by Thursday. A lot of Sharon’s classmates and other private donors gave most of the money. The Dayton Journal Herald, where she worked, offered $1,000 “for information directly leading to Sharon’s release from abduction or for information directly leading to the arrest and conviction of her abductor.”
The detectives hoped that the bigger reward would help them find new leads. Police Supervisor Harry Henry said, “We’re starting to reach the point where leads aren’t worth as much as they used to be, but we’ll keep looking into all of them.” We have no plans to back off from the case.”
As the second week of the investigation began, no one knew what happened to Sharon. Even though investigators had talked to a lot of people, Officer Paxton admitted that they were running out of leads. “We’re still talking to people, but no one has been able to help us find out anything about Sharon.”
There was a man driving a blue Ford who was seen fighting with a young woman around the time Sharon went missing. Detectives asked the public to keep an eye out for this man. “Get the license number of the car if you see it. It may be in the Dayton View area.” Police looked at dozens of dark blue Ford sedans but found none that were linked to Sharon’s disappearance.
Researchers noticed that Sharon had been seen walking down Cornell Drive, which is a very busy road. This made them think that many people must have seen her in the minutes before she went missing. Any driver who had been on Cornell Drive that afternoon was asked to call them with any information, no matter how small it seemed.
A man who didn’t want to be named called the Dayton Police Department and said he had taken Sharon hostage in Xenia, Ohio, and would give her back for $150,000. When asked for his name, he hung up, and he never called back. Detectives were sure that the call had been a joke.
Even though police had followed up on hundreds of tips and handed out thousands of flyers with Sharon’s information, they still didn’t know what had happened to the teen by the end of October. Detectives told the press that the number of tips had dropped almost to zero and that they had found no more leads.
Detectives learned that the man in the dark blue car, who was the only solid lead they had, might not have been as reliable as they had first thought. Initially, a young woman said she had seen the man fight with someone who looked like Sharon. However, she later changed her story and said her aunt had seen it and told her about it. The aunt told the police that she had seen what happened, but a man who was with her at the time said he didn’t remember seeing anything. The police didn’t know who was telling the truth.
Sgt. Robert Hahn of the Dayton Police Department lived close to Sharon and got along well with her family. He cared about Sharon’s disappearance because of this and worked on the case even when he wasn’t on duty. After spending hours looking at how many cars used Sharon’s paper route, he admitted that it wasn’t as busy as investigators first thought. He discovered that there were times when traffic was light for up to 15 minutes. This gave Sharon’s kidnappers plenty of time to force her into a car without being seen.
The case went on for months with no progress. By May 1974, Sharon’s family and friends had accepted that she probably wouldn’t come home alive. Mary Carol told the reporters, “I don’t want to sound sad, but I’m sure she was taken.” She would not have run away. “I am sure she did not run away.”
I agreed with Lt. Henry, Mary Carol. “We don’t have any solid information about the case, but we don’t think it’s a runaway case,” he said. He also said that they hadn’t heard any new information in weeks and were worried that the case might go cold. “Often, we think that if something doesn’t break within a few weeks of an event, it will be a long time before something shows up.”
Detectives were very interested in finding Sharon and followed up on every tip they got. It was June 1974, and they got a call from someone who said they were a psychic. The psychic told them where to find Sharon’s body. Dayton Police Lt. Richard Schulte said that they had used psychics’ advice before, but “We haven’t had any success.” Police thought they had nothing to lose, so they searched the house the psychic had told them about. They didn’t find anything.
By September 1975, Sharon had not been seen or heard from in two years, and the police had given up looking for her. In an effort to bring the case back to life, Sharon’s family said they would pay an extra $1,000 for information that would help them find her. Arthur Fabian, Sharon’s uncle, told reporters that the family’s only goal was for her to come home; they didn’t need to know who took her to claim the reward.
The reward for information about Sharon’s case was taken away in July 1976, and the money that had been collected was given to the Dayton Citizens Information Reward Fund. The Dayton Police Department could then use the money to offer rewards for other serious crimes. People tried to give Sharon’s mother the money first, but she said it should go to the police fund instead. The Dayton Journal Herald’s $1,000 reward contest was still going on.
Officer Paxton told reporters that Sharon’s case was “inactive,” which means that investigators were not working on it right now, even though it was still open. Like most of the other people who worked on the case, he thought Sharon had been killed by someone else. “Most girls will tell someone if they’re going to run away, but she didn’t. It makes you think she’s dead, but you shouldn’t say that.”
Officer Paxton was the first person to answer the phone when Sharon went missing, and he was given the case that same day. Over three years, he got to know Sharon’s family very well. It hurt him that he couldn’t bring Sharon home to them. He told the press, “I don’t think she’ll ever be found.”
After getting a tip that Sharon’s body might be buried on Tyson Avenue on July 21, 1976, police searched the property. A house that was on the property had been torn down two years before the investigation. A backhoe was used to dig up a concrete slab that was still there. The tip came from a police source who had been dependable in the past, but this time it looked like his information was wrong, and no one was caught.
Investigators got another tip in March 1977 from someone who said they knew where Sharon was buried. So, they went back to the property on Tyson Avenue and dug around the foundation of the house that had been torn down again. They didn’t find anything, just like the first time. Reporters were told by a police spokesperson that that property would not be searched any further.
Decades passed, and no one knew what happened to Sharon. She hadn’t been seen in 25 years by 1998, and James Paxton had left the Dayton Police Department. He thought about Sharon even after he quit the police force. “I think one of the most frustrating parts of being a police officer is not being able to solve a case or get answers. I worked a lot of long hours and went down a lot of dead ends.” The girl was never found, though.
Sharon’s family still didn’t know what happened to her, but they seemed okay with the idea that they might never know. “You never forget,” Mary Carol said. You don’t want to do it. But you have to move on. Sharon’s sister Mary Beth said, “At some point, we stopped hoping. If she was still alive, it couldn’t be a good thing.”
It was time for Sharon’s family to hold a memorial service in July 2006. She told reporters, “We feel like she’s gone forever, and we think this will help us heal spiritually. We have lived too long not knowing.”
James Paxton hoped that the memorial service would help the family deal with their grief. “I always hoped that one day we’d find her.” This wonderful mother and her kids have been in unbearable pain. “I believe it is best for them to find peace.”
The memorial service gave Sharon’s family a formal way to say goodbye, but it didn’t really give them the peace of mind they were looking for. In July 2011, they said they would pay $2,500 for information that would help them find Sharon’s body.
Police in Dayton were still doing everything they could to find Sharon, but nothing had worked. They had tried cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar, but nothing worked. Detective Patricia Tackett of the Dayton Police Department said, “We think there are people who know something.” People who were involved may be dead, but their families may know something.
Mary Carol passed away in June 2021, and she never found out what happened to her oldest daughter. The four brothers and sister of Sharon still have hope that they will find out what happened one day.
In September 1973, Sharon Lynn Pretorius died in Dayton, Ohio. She was only 13 years old. She was a smart, nice young woman with a bright future ahead of her. However, police think she was killed before she could make any of her dreams come true. The last time we saw Sharon, she was 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds. She has blue eyes and brown hair. Blue jeans, a yellow sweater, and white sneakers were the last things that were seen on her. An older white man in a dark blue 1965 Ford sedan may have taken her. He was between 30 and 40 years old. Investigations show that Sharon was probably killed because of how she went missing, but her body has never been found. Please call the Dayton Police Department at 937–333–1070 if you know anything about Sharon.