“Vanished in Vermillion” answers locals’ questions about 1971 party disappearance

Lou Raguse's bestselling book, Vanished in Vermillion, details his findings on the case of...
Lou Raguse's bestselling book, Vanished in Vermillion, details his findings on the case of Sherri Miller and Pam Jackson, who went missing in 1971.(KTIV)
Published: Mar. 11, 2023 at 10:33 PM CST
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VERMILLION, S.D. (KTIV) - It’s a case that has haunted the Vermillion Community for over 50 years. Back in 1971, two girls went missing while on their way to a party, and now, the community is finally getting answers.

“This was just Vermillion’s mystery,” said Lou Raguse, author of Vanished in Vermillion.

Sherri Miller and Pam Jackson were 17 years old when they drove into rural Clay County to go to a keg party. However, suspicion arose when they never returned home the next day. It was initially assumed the girls ran away, and with no real evidence, that theory stood for nearly 20 years until 2 local newspaper articles reignited law enforcement’s curiosity about the case.

This led to them charging David Lykken with the suspected murders. He was a convicted felon who was the same age as the girls and had a farm near the site of the party. After false statements from Lykken’s sister and cellmate, he was assumed as the killer and his family’s farm was decimated multiple times by law enforcement in an effort to find any evidence.

It wasn’t until 2008 when Lykken’s charges were dropped. In fact, it turns out the girls died in an accident after their car and remains were found in a creek about 100 yards from the driveway of the party in 2013. A local man who was inspired by a newspaper article about a similar case in Oklahoma discovered the car in the creek and notified law enforcement, who recovered the girls remains.

Despite the cause being an accident, the community was still looking for answers on why it all took so long, until this year. Lou Raguse, who currently works as a reporter at KARE 11 News in Minneapolis, covered the disappearance when it was a cold case while working in Sioux Falls.

“A period of time went by where you didn’t think it was going to be solved,” said Raguse. “But then, once we learned what happened to Pam and Sherri, I wanted to dig in further to find out exactly all the details along the way.”

Over a 5-year period, while working full-time as a reporter and managing a family with young children, Raguse spoke with the families of Pam, Sherri and Lykken, as well as Vermillion officers and community members gathering details on the case. At the end of February, he released his book “Vanished in Vermillion,” sharing all of his findings. On Saturday, he visited the Vermillion Public Library to share the details with the Vermillion community and answer all their questions.

“Coming back here and working on this story and giving answers to an entire community really helped me feel like I formed a bond with Vermillion in particular,” said Raguse. “And so, it just feels really good to be a part of something like that.”

Through the process, Raguse was able to build a close relationship with the families of Pam, Sherri and Lykken, and they were in attendance at the presentation. In fact, they became so close that Pam’s sister and husband came to Raguse’s wedding in Sioux City.

“That’s a pretty deep relationship when you’re inviting somebody you worked on a story with to your wedding,” said Raguse.

He says he’s been glad to help give closure to both the girls’ families...

“Even though they know how Pam and Sherri died, they didn’t have answers to why they were told all these other things along the way,” said Raguse. “And so, one of the best compliments I got was from Pam’s sister, Kay, who said that reading the book gave her more closure than law enforcement did or even the memorial service they had for Pam did.”

And Lykken’s family.

“Getting redemption and letting people know that they really had nothing to do with this is very important for them,” said Raguse. “And I feel good that I’ve been able to provide that to them.”

As for the community, Raguse hopes the book will help push them to make a change.

“Try to ask more questions themselves on these cases,” said Raguse. “Push lawmakers to create better laws for access to police reports and stuff like that so that stuff like this doesn’t happen anymore, where a case goes unsolved, and mistakes are made, and nobody even knows what the mistakes were.”

Vanished in Vermillion is currently sold out in stores, but Raguse says copies should be back on shelves soon. If you’re interested in checking it out now, you can visit Amazon.