SUNBURY — Thirty years ago Sunday Barbara Miller went missing. The cold case is one that still haunts her friends and family members.
Barbara Miller was 30-year-old when she was last seen on June 30, 1989. That night she attended a friend’s wedding in Mifflinburg and was never seen again. Her boyfriend, former Sunbury police officer Mike Egan, reported her missing five days later, according to police. She was declared dead in 2002 by Northumberland County President Judge Charles Saylor.
Several times over the past three decades there was hope the case was breaking open. In 2008, bones were discovered during the construction of a home in Point Township. That same year, caves outside of Sunbury were searched along with shale pits outside of Shamokin.
The case gained steam two years ago when a week-long dig at Milton home garnered headlines. But it’s been mostly silent since.
Law enforcement personnel, including locals and those from the state’s Attorney General’s office, are quiet about the current status of the case.
“We continue to hope and pray that something will give,” Lynn Miller, a relative of Barbara Miller said. “We trust every law enforcement official and we can only hope this is still active. One way or another we just want to be able to have closure after all these years.”
Through the years investigators, including Northumberland County Detective Degg Stark, have worked the case in an attempt to solve the three-decade mystery.
The case most recently caught headlines in 2017 when then Sunbury Chief Tim Miller (no relation) reopened the investigation. That summer, Miller led a dig in Milton, where officials tore out the basement of a borough home after Miller said he received information Barbara Miller’s remains may have been entombed in cement walls inside the home.
For nearly a year the case remained active. Tim Miller left the department last year, and information regarding the status of the case has been limited or nonexistent since.
In 2018, the case was turned over the state Attorney General’s office. Sunbury Officer-in-Charge Brad Hare confirmed late last year state agents took possession of the Barbara Miller case files along with documents relating to the 1986 homicide of Rickey Wolfe, of Mifflinburg.
Continued attempts to get a comment about the status of the case have been denied by local law enforcement officials and state investigators, who said they do not comment on whether they are investigating a case or they are not.
Sunbury Cpl. Bremigen was named the lead investigator by Hare when Tim Miller left the department in 2018. Bremigen referred all questions to the Attorney General’s office when asked about the case last week.
“No comment,” Bremigen said. Hare gave the same answer. Tim Miller did not comment.
Barbara Miller’s sister, Susan Zimmerman, of Milton, said she trusts authorities, praised Tim Miller and is “OK” with the silence.
“Former chief Miller has done nothing but great things for our family,” she said. “I trust the entire process and I just know in my heart that we will get the closure we all need. I am not bothered by not hearing any news on this as it means, I believe, people are out doing their jobs.”
Most recent developments
During the 2017 investigation, law enforcement personnel were more than happy to speak about the case. In January 2017, Tim Miller began to interview individuals about the case and by June oversaw the near week-long dig of the Milton home.
At the time, Tim Miller said he would not comment on anything that was discovered but he was hopeful the case was moving forward.
Two months later, Barbara Miller’s former Penn Street home in Sunbury was searched in the middle of the night. Evidence was collected. A search of a pond in Montandon saw police and Northumberland County Coroner Jim Kelley pull a barrel from the water.
That evidence, along with several tons of cement and soil collected from the Milton home, was shipped off to be tested by forensic scientists.
Tim Miller enlisted the likes of world-renowned forensic scientists Dr. Henry Lee, of West Haven, Conn., and Dr. William Bass, of Tennessee.
Lee is best known for his work on the O.J. Simpson murder trial and his work on a 1986 case where a Connecticut airline stewardess, Helle Crafts, disappeared. Lee was able to show jurors bone fragments and hair he discovered near a woodchipper Lee believed was used to murder Crafts. Her body was never found.
Bass is best known for his creation the “Body Farm” located at the University of Tennessee. The Body Farm is a place where forensic scientists study decomposing bodies.
Miller enlisted the help of the scientists after he said he believed he had “strong” information Barbara Miller may have been entombed in the wall of the Milton home.
The home on Front Street was owned by former Northumberland County Judge Sam Ranck at the time of Barbara Miller’s disappearance. One of the apartments at the duplex was rented by the late Cathy Reitenbach, the sister of Joseph Walter “Mike” Egan, the ex-boyfriend of Barbara Miller. Egan reported Barbara Miller missing to Sunbury police on July 5, 1989.
Barbara Miller was officially added to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) database in 2017. There is a public section of the database where limited information is provided. Any new information that is gathered by investigators is confidential and only can be accessed by law enforcement.
Regional Programs Specialist Amy Dobbs refused comment earlier this week on any new information. Dobbs would not comment on whether any state investigators have been in contact with the federal agency.
“We never give up and always search and continue to search,” Dobbs said. “Everyone deserves to be returned to their families.”
For the past 12 months, deafening silence continues to Sunday’s anniversary.
“I believe we have a group of professionals out there helping us find answers,” Lynn Miller said. “I don’t think the lack of information means the case has fizzled out.” The only information released since 2018 was that wood chips were found in the cement walls dug out of the Milton home, according to police.
30 years of waiting
After Egan reported Barbara Miller missing to then-Sunbury Police officer Tom Garlock — who is the Selinsgrove Police Chief today.
Twelve days after Egan told police Miller was missing, a short brief appeared in The Daily Item (July 17, 1989) mentioning the case. “City police said they continue to seek information about a Sunbury woman who was reported missing on July 5. Barbara Ann Miller, 30, of 239 Penn St., was reported missing by a family member, police said. Police said reports they had reports that the woman has been seen in the region since her disappearance. There has been no evidence of foul play, police said. The woman has a 14-year-old son who has remained at home in the care of relatives, police said.”
Four months later, on Nov. 11, 1989, The Daily Item published a story headlined “Disappearance puzzles family.”
“I really think something terrible happened to her,” Barbara Miller’s mother Martha Stump, of Watsontown, told a reporter then. Stump passed away in 2016. She was quoted in the 1989 story as saying, “I cannot imagine my daughter going away and not contacting me or her son. I just can’t in my wildest imagination.”
The story noted Sunbury Police were still investigating the disappearance. Police Chief Charles McAndrew called it a “difficult case because there is no evidence that a crime has been committed.”
The only people talking are friends and family of Barbara Miller and that of her son, Eddie Miller.
“I want closure for my best friend,” Tim Wolfe, of Mifflinburg said. “I think we both deserve it.”
The connection between Tim Wolfe and Eddie Miller was unknown when they became friends in the early 90s. Tim Wolfe is the son of murder victim Rickey Wolfe, who was found beaten to death at a boat launch in Montandon in 1986.
Sunbury residents Scott Schaeffer and William Hendricks were found guilty of the murder but were released 17 years later after new evidence emerged proving the two were not involved. Both Schaeffer and Hendricks pleaded no contest to the murder in order to be immediately released from prison.
Authorities for three decades have connected the Barbara Miller case with that of Rickey Wolfe. Law enforcement officials believe Barbara Miller may have had information on the individuals who killed Rickey Wolfe, according to court documents. Schaeffer claims his ex-fiancee received a call from Barbara Miller while he was in jail. In the alleged call, Miller said she had information that Schaeffer and Hendricks were not at the boat launch the night of the Rickey Wolfe murder, Schaeffer said.
Schaeffer is currently in court battling for exoneration of the charges.
“I met Eddie (Miller) and we didn’t even know the connection,” Tim Wolfe said. “I believe Scott (Schaeffer) is innocent ... I believe police will find the people who killed my father and Eddie’s mother. We found out months after we met we had this in common and we have been friends ever since. We both deserve to get answers and we both deserve to have closure.”