Denise Pflum was just 18 years old when she went missing from Indiana in 1986.
Denise, a senior student just a couple of months shy of graduating high school, aspired to be a scientist. She enjoyed sports, especially volleyball, basketball and softball and had been accepted to the Miami University in Oxford on a track scholarship where she planned to study microbiology. Everything seemed to be going well for the teenager- sadly, everything was about to change.
On March 27, 1986, a Thursday, Denise went to a local party at Angeles farm, a couple of miles from Connersville.
The next day, Denise realised she had left her handbag at the farm and it is assumed that she returned to the property to retrieve it. She waited for her sister to return home from softball practice so she could borrow the family car, said goodbye to her mother and left. She had asked her friends and sister if any of them would go with her to get her purse but none of them could as they were otherwise engaged so she went alone.
Usually if she were going to be out for several hours, she would be sure to call home, but this time she did not. Her worried mother knew there was something wrong, she could feel it, she called home from work multiple times to ask Denise’s sister if she had returned but she hadn’t.
At 6PM her parents reported her missing to the local Sheriff’s department and were met with a lack of concern and told that their daughter had probably ran away and that teenagers did it all the time. Her parents knew that she would never go anywhere without asking their permission first or at least letting them know where she was headed.
Denise did not return home that day. The police were soon alerted to a cream Buik Regal registered in Denise Pflum’s parents name. It was discovered by a farmer, abandoned on a gravel road in Glenwood, around three miles from the party Denise attended the previous night. Initially the man who reported it was not concerned as he assumed it belonged to mushroom pickers, however, as time went on and the owner failed to return to the car, he decided to contact the sheriff’s office.
The farmer told police that the vehicle had been parked on the rural stretch of road since 12:30 – 1:15PM that day. The Buik was locked and there was no sign of a struggle at the scene. The missing girls’ friends and family had no idea why she would have been in the area. A video with the caption “Were you the one that took Denise’s car down this road? Is it you?” posted to the Justice for Denise Pflum Facebook page on April 20, 2020 shows Tower Road, just off 650 W, as it looks today, a rural country road with fields stretching out endlessly on either side.
Police searched the surrounding fields for seven miles but found no trace of the missing teenager. They searched by foot and air but found nothing. An article in the Connersville News-Examiner reported that police dogs even failed to pick up Denise’s scent and there was not even a footprint in the immediate or surrounding area. The lack of evidence was so bizarre that a detective working the case said: “It’s as if she got out of the car, locked it and left by helicopter”.
When police interviewed one of the tenants of the farm property where the party took place, they claimed that they had never seen Denise there and that she had not left any possessions there.
There was one sighting of Denise that day, a sighting that police dispute as legitimate. A woman claimed that she saw and talked to the missing girl at the Fashion Bug store in what was then the old JC Penny Mall and is now known as Connersville Plaza on 30th Street, Park Road in Connersville. Reports state that she knew Denise but a later interview with a detective working the case revealed that the woman, who claimed to have met and talked with Denise that day, only recognized her from the missing posters afterwards.
Denise Pflum has been missing since March 28, 1986. She is considered endangered and missing. She had brown hair, was around 135lbs at the time and is 5’6. She was last seen wearing blue jeans, white sneakers and a red Motley Crue T-shirt.
She left the family home with no ID, no immediate items that would suggest she planned to leave voluntarily for an extended period and neglected to take her contact lenses solution.
The Police speculated that the teenager’s former boyfriend, Shawn M. McClung, had murdered her in an unpremeditated attack without the use of a deadly weapon. He denied the allegations and claimed that Denise was still alive and living somewhere else. The pair had been dating for around three years but had only just recently split up shortly before the girl went missing.
Despite a $25,000 reward for information leading to the guilty party, the case went unsolved for over three decades.
34 years after Denise Pflum went missing, Shawn M. McClung confessed to her murder and was charged with voluntary manslaughter. McClung appeared in a mugshot shared across various media outlets reporting the story but it is unknown why he decided to confess 34 years after the crime.