Megan Emerick and Sheryl Tillinghast

Megan Emerick and Sheryl Tillinghast had a lot in common. Both were rather pretty brunettes, and their photos both resonate with a 1970s aura. Both seem to have had a strong streak of independence. Megan was attending a boarding school some 450 miles from her hometown; Sheryl was working at a reform institution 250 miles from home. They were both about the same size. They both disappeared in 1973, at the age of seventeen.

I’m not suggesting the two cases are connected; the girls disappeared over 4,500 miles apart. But looking at them, I can’t help but be struck by how much alike they seem. Why Sheryl isn’t registered with the NCMEC I don’t know. And for Megan, I wonder how the NCMEC managed to take a very attractive young woman and age-progress her into frumpy-looking middle age.

Both girls are probably dead. Authorities have a strong suspect in Megan’s case, a confessed serial killer, but he hasn’t admitted to her disappearance. Details in Sheryl’s disappearance are few and murky. Perhaps one of the inmates or former inmates at the school harmed her. Perhaps she ran away. But in that case, why did she leave behind her paychecks? Why did she never contact her family again? And why would she need to run away, since she was already living outside the family home and supporting herself?

Thirty-five years they’ve been gone. At this point we’d be very lucky to find their bodies, never mind their killers. Nevertheless, I can’t stop hoping that their families will get answers and justice.

30 thoughts on “Megan Emerick and Sheryl Tillinghast

  1. Aimee January 30, 2009 / 5:48 pm

    Two things:
    1. As to the age-progression? Maybe they worked with a picture of her mother to help decide what she’d look like at the same age?
    2. I’m surprised that, even back then, they’d hire a 17-year-old girl to work at a reform school. I see a good opening to a whole world of trouble there.

  2. Meaghan January 30, 2009 / 6:13 pm

    I would like to know what Sheryl’s job was. I’m assuming she probably wasn’t a guard or anything. I’m guessing it was some kind of clerical work; in the early 1970s that was often the only job a woman could get. But I just don’t know.

    • Dena February 11, 2016 / 3:00 am

      Seems she worked in the Laundry of the school… according to her Charlie Report

  3. Emily January 31, 2009 / 5:01 pm

    Their cases, and other cases of young women in the ’70s, always resonate with me. I guess because they look so much like my mother at that age – she was 19 in 1974 but looked much younger. It makes it that much more “real” to think that these women are probably dead, when by all rights they should be 50-something mothers, grandmothers, and professional women now.
    One thing that always strikes me about these cases is how far-reaching and eerie their cases are. Sad as it is, if they’d been found murdered a day after their disappearances, they’d more than likely be long forgotten by now. Instead, their cases are like ghost stores that resonate eerie vibes all these years later, transcending their often all-too-mundane details to become something so much bigger than one missing woman.

    I don’t intend to dismiss their cases as small or uninteresting – rather, they’re all too common. It’s just that the mystery of their fates gives them a larger-than-life air that a body found and buried 35 years ago wouldn’t have.

  4. Meaghan January 31, 2009 / 8:39 pm

    I see a tendency to try to pin Ted Bundy on every pretty, long-haired girl who disappeared in the seventies. I’m sure he killed a lot more people than we will ever know, but you can’t blame him for every disappearance and murder. There were (and are) unfortunately a lot of other Ted Bundys out there.

  5. Kelly May 13, 2009 / 10:29 pm

    Sheryl Tillinghast is my aunt. I am not entirely sure what her job was there but I do know that she also attended the Wassaic State School. The counselor she talked to during her time there was informed she had an abusive boyfriend. She wrote a letter to my Mom and her brothers and sisters asking how they were, telling them how much she missed them, and informing them she was going to come see them. Unfortunately, the records kept by the counselor at the Wassaic school were destroyed due to their age and their policy. I appreciate all of this. If anyone has any information regarding her dissapearance, please contact the New York State Police. They can use all the help they get.

    • Eva July 7, 2010 / 4:03 pm

      I emailed the New York State Police this morning regarding Sheryl. I happened upon her story when looking for a local amber alert. I am not certain, but I think I may have found a link between Sheryl and another missing person. I’ll update when I know more.

  6. Peter Henderson May 11, 2010 / 11:26 pm

    Hi Meaghan & Kelly,

    I don’t know if you will ever read this as it is so long after Meaghan’s post, but I live just over the boarder in New Milford, Connecticut. I have lived here since 1959

    Sheryl’s case has always bothered me. Like most cases from the late 60’s to mid 80’s there is very little information available. And given my age, I will soon be 62, these are the cases that cry out to me because they happened to young people, back when I was also young.

    In a effort to find out more I found a family that worked at Wassaic State School back when Sheryl vanished. But it was a dead end. Even though both husband and wife worked there back then neither could remember knowing or hearing about Sheryl.

    Which I find strange.

    Not remembering a name I understand, I was contacting them 36 years later. But never having heard about a missing girl who worked there when they did suggest to me that little or nothing was done to find Sheryl. I suspect that to local LE Sheryl was just another runaway, and in the early 70’s that meant that nothing, outside of taking a missing person report, was done.

    Kelly by any chance can your family tell us a bit more about the circumstances as to why Sheryl was at Wassaic? Who was her councilor? Was her boyfriend local, or someone from back home? Where might she have gone in her free time?

    It been a very long time, and the chances of finding a lead to reopen Sheryl’s case are small, but I am local, and I have the time.

    You can contact me at: Labtechnm@sbcglobal.net or on MySpace at http://myspace.com/maelstrom5

    Yours
    Peter Henderson

  7. Kelly November 23, 2010 / 12:53 pm

    Peter-

    Thank you for your reply. I think of my aunt all the time, as does my mom. We know very little about that time as to her personal life. I believe her boyfriend was local. The NYSP contacted the school and the counselor and nobody could remember a name, but they did recall she frequently appeared bruised and battered. She was at the school because she did not get along with my grandmother, who has since passed. I also know that her disappearance was not reported for several years after the fact. After she wrote a letter to my family stating that she would be driving for a visit, she never showed which alarmed them. She also wrote a letter to the area police asking them to check on her brothers and sisters, as she feared for their well-being. They tried to file a report but the police treated Sheryl as a runaway. There was a lot of drug and alcohol abuse among her brothers and sisters excluding my mom, and their memories are also shot now. Unfortunately, my grandmother never made any of her children go to the dentist, so there are no records of that. The NYSP DO have my mom’s DNA in case they needed to make a match. We pray that one day what happened to the Aunt, which I will probably never get to know, will come to light and she will get justice. It brings us peace knowing there are people that are also remembering her and looking for the truth. Thank you.

  8. Karen Y Hardy January 22, 2011 / 5:21 pm

    I am so grateful that this blog exsists. I know in my heart that my sister Sheryl is gone. Life was not easy with my parents especially with my mother. She (mom) told so many different stories about Sheryl. We as her siblings had to wait til after our mom passed to pursue anything about sheryl. Sheryl was a beautiful person and was very independent. She was placed there at 14 0r 15 by the courts because our mom couldn’t deal with her after she was old enough she worked there I’m not sure where she worked it could have been the laundry. I had newspaper articles of when she was there, all of that was lost when the basement where I lived flooded. I do remember that she lost everything in a fire that happened in the dorm she lived in. I am so grateful that there people out there that care. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    • Det. Chad D. Holman February 9, 2011 / 11:02 am

      Karen,

      Could you contact me at 615-880-2928. I don’t want to give you false hope, but I have a (still unidentified) female that was found in Nashville in March of 1976. It appears that there may be some similarities between my unidentified and your sister, but I need to ask some additional information.

      Thanks

      • Peter Henderson February 9, 2011 / 1:34 pm

        Det. Holman,

        My name is Peter Henderson and I have Karen’s E- Mail address if that would be a help. I don’t want to give her address out on a public forum but can give it to you by e-mail.

        My E-mail is: Labtechnm@sbcglobal.net

        I looked up your unidentified female and saw the similarities you mentioned. I don’t think there is a match but I am far from a expert.

  9. Jillian January 18, 2012 / 4:44 pm

    Has there been any updates on the connections regarding the Nashville girl found and Sheryl? I read the description on NCFMC and could not believe the similarities between the unidentified’s companion and Sheryl. I hope this aided her family in some way.

  10. Mark Tillinghast April 8, 2012 / 3:09 am

    Sheryl’s Birthday is coming up and I am so sad.

    • Peter Henderson November 23, 2012 / 9:53 am

      Hi Teri,

      I have been wondering the same thing for some time. Sheryl did not have a car, so the three ways she could have gotten home would have been by getting a ride from someone she trusted, hitchhiking, or using mass transit. She did not mention a bus or train station to be picked up at so my guess is she had been offered a ride or was going to hitchhike.

      It should be noted that hitchhiking was a common mode of transpiration for teens in the late ‘60’s to late ‘70’s, but her niece said her letter said she would be driving, so most likely someone offered her a ride.

      The problem is that currently investigator’s have Irondequoit Jane’s dentals and Sheryl Ann Tillinghast’s DNA on file, they don‘t have both. Sheryl did not receive any dental care while living at home so any dental work done would have been when she was living at the Wassaic State School and the New York State Police could not locate any dental records.

      It is intriguing that Sheryl’s age and height match. The years Sheryl was missing, 15, also corresponds to the years it is believed that Irondequoit Jane ( NamUs case file UP # 2607) was buried in her shallow grave before being found.

      Irondequoit Jane’s DNA samples were sent to the NYC OCME just over a year ago on November 22, 2011, but it could take some time to get those results back.

      I am in contact with Maureen O’Donnell – Sanchez, the little sister of Judy O’Donnell who has been missing since 1980. She has been waiting for over a year to have Judy and Mid-Town Manhattan Jane Doe’s DNA compared as dental records could not rule a potential match out. Maureen and I think there is only a small chance that Judy is Mid-Town Jane but that’s another story. Right now NYC is in the middle of a most ambitious project, getting DNA profiles for the Jane and John Doe’s buried in the city’s potter field on Hart Island. Needless to say that’s no small undertaking, so it could be some time before Irondequoit Jane’s test’s are done

  11. nurselaura September 1, 2013 / 11:25 am

    I am Sheryl’s younger sister. We have reason to believe that Sheryl went missing from the wassaic state school on either sept 12,19 or 24. I have good reason to believe she was a victim of domestic violence. There’s been some info regarding the boyfriend. He was very abusive. Sheryl wasn’t one to take that sort of thing. Sheryl worked in the laundry and lived on the campus. She was 16 when she arrived there in jan 1973.17 in April 1973 and gone in Sept. she did not run away. She was never reported missing until 1998. No one at the school reported her missing even though she disappeared and left two pay checks behind.
    I’m thankful for all of your interest in her case. Someone out there knows something. It will take courage to come forward.

    • Nancy November 23, 2016 / 12:05 am

      I’m hoping someone from Sheryl’s family will see this even though it’s been quite some time since anyone has posted anything here. According to different articles I’ve read, Sheryl had her boyfriend/coworker arrested and charged with assault. However, she disappeared prior to the court date. Which, implies there was a court date. If that’s the case, the local county court house should have a record of his name, address, DOB etc. Even if there is no police record. Where we live our local court house has records dating back 125+++ years. I know that is also the case in other court houses I’ve contacted for genealogy. Anyone is welcome to search the records. It can be very dusty as locally ours are stored in the basement of the courthouse. Both in boxes and on film. If there was a court date set it would be a matter of record and his name would appear on those papers. If Sheryl dissappeared after having him arrested and before the court date that would be the date to start searching the courthouse records for the information. Normally, a court date would be set within 1 to 3 months of arrest. Someone also mentioned having lost newspaper articles during a flood. Those too can be acquired by going back to the local newspaper/library. The newspapers keep copies of every paper published.

      • Kelly Jean Hinckley November 23, 2016 / 8:13 am

        Hi there. The person who we believe was Sheryl’a boyfriend is unfortunately dead. He died in the early 1990’s. Such a shame.

  12. Peter Henderson Jr. September 3, 2013 / 6:58 am

    Hi, Laura

    I am glade the Poughkeepsie Journal finally did a article about Sheryl, but the article only raises more questions and red flags.

    Wassaic at one time was known as the Wassaic State School for Mental Defectives. It was not primarily a state reform school as Meaghan’s update on Sheryl suggests but a center for people with mental, emotional or physical problems. At its height in the ‘60’s it housed 4,500 patients. However, during the time Sheryl vanished it did have some teens sent to it by the court system who were deemed incorrigible or delinquent.

    First off when Sheryl vanished the age of majority was 21 not 18. That changed, but not till 1974. She was not a adult as stated in that article, she was still a underage juvenile and my understanding is she was both a patient/sent there by the state, and a worker there. Am I wrong in making that assumption?

    If I am correct then she was not just a employee of Wassaic, she was in their care. Hence she was assigned a councilor.

    The obvious question becomes why was she never reported missing by the school? Why did her councilor not notify the school or police that Sheryl was being abused? Are there multiply sources stated she was abused? Did Sheryl mention a abusive boyfriend in letters home for instance, or does that information just come from the councilor many years after the fact?

    As far as, “ She told her older sister, Amy Tillinghast, that she had acquired a car — which was never proven — and together they formed a plan to move to California, Hinckley said.” That sounds like a hoped for teenage pipe dream much like Brianna Maitland’s (Missing since 3/19/04 from Vermont) mentioning she wanted to go to Florida with a friend. I know that to be the case because I have corresponded with Bri’s girlfriend but for weeks the VSP listed her as a runaway because she mentioned that dream to a co-worker.

    I think its clear Sheryl planned to come home and more then likely she was going to get a ride or borrow a car from someone she knew and trusted. Find out who that person, teen or adult is – and you will be much closer to finding out what happened to her.

  13. nurselaura September 26, 2013 / 8:14 pm

    Peter,
    We continue to seek answers in Sheryl’s case. Sheryl was NOT a patient at the school but an employee at the time of her disappearance. The “boyfriend” was also an employee. She was in the care of state officials, to include councilors, aftercare case workers and at least two judges who did not report her missing. The answers I seek regard where her remains are. I don’t believe based on what I know, that she ever left that school. I don’t believe my sisters account that she had a car. I do believe Sheryl had plans to come home. I believe she died at the school. There were many reasons for the school to not report her missing. Lots of bad history there.

  14. Julianne Daly February 27, 2014 / 7:10 pm

    Laura-I believe you are right in your assertion that she never left the school, and that, someday that’s where she might be found. I am sorry for your loss.

  15. Jason Dean November 6, 2015 / 1:09 pm

    Hello All,

    My name is Jason Dean, I’m one of the Officers who is currently working on the grounds of Taconic DDSO (formerly the Wassaic State School) where Sheryl disappeared. We have done an extensive investigation in regards to this case and have found numerous leads but Sheryl has still not been located. We have been in contact with Sheryl’s family regarding all the leads. This case means allot to me as I see first hand how much Sheryl is truly loved and missed by her family. I will continue to work on this investigation no matter what! Any further information in regards to this investigation is truly appreciated.

    • Peter Henderson Jr. November 8, 2015 / 6:38 am

      Jason,

      It good to see the case is still active.

      Have you used ground penetrating radar (GPR) or cadaver dogs in you search or has it been confined to background information about Sheryl?

      • Jason Dean December 27, 2015 / 10:38 pm

        Peter, yes we have used cadaver dogs on a few occasions

  16. Matthew August 7, 2020 / 9:27 pm

    I can’t imagine a 17 year old leaving behind 2 paychecks-since you get paid every 2 weeks, thats 1 months salary. That property is HUGE….with many p!aces you could hide a body….lots of woods and swamp. You also had contractors coming in and out. Another thing, it’s not surprising that councilors did not follow her case…There were several thousand people there. You also had many patients who were given privileges such as unrestricted grounds access and sets of keys to different buildings. If you didn’t give staff a problem, you were left a!one to do as you please. Many potential suspects….

  17. nurselaura September 14, 2022 / 10:07 pm

    Matthew, this is Sheryl’s sister. You seem to be very familiar with the Wassaic school and grounds. Are you local?
    I continue to believe Sheryl was murdered by her boyfriend and most likely dumped somewhere on the school grounds. I am hoping for some intensive searches one day or maybe someone who knew the boyfriend to come forward.
    We continue to hope and pray for answers.

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