On February 22, 1985, a typically cold winter day in Butler County, Pennsylvania, eight-year-old Cherrie Mahan got off the school bus at approximately 4:05 p.m. Three other children got off with her and began walking to their homes on the outskirts of Cabot. None of them noticed anything unusual. Cherrie’s friends saw her walking toward her house, only about 50 feet away, but she never arrived.
Cherrie’s Mahan’s disappearance helped launch a program that has helped locate over 1,000 missing children, but she is not among them. For nearly three decades after Cherrie’s ill-fated bus stop, few leads surfaced, indicating what may have happened to her. During the last several years, however, police have received information claiming to know her fate. Unfortunately, if the tips are accurate, the final chapter in Cherrie’s story will not have a happy ending.
The most promising possible lead in Cherrie’s disappearance was a green or light blue van seen behind the school bus. A snow-capped mural of a man in red and yellow clothing skiing down a mountain made the vehicle hard to miss. No one recognized the van, and despite the distinctive painting, it was never located.
Because no one in the greater Pittsburgh area recalled seeing the distinctive van after Cherrie’s disappearance, police theorized the occupant(s) fled western Pennsylvania after Cherrie’s disappearance.
For nearly 30 years, few leads of substance surfaced. In 2014, police received several tips saying Cherrie was living in Michigan under another name. Investigators, however, determined it was another woman who resembled the computer-aged image of Cherrie.
In 2015, police announced they had received more promising information regarding Cherrie. They would only say the lead was from a person who “would have known Cherrie” and “has the potential” to lead them to specific people. Unfortunately, authorities say the tip makes it “highly unlikely that she is alive.”
In August 2018, Cherrie’s mother received an anonymous handwritten letter saying Cherrie was murdered. The letter, mailed around the time of Cherrie’s birthday, detailed who the author contends killed Cherrie, why they did it, and where her body could be found. The letter ended: “I pray you find some peace after you find her body.” It was signed by someone calling himself “Pastor Justice.”
Cherrie’s mother gave the letter to police who are still analyzing the contents to determine its credibility. They have refused any comment on the letter so far, saying they will discuss it once the analysis is complete. They have also not said if they believe the letter to be related to the information received in 2015 or to the van.
Investigators have said they received another tip, which led them to search an old mine shaft in Butler County and a junkyard near the city of Armstrong, 27 miles northeast of Cabot. Again, though, they have not yet released any information about the findings.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) was founded in 1984, the year before Cherrie vanished. In conjunction with the direct-mail marketing company ADVO, they launched the “Have You Seen Me?” program. It helps locate missing children through the mass distribution of the children’s pictures on detached address labels. Vlassis, the company which acquired ADVO in 2007, continues the program today.
Cherrie Mahan was the first child featured on the labels. The program has been remarkably successful. Of the approximately 2,100 highlighted cases, nearly 1,200 children have been recovered. Cherrie wasn’t one of them.
The success of the ADVO program also led to missing children being featured on cardboard milk cartons.
Cherrie Mahan was declared legally dead in 1998. If she has somehow beaten the odds, she would today be 43-years-old.
If you have any information on her disappearance, please contact the Pennsylvania State Police at 412-284-8100.
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More About Our Wonderful Guest Blogger:
Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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