Missing in Michigan: Paige Renkoski's case still baffles investigators nearly 30 years later

Renkoski went missing in 1990, her car was found running on side of I-96

LIVINGSTON COUNTY, Mich. – Paige Renkoski's case continues to baffle investigators. 

It's one of Michigan's oldest cold cases. She was a young, attractive substitute teacher who disappeared without a trace on May 24, 1990 just after she dropped off her mother at the airport. Her vehicle was found stopped on the westbound shoulder of I-96, about 1/2 mile from the Fowlerville exit.

The last person to report seeing Renkoski was a passing motorist around 3:30 p.m. that day. The motorist said they saw Renkoski speaking with two unidentified black men near a maroon minivan. 

Her car was later found with the engine still idling, unlocked doors, and her purse and shoes remained inside. 

It's now nearly 30 years later. Renkoski would have recently celebrated her 58th birthday. 

"My heart goes out to the family, quite frankly. I can't imagine being the Renkoski's," said Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy. "There's always those questions about, you know, what did happen? I felt pretty comfortable probably about four times in the past 5 years, thinking we're going to solve this thing. And then as the investigation continues, and then it just doesn't pan out, it's like oh no, another kick to the gut."

The day Renkoski went missing

On May 24, 1990, Renkoski dropped off her mother at Detroit Metro Airport at about 11:30 a.m. She then went to visit a friend in Canton Township. Sometime between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m. she was seen at a store west of I-275 in Canton Township where she bought a beer. That beer was later found in her car.

Paige Renkoski was last seen wearing these clothes. (WDIV)

That store has since closed down, but the clerk remembered seeing Renkoski because she was wearing multi-colored, loose-fitting pants with a flower pattern and a distinctive necklace along with a white silk shirt. 

Renkoski was last seen on the shoulder of I-96 near Fowlerville. 

"This wasn't something that happened out in the middle of nowhere. So for somebody not to see something and come forward with that information, to me, is probably odd thing about this particular case," said Murphy. 

The Oldsmobile Cutlass that Paige Renkoski was driving the day she went missing. (WDIV)
Paige Renkoski's vehicle was found still running on the side of I-96 near Fowlerville, Mich. (WDIV)

Witnesses told police they saw Renkoski standing on the shoulder of the interstate talking to a man standing next to a maroon-colored minivan. Hours later, the 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass she had been driving was found with the keys still in the ignition and the engine running.

Paige Renkoski's shoes, wallet and purse were found inside her car. (WDIV)

One of Renkoski's shoes was found jammed under the driver's seat. Her purse and wallet also were left in the car. But Renkoski was nowhere to be found. 

"But the car was left running on the side of the road. Her personal contents were in the car -- those are kind of odd things," said Murphy. 

Cold case team

Retired FBI agent Bob J. Getschman is now on the cold case team trying to crack this case. 

"I've never worked on anything like this before. It's hard to believe that somebody can vanish without a trace like this. Obviously somebody got her to stop and pull over onto the side of the road. And it appears they had her out of the car and were talking to her. So how they got her to the side of the road is anybody's guess. That's hard to do on the side of I-96 -- a lot of traffic," he said. 

Getschman believes she left in a hurry and was not planning on leaving at that point. 

"Or she got out and then was abducted and forced into whatever vehicle this individual had," he said. 

There is no sign of a body. 

Paige Renkoski

"Usually after a period of time somebody will be walking their dog, kids playing, or animals will be digging and bodies will be found. We don't have any of that yet," said Getschman. 

Police have long ruled this a homicide case even without a body. No one faces charges in connection to Renkoski's disappearance or presumed death. 

MORE: Missing in Michigan section

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