HAYWARD, Calif. — Sharon Murch received a bittersweet early Christmas gift on Monday as California authorities named the man they believe brazenly abducted and killed Murch’s 9-year-old daughter more than three decades ago.
Michaela Joy Garecht’s body has never been found, but Alameda County prosecutors announced that they have filed a murder charge against David Emery Misch. The convicted murderer — and suspected serial killer — is accused of snatching Michaela the morning of Nov. 19, 1988, outside a Hayward grocery store.
Misch, 59, is already serving a prison sentence for the 1989 murder of Margaret N. Ball, 36, of Hayward, and is facing charges for the double killing of two other women, Michelle Xavier, 18, and Jennifer Duey, 20, in Fremont in 1986.
Misch was linked to Michaela’s disappearance through fingerprints found on her friend’s scooter, authorities said. He was booked Monday into the Santa Rita Jail in connection with the girl’s death.
Hayward Police Chief Toney Chaplin said at a news conference Monday that Michaela’s kidnapping and presumed death had “gripped the Bay Area for decades.”
“We hope this announcement will bring Michaela’s family closer to the peace they’ve deserved for so many years,” Chaplin said.
Murch, who is fighting cancer, said in a written statement read by the chief that she is glad Misch has been caught and he “will be able to hurt no one else.”
In the past year, she said, she has come to accept that her daughter is no longer alive.
“But somehow that acceptance was far more wrapped up in the idea of Michaela sitting on a fluffy pink cloud, walking streets of gold, dancing on grassy hills, soaring among the stars,” Murch’s statement read. “What I did not envision was my daughter as a dead child. It was only when I heard this news that this vision of reality appeared, and I honestly have not figured out what to do with it.”
Murch said the arrest brought a “chill … which had nothing to do with the snow outside my home in southwest Iowa.”
“I feel as though I am looking for Michaela, but now I don’t know where,” her statement read. “I honestly feel lost in the dark. Over the years, I have often wondered whether I really wanted to know the truth of what happened to Michaela. I wondered if I would be able to take it.”
She said upon learning about the suspect, she asked the hard questions of the cold case detective — including the method through which Misch killed his other alleged victims. The answers were not easy but were something she had to hear, she indicated.
“When I doubted whether I would want to know, it always came back to: If Michaela could experience it, I could hear it,” Murch said. “It’s not about me. It’s never been about me, about my feelings. It has always been about Michaela.
“What I have been through is nothing.”
The thought of her daughter’s fear, pain and grief has been “overwhelming,” she said.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said she hopes the announcement brings some measure of comfort to Michaela’s family.
“There are no words that can adequately describe the horror of a kidnapped child,” O’Malley told reporters. “Especially when the child or the child’s remains are never found.
“Michaela’s kidnapping devastated her family. Paralyzed them with grief and terrorized them with the unknowing of what happened to Michaela. Their pain was, and remains, indescribable.”
Michaela’s father, Rod Garecht, drove about 100 miles from his home in Amador County to be there for Monday’s announcement.
“I’m just glad he got caught, you know,” Garecht, 71, told CBS San Francisco. “That’s all I can say. Now they got somebody. It’s gonna start the process all over again.”
Garecht said he hopes officers can “grill” Misch so the alleged kidnapper discloses where his daughter’s remains are hidden.
A ‘brazen’ daylight abduction
O’Malley said the crime shocked not only the local community but the entire Bay Area and the nation.
“It was so brazen, so ruthless, but clearly planned,” the prosecutor said.
It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving when Michaela and a friend rode their scooters to the Rainbow Grocery on Mission Boulevard in Hayward.
“They were just kids. Carefree and certainly not suspecting the danger that lay ahead,” O’Malley said.
The girls left their scooters outside the store’s entrance while they went inside for candy and soda, according to a news release from prosecutors. When they came out with their goodies, one of the scooters had been moved behind a car parked in a space deeper into the parking lot.
O’Malley said the kidnapper did so to isolate one of the girls and make it easier to grab her.
“When Michaela went to fetch the scooter, the driver of that car grabbed her as soon as she walked past his door. He forced her into the front seat of the car,” the news release said.
Michaela screamed as her horrified playmate, also 9 years old, watched the abductor drive away, a probable cause affidavit in the case states. The snatched girl was never seen alive again.
Her friend described the kidnapper as a white man in his 20s, about 6 feet tall and of slender build. He had blue eyes and long, dirty-blond hair.
“Other witnesses in the parking lot and store gave similar descriptions of the suspect seen before or after the kidnapping, with variations including that he had a mustache,” according to the affidavit.
The scooter the man had moved was dusted for fingerprints and viable prints were taken from the handlebars and fork. Over the next 30 years, prints from several suspects were compared to those lifted from the scooter, to no avail.
In 2018, as the 30th anniversary of the case rolled around, the Hayward Police Department’s detectives once again looked at all the evidence in the case. The department’s in-house fingerprint examiner was given the names of potential kidnappers, which included convicted murderer Misch.
“The breakthrough in the case occurred earlier this year as the result of new leads that pointed us in the direction of Misch,” Chaplin told reporters Monday. “We had the opportunity to follow those leads patiently, as Misch has been in state prison since 1989, convicted of murder.”
Misch’s fingerprints were matched to the evidence taken from the scooter.
Watch Monday’s announcement in the case below.
“In addition, two eyewitnesses identified Misch as being at the scene of the crime, having seen him in a car in the parking lot just before the kidnapping took place,” the court documents state. “Each chose his picture from a double-blind photo lineup.”
At the time of Michaela’s kidnapping in 1988, Misch was 27 years old. He also closely matched the physical description of the abductor given to police by the girl’s friend.
Hayward detectives attempted on Dec. 2 to interview Misch, who is being held at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton. He refused to talk without his attorney present and refused to comply with a search warrant for his fingerprints and a DNA swab.
“Despite being informed that this was a court order, and that he had no legal right to counsel for the taking of these samples, he continued to refuse,” the affidavit states. “Misch was further informed that detectives were investigating the kidnap and murder of the victim, who was named, and again he refused to comply with the warrant, even when told that providing the prints and his DNA could possibly exonerate him.”
Read the probable cause affidavit below.
Detective Robert Purnell, who authored the document, wrote that the physical evidence indicates Misch kidnapped and subsequently killed Michaela.
“Even if he kept her alive for a brief time, the risks of discovery involved in keeping the victim captive for any length of time would have been too great,” the detective wrote. “At 9 years old, the victim would have been capable of describing and identifying Misch as her abductor and assailant had he let her live.
“Further, given Misch’s criminal history, which includes sexual assault and murder, he would have known that penalties for child abduction and assault were serious and that allowing her to live would expose him to serious consequences.”
A suspected serial killer
Misch pleaded guilty in 1990 to the December 1989 stabbing death of Ball, who was found dead in her Hayward home. Sentenced to serve 18 years to life, he remained behind bars in 2018 when he was tied to the killings of Xavier and Duey.
According to the Freemont Police Department, the women, who were best friends, were found slain on Feb. 2, 1986, along the side of Mill Creek Road. A passing motorcyclist discovered their bodies around 12:30 a.m. and called 911.
“Earlier in the evening the women had attended a birthday dinner for a family member and were last seen together around 8 p.m. at a convenience store in the area of Farwell Drive and Mowry Avenue,” police officials said in a statement. “Their personal belongings, including purses and identification, have never been found.”
The women’s bodies were found about 11 miles from where Michaela was abducted two years later. Xavier’s Pontiac Sunbird was found about 6 miles from the crime scene in the parking lot of a shopping center.
Xavier and Duey had been shot and stabbed to death, authorities said. They had also been sexually assaulted.
“The deaths of the two women were highly publicized and left many in the community shaken and fearful in their own neighborhoods,” police officials said.
A $35,000 reward was issued for information on the case as leads and tips kept homicide detectives scrambling to solve the case. Though people of interest were identified, most were ruled out and the case went cold.
The police department created a position in 2016 for a dedicated cold case detective, who made the Xavier-Duey double homicide a top priority.
“Cold case Detective Jacob Blass began to reexamine case files, as well as several pieces of evidence, including those that had been processed for DNA in recent years,” Freemont authorities said. “The results of the evidence identified the main suspect as David Emery Misch.”
Misch lived in the area at the time of the killings and was a known commercial burglar and drug user, police officials said.
The victims had no known history with the man accused of killing them.