Cold case mystery: The disappearance of Lillie Miller
Detectives work to solve 1981 case in Riviera Beach
RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. – In 1981, the headlines were dominated by the disappearance of Adam Walsh. TV crews from around the country descended on South Florida. But that same year, there was another family suffering unimaginable heartbreak over another missing person: Lillie Miller.
"It has been 37 years since we've been waiting for her to return, and I won't give up," said sister Edie Kelson, of Lauderhill.
Kelson said she remembers the phone call the day Miller vanished.
"I answered the phone, and my sister said, 'Edie, we hate to tell you this, but Lillie went to work this morning and hasn't returned.' I almost lost it," Kelson said.
Now, more than three decades later, there is a new pair of detectives working the case and a brand-new image of what Miller might look like today thanks to an age-progression rendering. The case is still open.
It was Dec. 11, 1981, when Miller was working as a secretary for the city of Riviera Beach.
According to detectives, at about 12:15 p.m., Miller left the municipal building and drove to have lunch with her boyfriend, Otis Morgan.
"She didn't want to be late. She was anxious; she didn't want to be late meeting her boyfriend," said Riviera Beach police detective William Saunders.
Miller never returned.
That same day, Miller’s newly-purchased car was found on a dirt road near the municipal building. Detective Brooke Weiner said police K-9s were deployed to search for any sign of her.
"They didn’t pick up on anything," Weiner said.
Saunders said after searching the car, scouring nearby fields and interviewing witnesses, a tip came in about a man who fit the description of Morgan.
"On the same day as the incident, he (a witness) saw a well-dressed black man, between 25 and 30 years of age, come out of the woods with a shovel in his hand," Saunders said.
By time detectives scoured the area, no evidence of Miller was located. Morgan became a prime suspect.
Over the following weeks and months, leads would come in, but they were all dead ends. Six months later, Morgan committed suicide.
"No bones have been found that come back to her. Nothing has been found up to this day," Weiner said.
Thanks in part to pressure from Miller’s sister, police are still working the case and recently asked a sketch artist from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to create a new age-progression rendering.
"We took pictures of her sisters and close family relatives and sent it to them, along with habits, her eating habits, you know, recreational habits," Weiner said.
While detectives and Miller’s family believe Morgan was likely responsible for her death, the circumstances remain a mystery. And there’s still that sliver of hope that she could come home.
If she is alive today, Miller would be 58 years old.
"If people come forward, maybe the smallest thing may help," Weiner said.
Kelson keeps a large file on her sister’s disappearance including newspaper clippings and old photos. She said she’s determined not to give up trying to figure out what happened to her.
"Well, I pray a lot, I cry a lot, I get angry a lot," Kelson said. "I just have to rely on my faith."
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