I-70 killer claims only known male victim: ‘I think he was probably concerned about a struggle’

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 3:17 PM CST
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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (KMOV) - “It’s like standing in front of a mountain and wondering how you are going to get to the top,” Detective Brad Rumsey, Terre Haute Police Department, on the hunt for a serial killer.

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Michael “Mick” McCown had a chiropractor appointment on the morning of April 27, 1992. When he returned home, he considered taking the rest of the day off and not opening Sylvia’s Ceramics Shop, named after his mother. But he decided to go in. That decision cost him his life.

Mick McCown was 40 years old. He was an accomplished musician, playing in numerous bands, specializing in the harmonica. Sylvia’s sat right along a busy stretch of Highway 41, the main north-south thoroughfare in Terre Haute, just north of Interstate 70. Sometime just after 4 p.m., a serial killer walked into the store, shot Mick point blank four inches from the back of his head, and fled. Less than $50 was taken from the store. The killer was in and out in minutes, on to his next destination: St. Charles.

Michael "Mick" McCown (center) was killed on April 27, 1992 in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Michael "Mick" McCown (center) was killed on April 27, 1992 in Terre Haute, Indiana.(KMOV)

For police, why the killer would pick a busy location, in the middle of the day has always been a mystery.

“It does strike me as odd,” Rumsey said. “These were times when people were out and about. He got off on the fact that people were right there, and he was doing something that heinous and getting away with it. It probably really got the juices flowing for him knowing that people were right next door or on the street right in front of the place.”

There was something else odd about the Terre Haute killing. The victim was a male. And he wasn’t lured or dragged to the back of the store. McCown’s body was found slumped on the floor, his hand inches from a ceramic item he bent down to remove from the shelf, surely at the killer’s request. McCown had long hair and an earring. Had the killer mistaken him from a distance for a woman? Perhaps the name “Sylvia’s” on the front of the store led him to the location? Did it mean the killer didn’t case the store ahead of time?

Rumsey believes the killer was stunned to find out his target wasn’t a woman. “When he realized it was a male, I think he was probably concerned about a struggle ensuing if he didn’t shoot him right there.”

McCown’s sister, Cynthia Brack, remembers the day like it was yesterday. She has never spoken about the case before. “I was watching the evening news. The reporter came on the screen and said there’s been a male body found inside the store. I started screaming and screaming.”

Cynthia rushed to the scene, where her mother had already arrived. “She looked at me like her whole world had ended and said, ‘they shot him in the back of the head.’ I threw my purse and started screaming.”

Cynthia remembers returning home that night, to help care for her grandfather, who was suffering from severe Alzheimer’s.

“My grandfather didn’t know anything. But that night he saw the news, and he saw what happened to Mick. We had to get a doctor and get him tranquilizers. He didn’t know anything for years, but he suddenly knew that.”

Cynthia’s sister, Teresa Lee, also remembers the day nearly 30 years ago.

Victims Patricia Magers (top left), Patricia Smith (top center), Nancy Kitzmiller (top right),...
Victims Patricia Magers (top left), Patricia Smith (top center), Nancy Kitzmiller (top right), Robin Fuldauer (bottom left), Michael McCown (bottom center), and Sarah Blessing (bottom right).(KMOV)

“A friend told me something had happened. I called the store. I still remember the phone number. They said, ‘who is this?’ I said, ‘this is his sister.’ They handed the phone to someone else, and they just said he was dead. I fell on the floor screaming.”

Like the other killings, the serial killer simply vanished from sight. Nobody saw a thing. Rumsey, who was in the Navy at the time, has poured over the case file numerous times.

“At this point it’s still a guessing game as far as the vehicle,” Rumsey said. “He had to have walked on foot to these places from somewhere nearby. But no real information was gained from the scene. Detectives really didn’t gain any steam at all. It was honestly cold early on.”

For Rumsey, there is hope renewed after the joint task force meeting in St. Charles.

“I think the big one is DNA here. That’s the best way we might ID him. If there’s not DNA in our case, there will be in another case. I really believe that there’s going to be a DNA match somewhere to someone. I think there’s absolutely a strong chance we can identify this person. Absolutely, 100% yes.”

Terre Haute police recently shipped a new sample of DNA off for testing. They hope to have results back in about a month.

For the families, there is also renewed hope. But there will never be closure.

“I think I have my hopes up finally,” Cynthia said. “I gave up hope so long ago. But I have hope now. I just want this to be over. I want him to be caught. If they could finally catch him, it would mean everything to us. It would mean the world to all of us. But It’s scary to maybe be disappointed again.”

Teresa agreed. “Nothing will bring him back. That’s all I really want. Sure, I would like to see whoever it is punished, but there is no closure.”

Today, Sylvia’s Ceramics is a vape shop.

After McCown was killed, his father Phillip stopped driving his own car, and insisted on driving Mick’s. He said it smelled like his son.