On November 1, 1951, Patricia Meehan was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On April 20, 1989 at the age of 37, she went missing under extremely mysterious circumstances. She was in a car accident, and she disappeared in the aftermath.
Over 5,000 sightings were reported of her in the months and years after the disappearance, but she has never been found.
Patricia was born 69 years ago today to parents Dolly and Thomas Meehan in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she was raised. She moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to study early childhood education so she could prepare for her dream career in daycare. However, in 1985, she gave up on that dream and relocated to Bozeman, Montana and became a ranch hand. She said she had a love for animals, which was cited as the reasoning for the drastic career shift.
She worked a variety of other odd jobs to make money and support herself on top of her ranch hand work. Her landlord was the last person to see her before her disappearance, and he said she was acting a little bit hyper and out of the ordinary. On the day before she went missing, she called her father and said she was under stress and wanted to return home.
At a quarter after 8 pm on April 20, 1989, a woman named Peggy Bueller and her father were traveling near Circle, Montana when they witnessed a vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road, coming right at them. Peggy was luckily able to swerve onto the shoulder of the road, avoiding a possibly fatal head-on collision, but the car crashed into another car belonging to off-duty police dispatcher Carol Heitz.
Carol got out of the accident unharmed. She walked on the road and the blonde woman driving the wrong way walked up to her, but Carol said it was as if she was looking right through her. She didn't speak, and then she walked away.
Peggy had pulled over to the side of the road, and she witnessed the woman climb over a fence, standing motionless, observing the scene. "As I looked out across the accident, I noticed someone on the other side of the fence. She was standing there like a spectator - not like it had happened to her," Peggy said.
Peggy continued to watch her until she walked off into an empty field, vanishing into the darkness. Peggy's father stayed with Carol at the scene while Peggy drove into town to get to a phone to call the police. By the time authorities arrived, the woman was nowhere to be found. About a half hour later, the once reckless driver, now missing woman, was identified as Patricia Meehan.
INVESTIGATING THE DISAPPEARANCE
The call went from a response to a car accident to a missing adult quickly. In the immediate search, police discovered a trail of she tracks in a desolate field for about .75 miles from the scene of the crash. The size matched Patricia's, and they followed them until they disappeared.
Patricia's parents arrived from Pennsylvania shortly after they were alerted of their daughter's disappearance. They distributed over 2,000 missing persons flyers throughout the area. Volunteers searched the surrounding terrain and mountains, and the family hired a helicopter to help search, but none of it was fruitful. Abandoned coal mines were searched, but no trace was ever found.
Weirder yet, the area of the accident in Circle, Montana was nearly 400 miles away from her home in Bozeman. Neither her family nor authorities could find a reason she would have been so far from home.
The initial theory was that Patricia fled the accident via hitchhiking or stowing herself on a hay truck that had been parked near the site of the accident, but nothing was ever found that supported that claim. Patricia's mother shared that she had been experiencing depression at the time, and had been visiting a psychologist whom she had an appointment scheduled with the morning after her disappearance. It was proposed that perhaps she was suffering from amnesia.
Over 5,000 sightings have been reported of Patricia since her disappearance. On May 4, 1989, a police officer claimed to have seen her sitting outside of a Hardee's restaurant. The woman was drinking water alone for 5 hours until the restaurant closed. She next day, 2 sightings were reported, one in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where a waitress claimed she sat inside of a truck stop diner for almost 12 hours drinking coffee, and another waitress from South Dakota claimed to see her in the company of a man in his 30s.
A few weeks later, a waitress at a restaurant in Bozeman claimed to have seen her there. Another waitress corroborated, saying she was rushing to eat her breakfast and that she seemed disoriented, talking to herself.
She was seen on May 30 in rural Washington, walking down the Interstate, and the next week in Tacoma, Washington asking strangers for directions.
There were 25 sightings of her, 3 confirmed by police, in June of 1989 in the Pacific Northwest, mostly at truck stops.
On August 30, a transient woman was arrested in Idaho for littering. She looked and sounded a lot like Patricia. She appeared in court and authorities believed it was Patricia. Even though fingerprint analysis confirmed it was not her, Patricia's former boyfriend said there was a strong resemblance between the woman and Patricia, and that she had a similar voice, as well.
One theory is that she suffered some type of mental break, specifically "Dissociative Fugue", or a psychological state in which a person "loses awareness of their identity or other important autobiographical information and also engages in some form of unexpected travel". In other words, she may have traveled 400 miles away without knowing it. Perhaps the accident caused her to come to, or exacerbated the situation, and she decided she had to run. Maybe during the accident she got a confusion which made it worse, which is why she never fully came back for her entire life, despite multiple people seeing her in the years after.
I do think the fact that she was 400 miles away adds more questions. Everything happened once she started driving down the wrong side of the road and caused an accident. But, she had been driving for hours at this point, likely in whatever mental state she was in when she climbed over the fence and walked away from her life. How did she get 400 miles without anyone noticing any obscure driving? It seems a little suspicious to me, though some believe perhaps she had fallen asleep at the wheel, which would make sense if she had been driving for hours in a questionable mental state.
But it does make sense that it was some type of mental issue. She was depressed, she wanted to come home, she had made an appointment with a professional. She may have been spiraling and made a decision to drive off.
What you think actually happened to her really comes down to if you believe the sightings or not. Many were "confirmed", but if she was never found, they can only give a pretty solid confirmation, not a 100%. 5,000+ sightings definitely makes it seem possible that she walked off, and continued walking through life in a fugue state (or deliberately started over). But it seems like she would eventually need an ID or something. Or, if she maintained in the fugue state, that she wouldn't have any run-ins with law enforcement, for a wellness check at the very least. It is definitely possible that all of the sightings were just mistakes or hopeful optimism, and in reality, Patricia walked off and died of exposure fairly close to where she disappeared from.
I feel terrible for her family, more than anything. Especially every time they heard of a "credible sighting", holding out hope that their daughter was alive. Either outcome is equally heartbreaking. Either their daughter, a single woman in her late 30s working odd jobs in a town where she felt homesick, who had recently revealed she was depressed, drove off, got in an accident, and walked to her death before they were able to intervene or help her, and people continued to "see" her, forcing them to hold out hope for a hopeless case. Or, their daughter survived and spent the rest of her life as a single, mentally ill woman hitchhiking around a variety of states in the 80s/90s, always confused and likely always likely in some sort of danger. Either option is too horrific to even think about.
Personally, I think the former is more likely. This is the case that I think the "sightings" are the most credible, but I still think it is far more likely that she died within a few days of her disappearance. I can't believe in the 31 years since she went missing that she would have never been found if she was continuing around the same area in some sort of fugue state with no idea of who she was. There are a lot of sightings, but even in this case, the most likely scenario is normally the correct one. She likely died within days of her disappearance, her body never found. And that is extremely heartbreaking.
Patricia's story was featured on Unsolved Mysteries in 1989. Her father said, "More than anything else in the world, I want her back with us. And we would then know that she was safe. Not knowing who she is taking a ride from, that's my biggest worry. I just pray day in and day out that she's with some good people." He and his wife, Dolly, both believe that she is alive.
Dolly, her mother, died in 2010, and I couldn't find any information about Thomas, her father. But I am sure that they searched for their daughter and wished and prayed for her return for their entire lives. I hope, in death, that they were able to find the peace and closure they never got in life.