In April 1989, a single car accident sparked a decades-long search for a missing Montana woman. She still hasn’t been found, but she’s somehow been reported as seen thousands of times.
Getting into a car accident is undoubtedly one of everyone’s worst fears, and it’s a fear that becomes amplified at night. The darkness adds an unsettling element to something that’s already pretty traumatizing, and it’s easy to imagine how bad could go to worse if help wasn’t able to find you easily.
Imagine, though, if help was able to find your location, but not you—because you had walked away from the accident yourself. Even stranger, imagine if you were never found afterward, but people reported seeing you over 5,000 times since that night. As crazy as it sounds, it’s the true story of a woman named Patricia Meehan.
On the night of April 20, 1989, a woman named Peggy Bueller was driving down Montana Highway 200 in Circle, Montana, with her father.
During their trip, at approximately 8:15 p.m., they noticed a car driving on the wrong side of the road, and it was headed straight toward them. They managed to swerve out of the way in time, but the car behind them wasn’t so lucky—the car crashed into that of Carol Heinz, a police dispatcher who happened to be off-duty at the time.
Alive and completely unharmed, Heinz emerged from her car and, as she surveyed the scene before her, saw a blonde woman get out of the car that hit her. That woman walked right up to her and, while she didn’t say a word, Heinz said the woman gave her a look that felt as if she was staring right through her. She walked away and made her way over a nearby fence, Bueller saying she later saw the woman look at the scene as if she hadn’t been involved in any of it at all.
“As I looked out across the accident, I noticed someone on the other side of the fence, standing there like a spectator, not like it had happened to her,” she said. Eventually, the woman walked away into the field and completely vanished into the night.
That Woman Was Patricia Meehan
Prior to her bizarre disappearance, Meehan lived a fairly normal life in Bozeman, Montana. Though she had previously studied early childhood development, she had abandoned that pursuit at some time to become a ranch hand, her love of animals being the reason behind the switch. She also worked a few odd jobs in addition to working on the ranch, just to bring in whatever extra money she could to support herself.
Before her accident, the last person to see Meehan alive was her landlord. He noted that she wasn’t quite acting like herself at the time, and Meehan seemed almost hyper. He’s not the only one to notice any unusual behavior from her, either. Her mother noted that sometime prior to her daughter’s disappearance, she had seemed increasingly depressed, quiet, and detached.
“She was, I guess, taking in her own life, what had she accomplished,” her mother, Dolly Meehan, said. “I think she missed having children because I think she realized she really loved them.” Not much is known about Meehan’s life directly before the accident, but some theorize she may have been trying to take her own life by driving on the wrong side of the road that night in 1989.
Her family later found Meehan’s camera with a roll of undeveloped film still in it. Once processed, they saw that Meehan had taken a rather chilling self-portrait in a mirror—it was a photo that solidified for them just how troubled Meehan may have been at the time.
That Same Night, The Investigation Began
Within a half hour after the accident, authorities had determined that 37-year-old Meehan was the unidentified blonde driver who was involved in the accident. They began to search the area near the scene and eventually discovered a trail of shoe print that led through a field approximately 0.75 miles away from the scene of the crash—it was believed that the tracks belonged to Meehan.
The investigators on the scene followed the trail of prints until around 3 a.m. when the tracks eventually faded away due to the terrain of the area. It was then that they decided to put a hold on their search until the next day.
Shortly after they were alerted of Meehan’s disappearance, her family made their way to Montana to assist in the search. Volunteers used ATVs and horses to trek through the terrain, nearby mountains, and even some abandoned coal mines in the area looking for any sign of the missing woman.
At one point during the search, the Meehans actually brought in a helicopter to aid in their quest to find their daughter, but to no avail. As Circle was approximately 300 miles away from Meehan’s home in Bozeman, both her family and the local authorities couldn’t even come up with an explainable reason for why she would’ve been in the area in the first place, or where she would’ve been going while there.
The most common thought behind what happened to Meehan that night is that she developed amnesia as a result of brain trauma during the accident. It’s a theory that does make sense—many individuals who suffer from post-traumatic amnesia enter a state of confusion and disorientation immediately following any trauma, and they’re usually unable to remember the events that happened immediately afterward.
If she also developed retrograde amnesia, she may not have been able to remember her life before the accident, meaning she could’ve forgotten who she actually is in addition to the fact that she was even in an accident at all.
Police also wondered if Meehan made her way out of the area by hiding in a hay truck that had been parked about a half-mile from the scene of the accident, whether on purpose or because she climbed in for shelter and either lost consciousness or fell asleep. They also believed she may have hitchhiked out of the area and through the Pacific Northwest, as there have been multiple sightings of her at various truck stops between Montana and Seattle.
One waitress, Barbara Clements, claimed she once saw Meehan sitting in the restaurant where she worked, noting that was acting very strange. She said Meehan sat at the same table for over an hour and a half, mainly just watching as other people walked by as she talked to herself. “I felt like she didn’t know where she was or who she was,” Clements said.
Another waitress, Barb Ruff, claimed she even saw Meehan in her town of Bozeman in May 1989. She said Meehan was in a hurry to get breakfast but, when Ruff asked why, Meehan said only that she was going shopping.
There Have Been Thousands of More Sightings, Too
Since she disappeared, there have been over 5,000 alleged sightings of Meehan, and some have actually been confirmed by police. Still, her parents say they have not heard a single word from their daughter since her disappearance, though they do hold onto the hope that she is alive and well.
Her father, Thomas Meehan, 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.”