36 years later, still so sign of local girl abducted getting off school bus

CABOT, Pa. — Feb. 22 marked 36 years to the day that an 8-year-old Butler County girl was abducted after getting off her school bus on Cornplanter Road in Cabot.

She has never been seen or heard from since. But the disappearance of Cherrie Mahan continues to generate more tips than most other cold cases in the region.

Target 11 investigator Rick Earle has covered this case for nearly three decades. Earle even traveled to Michigan to track down a woman some suspected might be Cherrie Mahan. And just two years ago, Earle broke the story about an anonymous letter that Cherrie’s mother received that claimed she was murdered.

When Target 11 first told you about this anonymous letter, police asked us to withhold some of the details because they wanted a chance to check it out. We’ve now learned that police have completed their investigation into that letter.

Earle discovered that state police searched a hunting camp near Lock and Dam #8 along the Allegheny River, north of Kittanning in Armstrong County.

They searched the property after someone claiming to be Pastor Justice indicated that Cherrie Mahan was the victim of a homicide and buried on the property.

“They knew nothing about this case. They gave us full access. We had full reign over that property. We brought in cadaver dogs and did a full investigation and once again, there was nothing that came with a full search. They found absolutely nothing,” said Trooper Jim Long, a public information officer with the Pennsylvania State Police in Butler.

“There was a bunch of people and a couple of dogs and you know they went over the property with a fine-tooth comb and didn’t find anything,” said Janice McKinney, Mahan’s mother.

McKinney was with investigators as they searched the property and hit yet another dead end.

“The longer it goes the harder it gets. The losing a child is difficult, but when you know where that child is you learn to adapt, and the not knowing is the hardest part. It just sucks the life out of me every single day of my life,” McKinney said.

The author of the letter also identified several possible suspects involved in her death as well as a motive. Police say they tracked down all the people named in the letter.

“The letter had a lot of details in it. The letter included names, locations some of them out of state. We followed up on all of them, and unfortunately, we kind of finished where we started. It was kind of a dead end for us,” Long said.

Earle asked McKinney if she knew any of the names included in the letter.

She said she did not.

Target 11 has been investigating this case for decades. In 2014 after a tip that Cherrie Mahan was reportedly alive and living under another name in Michigan, Earle and a photographer traveled to Michigan and tracked down the woman, who said she didn’t know a Cherrie Mahan. Police also investigated the same report and after conducting interviews determined the woman was not Mahan.

Police also continue to get tips and sightings of that blue or green van with a skier mural that was seen in the vicinity the day Mahan was abducted, but nothing has ever panned out.

“We get tips and the amount of information that we get on this case. It’s amazing because a lot of time has passed. But in Butler County I can’t think of another one that gets more attention, especially around the anniversary date,” said Long.

“I pray every day that somebody has the goodness and the kindness in their heart to just let me know if Cherrie would still be alive, which I pray. I still have hope, but you know faith, hope and the number one thing is love and I will always love Cherrie until the day I die,” McKinney said.

The day before we interviewed police, they got yet another tip about Cherrie Mahan. And like all of the others over past three decades, they said they follow up, hoping that the next one will be the break they need to finally solve the case.

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