You might think that anyone can go missing, in any place, for any reason but in a rural town that in 1968, had less than 100 people living there it's hard to understand how a woman could disappear so completely.
It was a brisk, fall night in November, 1968, when Donna Jeanne Michalenko was seen at Earl's Bar, a solitary watering hole in the town of Kief, North Dakota. She left with her date around midnight, and no one has ever laid eyes on her again.
Kief was a farming community settled by immigrants from Ukraine, Russia and Germany at the turn of the century. It started off as a depot station for the Soo Line Railroad, and incorporated in 1908.
Donna Jean Heydt married Bertholdt "Bert" Michalenko in 1946. Both of their families were from the area. They had three children, and divorced in 1964. The children lived with their father, however she still visited them there. She lived separately in her own place in Butte.
Bert (1923-1993) would go on to remarry in 1974. He was a successful farmer and businessman in the Butte and Kief area. He was the former mayor of Butte and also served on the city council.
Prof. Eric Grawbosky, a private citizen took an interest in this case, and has researched extensively through interviews with family and open source materials more information about the circumstances surrounding Donna's disappearance.
According to him, Donna was romantically involved with a man he refers to as B.L. There was a history of violence between them, including the last time they were seen at Earl's Bar which was on November 9, 1968.
It was until December 27, six weeks after she disappeared that Donna was reported missing by her 21-year-old daughter. Since Donna was known to travel throughout the state to visit family or to sightsee, it took that long before the family realized that something was wrong.
When B.L. (still alive in 2017) who owned a farm nearby, was questioned about Donna's whereabouts, he said he dropped her off at her ex-husband's house where her children lived located in Butte. According to those at the home, she never arrived. It seems strange he would not take her to where she lived. He was considered a suspect in Donna's disappearance, however as time passed the investigation stalled out.
Prof. Grawbosky did find out that Donna owned a dog named Trixie, that disappeared as the same time. The animal was later found shot to death inside a Lutheran church.
He also mentions a tie in to Maury Terry's book The Ultimate Evil (1989) where it describes direct links to secret cults or satanists practicing in the area of Minot, North Dakota in those years. Strangely enough there is also a parallel to the sacrifice of dogs in several hidden locations where covens would meet in New York City, including the desecration of houses of worship. These individuals were known to travel between Minot, N.D. and boroughs in New York City.
Donna Jeanne Heydt was born on September 15, 1929, to parents Martin Heydt (1904-1945) and Emma Engel who married on January 28, 1929. She had twin siblings born in January 1934; Lester died soon after birth, and Marilyn died a few months later.
There was nothing in her background to provide a clue as to what happened to her.
A 2009 news article wrote of her as someone: "who decorated wedding cakes and whose children described as an artist, volunteered in her community and would do anything to help a neighbor in need."
Remains have never been recovered that have been linked to her, so there is no DNA material to match to any of her relatives. None of her belongings were ever taken, or any of her money used after she disappeared.
Present day Kief is considered a ghost town with less than 10 inhabitants. All the business are shut down, and the people have moved away. In a place of wide open spaces, a body could be thrown in a field, or buried and remain unfound for years. Was this the fate of Donna Jean Michalenko?
THE LOST BOY
On June 29, 1909, The Grand Forks Herald published a story about a lost boy. His name was Efeime Potarenko, 14, who worked for Peter Michalenko (Bert's father). His family lived about nine miles south of Dogden. He was sent into the pastures to get some horses. Almost two hours passed, and Michalenko sent out one of his young sons to find out what happened to him. The child returned saying he couldn't find him. Then Michalenko's son-in-law was sent out.
He found young Potarenko laying still in the field, as if he was dead. He tried to revive him, but Potarenko did not respond. The son-in-law brought a horse team and took him back to the house. He was breathing, and stirred a bit. A message was sent to Kief to call Dr. E.C. Stone at Balfour. The doctor upon examining the young man found he was unconscious and bleeding from his mouth, nose and ears. The doctor was not optimistic of his recovery, but the next day the bleeding had stopped and everyone continued to hope.
Nothing else was ever published about what happened to Efeime Potarenko, allowing even for a misspelling of his first and last name. There is no explanation from Doctor Stone as to how a teenage boy ended up unconscious and bleeding. Was he attacked, or was there another cause?
Just a cherry on the top mystery.
Have information? Contact McLean County Sheriff 701-462-8103
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer