UPDATE: Shawn McClung died in September of 2020, before the case could reach a courtroom. According to NBC affiliate WTHR, “Detectives say McClung confessed, possibly because he was terminally ill.”
More than three decades after 18-year-old Denise Pflum disappeared from her hometown of Connersville, Indiana on Good Friday in 1986, a man has been arrested and charged in her death.
The Fayette County Sheriff's Department announced in a press release Thursday that “Shawn M. McClung is charged with Voluntary Manslaughter, resulting from the investigation into the death of Denise Pflum.”
McClung had once been Denise’s boyfriend. The couple, who were together for three years, had broken up shortly before Denise disappeared, her mother Judy told Dateline in March.
Authorities said that during the initial investigation into Denise’s disappearance, McClung had been questioned and claimed that she was still alive. However, they announced Thursday that he had recently admitted to killing her in March of 1986.
They added the investigation is ongoing and no further comments will be made at this time. Denise’s body has never been found.
Denise had a bright future ahead of her when she disappeared on that Good Friday, Judy told Dateline back in March.
She was a star athlete. A gifted artist. Ranked at the top of her class. And she had dreams of becoming a scientist. Denise was about to graduate high school and had already been accepted to Miami University in Ohio where she planned to major in Microbiology.
“She had everything going for her,” Judy previously told Dateline. “If she were here today, she’d be working on a cure for cancer. Or, well, maybe even a cure for this… coronavirus. She just wanted to help people.”
But she never got the chance.
Judy told Dateline that after the breakup with McClung, Denise “started to be more social. She was hanging out with her friends more. Dating.” So on that Good Friday in 1986, Denise attended a party at a nearby farm.
The next day, on March 28, Denise realized she had left her purse at the site of the party, so she left her home in Connersville, Indiana to retrieve it. She never returned.
A few days later, Denise’s cream-colored 1981 Buick Regal was found abandoned alongside Tower Road, about three miles away from the site of the party. But there was no sign of Denise.
The case went cold for years.
Fayette County Sheriff Joey Laughlin, who was just seven years old when Denise disappeared, eventually took on the case, along with Detective Chad Blaes.
“This case has been the great mystery of Fayette County for 34 years,” Sheriff Laughlin previously told Dateline.
Sheriff Laughlin also previously told Dateline they believed there were several persons of interest in the case, but no one was named at the time.
Denise’s mother Judy told Dateline in March that her only hope was to one day get justice for her daughter.
A statement released Thursday by the family on the “Justice for Denise Pflum” Facebook page read, “We appreciate all of the love and support that you have shown us. We appreciate that Denise has become like family to all of you. Our daughter was a special person whom we will never forget, and we know that this community will not forget. We are so grateful for all of those who have followed her story, who have helped with the investigation, and who have shown support and love.”
The statement continued with a plea for privacy during this time.
“At this time we ask that you respect our privacy, and allow us the time we need to mourn and grieve our beloved daughter, sister, aunt, niece, cousin and friend. Denise was a wonderful young woman, her light is never gone. Her love will always remain with us, and with all of you. Thank you for all of your help. We love and appreciate every one of you.”
If you have any additional information on Denise’s case, please call the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department at (765) 825-1110 Ext. 604 or Indiana State Police at (765) 778-2121.