Mary Prskalo and Vikki Cihon met in 1980 in Calumet City, Illinois. Living in apartments just across the hall from each other, the two young women were just 19 and 20 years old, respectively.
“We were both single mothers,” Mary told Dateline. “It was a common bond we had. We just clicked and remained friends.”
Both Vikki’s daughter Jill, and Mary’s daughter were babies at the time. Mary says they began raising their girls together.
“That’s why we had the bond -- because she loved children. We shared that,” Mary said of her best friend, Vikki. “We would take the girls to the park, or swimming. I didn’t drive, so she took me to the grocery store.”
Mary says she and Vikki would also go out dancing together if they could get a babysitter to watch the kids. One night, though, when Mary was feeling sick, Vikki went to a nearby bowling lounge by herself while Mary stayed home with the kids.
According to Mary, that’s where Vikki met a man named David Vukelich. Vikki and David began seeing each other, and Vikki Cihon soon became Vikki Vukelich. Shortly thereafter, Vikki and David had a daughter, Ashley. By then, Vikki, David, Jill and Ashley lived in Glenwood, Illinois about 30 minutes away from Mary, but Mary says she still saw Vikki often.
In February of 1991, Vikki, 32, spent her days running her hair salon, Hair Designs by Vikki. Her daughter Jill, then 12 years old, told Dateline her mother would always be home by 9:00 p.m. When Vikki got home from work on February 23, Jill says her mother was tired from the week. But Jill’s stepfather David wanted to go to a party with Vikki that night.
“My mom didn’t want to go to the party,” Jill told Dateline. “She put my sister and I to bed, but I woke up twice that night because I heard them arguing.”
Jill told Dateline that the second time she woke up in the middle of the night, she found her stepfather David in the living room. Vikki wasn’t there, but Jill says she figured her mother was sleeping in the basement, which she sometimes did.
Jill went back to sleep, expecting to see her mother in the morning. But when she woke up hours later, her mother was nowhere to be found.
“I woke up the next morning and asked David, ‘Where’s Mom?’” Vikki told Dateline. “He said she drank a whole bottle of wine and walked toward the highway.”
He would later tell authorities that he went to bed at 10:00 p.m., after Vikki had left the house on foot and walked toward the highway, according to Illinois State Police Senior Agent Tony Gentry. David Vukelich did not reply to Dateline’s request for comment.
As the day went on and Vikki didn’t return home, Jill says she became upset that her mother hadn’t called.
“She would always call me. Always. And she didn’t,” Jill said.
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A few days later, though, Jill did receive a call. It was Mary, her mother’s best friend. Mary told Dateline she had heard from a mutual friend that Vikki hadn’t shown up to work.
“I called [Vikki’s] house and asked Jill to go to the bathroom and check if her mom’s contacts and glasses were there,” Mary said. Vikki couldn’t see without her contacts or glasses, Mary added. When Jill asked why she wanted to know, Mary replied: “‘I’m just asking questions, that’s all Jill. I’m sure you’re going to hear from your mom.’”
Jill told Dateline she remembers reality sinking in during that phone call with Mary.
“It made me think, ‘Oh, my God,’” Jill said. “She asked me to count all of Mom’s coats and her shoes and her contacts, and check her purse and her license. Everything was there.”
Mary said she then contacted the Glenwood Police Department to report Vikki missing. She says she wasn’t able to file the report, though, since she’s not family. The police called David and had him go to the station to file the report.
Days after her mother was reported missing, Jill went to live with her biological father. Her stepsister Ashley, just four at the time, stayed with David. Meanwhile, Mary says she worked tirelessly to find Vikki.
“I called all the news channels, I called all the newspapers,” Mary told Dateline. “It was everywhere. I got flyers made that she was missing and put them everywhere.”
Shortly after Vikki’s disappearance, David and his daughter Ashley sold the family house and moved elsewhere in Illinois, according to Mary.
Years went by with no leads or arrest in Vikki’s disappearance. Then, about three years after the mother of two was last seen, the Illinois State Police Department acquired all of Glenwood Police Department’s homicide cases. Senior Agent Gentry was assigned to Vikki’s case.
“Whenever I come into a case, I don’t look at any of the previously-done case reports. I start off fresh,” Senior Agent Gentry told Dateline. “So I went to the neighborhood and did a canvass.”
But when Senior Agent Gentry went to Vikki’s neighbors, he learned the Glenwood Police Department hadn’t done the same years earlier in its investigation. The neighbors said they had never been asked about what happened the night Vikki vanished.
“Everyone said they remembered that night,” Senior Agent Gentry said. “They said they heard horrible screams, and then it went quiet.”
Senior Agent Gentry said the Glenwood Police Department did interview David shortly after his wife’s disappearance, but seemed to have only collected his timeline of events from the night Vikki was last seen. The Illinois State Police tried to interview David again, but Senior Agent Gentry said David refused to meet.
“I have never interviewed him at all. He refuses to meet with me – you can’t force him to come in,” he said. “I called David every year on the anniversary of her disappearance and on her birthday. Every year. I asked him if he would meet. He said no. I said I’d come to his front door. And he would never answer the door.”
Senior Agent Gentry told Dateline that David Vukelich is considered a suspect in Vikki’s disappearance, but “in the state of Illinois, if you don’t have a body, you don’t have a crime.”
In the decades since Vikki’s disappearance, her daughter Jill has moved to Florida and had a child of her own. She says she didn’t want to raise her son in the town that holds so many grief-filled memories.
“Old memories are not good and not healthy. I’ll tell [my son] memories, and do the best that I can so that she is proud of me raising her grandson,” Jill said. “I strive to be like her: very strong, very independent. Kind, loving, loyal and fun. She was my best friend.”
Jill says her mother’s best friend Mary has now become a mother figure to her.
“Mary has been my mama ever since. We’ve been through hell and back, and we’re still here,” Jill told Dateline, adding that she thinks of her mother every day. “I just want this to be over. Enough is enough. Someone needs to say something and just do right.”
Mary, too, has never stopped fighting for Vikki.
“I’ll just miss her always, because I’m not getting her back,” Mary told Dateline. “There needs to be some closure and justice for Vikki.”
Senior Agent Gentry is retired now, but says he still makes calls on Vikki’s case.
“There is an investigator assigned to the case, but I’m sort of like a bull dog,” he said. “I get ahold of something, and I don’t let go.”
Vikki Vukelich would be 60 years old today. At the time of her disappearance, Vikki was 5’4” tall and weighed about 110 lbs., with blonde hair and blue eyes. If you have any information on the circumstances surrounding Vikki’s disappearance, please call the Illinois State Police at (217) 785-2035.
Bianca Hillier covers missing person and homicide cases for NBC News.