On June 12, 1998, Sandra Jean French, 51, disappeared. She was white, 5', just 120 lbs., hazel eyes and a very slight build. She was reported missing from the small town of Dover, which is about 20 miles east of Poughkeepsie. Her car was found abandoned in the town of Poughkeepsie barely three blocks from the Francois home.
In July, 1998, the Missing Women's Task Force was formed, consisting of full-time police investigators from the City of Poughkeepsie, Town of Poughkeepsie and New York State Police. The task force was under the command of City of Poughkeepsie's Sgt. Michael Horkan. The task force took up residence in the city's downtown area at Market and Main Street, not far from the police station. But the existence of the team was not announced nor was it publicized. The formation of this team was an unusual event because task forces such as these are usually assembled after bodies are found and foul play is apparent.
The workload was enormous. Each tip or scrap of information had to be evaluated and acted upon if it was deemed important. Every day detectives studied the teletypes from National Crime Information Center (NCIC). These teletypes originate from every police municipality in the nation and report on every single unidentified body in America 365 days a year. Attempts to match up any of the girls to the reports were fruitless. Many on the investigative team were convinced that the girls were already dead, the victim of some unknown serial killer. Others were not so sure. But the task force was ordered not to talk about any details of the case, an essential point to any successful police investigation. The need for confidentiality is paramount in murder investigations, more so in a multiple homicide. The revelation of some significant detail or the publication of some other aspect of the investigation could alert the killer and wreck the case or, worse, induce the killer to flee. "It's a possibility that they are linked" State Police Investigator Monte Martin told the press on July 26, 1998, "but we can't say anything at this point".
Just one month later on August 26, 1998, Catina Newmaster, 25 years old, vanished. Like almost all the others, she was slight of build, brown hair and was last seen in the same downtown streets of Poughkeepsie. At the police department, pressures to solve the case were enormous. A sudden feeling of urgency descended upon the community. There was real fear on the streets. People were afraid to come outside, especially street dwellers.
"We're low lifes, that's what it comes down to. People don't care that we're missing because they think we don't belong on the streets in the first place. It's not just the police, it's the community," a prostitute had told the Journal on July 26, 1998.
But they were wrong; the police were taking it very seriously and had been for nearly 22 months. Thousands of hours of investigative work had already been expended on the case. The City of Poughkeepsie Police, Town of Poughkeepsie, Town of Lloyd, the New York State Police and the F.B.I had all worked together on the investigation, which had grown to epic proportions.
The families of the missing girls were numb from worry. In a prophetic statement to the Albany Times, Patricia Barone, whose daughter had been missing nearly two years, said: "If they find one of them, they'll find all of them, I'm sure of that." She didn't know how right she was.
Of course, she had no way of knowing that not far from the Market Street office, where the members of the task force diligently processed their paperwork every day, a house of horrors awaited them. The home was set on a quiet residential block, in the shadow of famous Vassar College a dark, gloomy two-story house virtually across the street from a funeral home. A house that neighbors and children knew well. They saw it every day as they walked to work, parked their cars, rode their bicycles, played on the street. The local mailman and some neighborhood kids, the usual delivery people, they knew it too. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the house well because it stunk to high heaven.