In October 1996, Wendy Meyers, age 30, was reported missing to the Town of Lloyd Police, in Ulster County, New York. She was described as a white female, with a slim build, hazel eyes and short brown hair. She was last seen at the Valley Rest Motel in Highland, a small town situated near the banks of the Hudson River just south of Kingston.
Two months later, in early December, 1996, Gina Barone was reported missing by her mother, Patricia Barone. Gina was 29 years old and had a small build, brown hair and an eagle tattooed on her back. On her right arm she had another tattoo that read simply "POP." She was last seen November 29, 1996 in Poughkeepsie on a street corner, apparently having a dispute with a man.
Poughkeepsie is a small city of 28,000 located 90 miles north of New York City. Dutchess County has a long and dramatic history that can easily be traced back to the Revolutionary War. Like any other modern municipality though, Poughkeepsie has its problems. There is a small but persistent drug trade centered in the downtown area that periodically erupts into violence. Prostitutes can often be seen working the same area and shootings are not at all uncommon. Some say Gina was arguing over drugs on that November 29. But in any event, it was the last time anyone could remember seeing her alive.
The missing persons report was filed with the city of Poughkeepsie Police Department and assigned to the Detective Division. On January 1, 1997, the Divison came under the command of Det. Lt. Bill Siegrist, a 29-year veteran of the department. Although Wendy Meyers' disappearance was filed with the Town of Lloyd Police Department, she was well known to Poughkeepsie police and frequented the downtown area of the city. Lt. Siegrist became interested in the two cases. It seemed implausible that two girls who traveled in the same circles in the same city should suddenly disappear. "It seemed like more than a coincidence," he said recently.
Then in January 1997, Kathleen Hurley, 47, disappeared. She was last seen walking along Main Street in the downtown area of Poughkeepsie. Kathleen, like the others, was white, had brown hair and a small build. The letters "CJ" were tattooed on her left bicep. Although it is not unusual for police to receive missing person reports, the three cases, Hurley, Meyers and Barone, seemed related. But people are reported missing for many reasons. Family disputes, simple runaways, drugs and a nomadic lifestyle are just a few of those reasons. Sometimes people are arrested in other jurisdictions and they neglect to notify their families. In other cases, people will simply move on to new areas only to return a short time later. In most cases, the missing person turns up within a few days and the report is subsequently cancelled.
Nevertheless, the Poughkeepsie Police were already interested in the cases. Lt. Siegrist made an inquiry to the Neighborhood Recovery Unit (N.R.U.), which is the department's narcotic unit. N.R.U., like most police narc units, spends a lot of time on the streets and deals extensively with confidential informants, drug dealers, convicted criminals, prostitutes and other street dwellers almost on a daily basis. Usually, these units are a wealth of current information. N.R.U. reported back to Lt. Siegrist that some of the Main Street prostitutes were complaining of a local man who was rough with the girls and had been known to be violent during sex. He was Kendall Francois, who lived over on Fulton Avenue in the Town of Poughkeepsie, just minutes from the city's downtown area. Lt. Siegrist, upon hearing this information, then contacted the Town of Poughkeepsie Police and made an inquiry about Francois. They reported that Francois had recently been the subject of an assault complaint by a prostitute.
Armed with this information, detectives decided to maintain surveillance of Francois' home at 99 Fulton Avenue. But after several weeks of watching the residence in January 1997, no new information was developed. One prostitute cooperated with the police and allowed herself to be wired up and meet with Francois. The girl worked her usual spots in the city's downtown area until Francois arrived in his white Toyota Camry. Although she had clear instructions not to get into his vehicle, the girl was able to engage Francois in conversation on a number of occasions. Police monitored these meetings but again, no useful information was obtained.
Two months later, on March 7, 1997, a woman named Catherine Marsh was reported missing by her mother. Catherine was last observed November 11, 1996 also in the city of Poughkeepsie. Four months had passed since she was last seen alive which made her case very difficult to investigate. Like the other girls, she was white, small build, blue eyes and brown hair. Her clothes and personal items were still at her apartment. Teletypes from across the nation were checked for recently discovered D.O.A.s who had not been identified. It is a routine practice for police to attempt to match up unidentified bodies with reports of the missing. Rap sheets were requested on all the missing girls to ascertain if they were in custody somewhere. Canvasses were made of the neighborhoods where the women frequented and arrest records were checked and re-checked. Specially-trained cadaver dogs from the Ramapo Rescue Squad were utilized to search areas in and around the city. The case came to a frustrating standstill with no workable leads and no viable suspects. But as Lt. Siegrist pointed out: "We had no evidence of criminality." So on the surface, the cases were simply a series of missing persons reports. But on another level, the Detective Division was convinced something had happened to these women.
In April 1997, Poughkeepsie Police made a decision to contact the F.B.I. for help. Although the F.B.I. investigators were interested, they were limited by the circumstances of the case. In order to establish a profile of a suspect, they needed a crime scene. In this instance, there was no crime scene and worse, it had not been established that a crime had even occurred. Simply put, there was not much the F.B.I. could do.
On October 9, 1997, Michelle Eason, 27 years old, was reported missing in the city of Poughkeepsie. She too was last seen in the downtown area but unlike all the others, who were white, Michelle was an African American. She was also slight of build, barely 5'2 and 115 lbs.
Then, just one month later, on November 13, Mary Healy Giaccone, 29 years old, was reported missing. But this report was actually initiated by the police. Mary's mother died in October 1997. Mary's father, a retired New York State corrections officer, came to the police to ask for help in locating her so he could give Mary the bad news. But police soon discovered that Mary was actually last seen alive in February, 1997 on the same Poughkeepsie streets as some of the others. And like all the others, Mary was small, 5'4" and weighed 110 lbs. Police increased their efforts on the case. The similarities between the girls were striking. All the girls lived in or near Poughkeepsie, all had the same physical build, several of the girls had been arrested for prostitution and most did not have regular contact with their families. But all shared one common bond: they had simply vanished.