Blonde, Blue-Eyed and Gone
Two girls from Connecticut vanish. Two from Southern Massachusetts are abducted and found dead. Are these high-profile cases connected?
Investigative journalist M. William Phelps is the author of over 20 books. He created, produces and stars in the hit Investigation Discovery (ID) channel series “Dark Minds,” which returns on February 27 at 10 p.m. His latest book, "Kiss of the She-Devil," is also out this month.
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IT WAS 2011. One of those crisp, late September evenings we treasure here in New England. Walking around the Volunteer Firemen’s Carnival on the grounds of Brookside Park off Route 140, in Ellington, I ran into 71-year-old Judi Kelly. We knew each other from town. She’d read several of my books. I went to school with one of her daughters, who ended up becoming my daughter’s first dance instructor. But it was Judi’s missing child, 13-year-old Lisa Joy White, allegedly abducted on Nov. 1, 1974, that brought us together.
In a bouffant hairdo, teased beehive-high like the B-52’s Kate Pierson, Judi reminded me of one of those glamorous, pinup gals from the ’60s. She was always eager to talk, and one of those rare people who actually listened to what you had to say. Judi had heard I’d recently completed shooting the first season of my Investigation Discovery series, “Dark Minds,” a show that focuses on unsolved, cold cases. She congratulated me.
My daughter was dancing as part of an exhibition at the carnival. I thought that I might see Judi, who was, after some four decades, still an intrinsic player in the tri-town region dance scene.
“I’m planning on looking into Lisa’s disappearance,” I said.
Judi had this energy about her. When I mentioned how I wanted to profile Lisa’s disappearance to a national audience, she lit up. She said she’d been waiting for something like this since Lisa vanished from the Rockville section of Vernon 37 years ago.
“I may have a person (or persons) of interest in Lisa’s case,” I continued. “We think these guys could be responsible for the abduction and murder of three other girls, as well.”
Judi was stunned by this revelation.
“Judi, I can’t promise anything—but I will be bringing national attention to Lisa’s case after all this time and that alone might help bring her home.”
That “attention” was all Judi had ever wanted. Lisa is still considered missing. We didn’t say it, but standing there, we both felt that bringing Lisa home to bury would be enough. Judi never used the word “closure,” because it’s a fallacy the media has created for families of murdered children. In writing 21 books about murder, speaking to hundreds of grief-stricken family members, having been affected by an unsolved, brutal murder in my own family, the one thing I hear time and again is that there can never be closure. It doesn’t exist.
Obvious in Judi’s demeanor was that same guarded, shallow look I’ve seen on the faces of countless mothers who’ve lost children. With Judi, though, it went deeper because Lisa’s body had not been recovered. Loss was present and permanent, but clearly infused with a false sense of hope. Parents in Judi’s position face a tormenting dynamic: They walk around constantly wondering—they know their child is dead, but without a body, there’s always that chance.
“I’ve been going to the Vernon Police Department about Lisa just about every month for as long as I can remember,” Judi told me (although very recently she’d been unable to because of a recurring illness).
“I want to interview you for ‘Dark Minds,’” I said. “We’re looking at maybe spring/late summer .”
Judi looked at the ground, lost. Then: “I hope I make it.”
Heading into the summer of 2012, Judi had been gathering documents and photos for me. She’d collected hundreds. I spoke to her one day in late June. Her on-camera interview had been pushed back because of my production schedule.
“September’s right around the corner,” I said.
Judi warned me about the timing: “The cancer has gotten the best of me.”
I had no idea how sick she was. Nor that she’d written the email mere hours before checking into Hartford Hospital.
A few days later, on Tuesday, July 3, 2012, Judi Kelly died.