Jeanette Patton with a portrait of her missing sister, Elizabeth Kovalik.
Elizabeth Kovalik of Milford disappeared in November 1987, leaving behind a 3-year-old child and a family wondering what had become of her.
After years without any answers, Kovalik’s relatives decided to place a memorial plaque in her honor at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Milford. According to her sister, Jeanette Patton, the memorial was a coping strategy.
“It was to give the family closure and a place to go on the anniversary of her disappearance,” Patton says. “It’s also a place where I go when I want to spend time with my sister. I find the memorial very helpful.”
Patton says she still dreams about her sister coming home, but adds, “Deep in my heart, I know differently.” She says not knowing what happened to her Elizabeth eats away at the family, which yearns for closure.
Kovalik is just one of hundreds of missing persons in Connecticut, and thousands in the country—people with families mourning their absence and fearing what might have happened to them.
Lt. J. Paul Vance, state police spokesman, says, “Missing-person cases are very difficult for the families—the not knowing.
“Sometimes, people want to leave for various reasons—they may be mad at someone or want to break up with someone,” Vance explains. “Our objective is to locate the person, be sure they’re okay, and report to the family that they are okay, or bring them back home. Obviously, some missing people are the victims of violent crime. It is a tragedy for the families who just don’t know.”
The National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, had 85,820 active missing-person cases as of Dec. 31, 2010, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to Vance, NCIC as of mid-March had about 500 of these cases listed for Connecticut.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, listed 237 missing person cases for Connecticut as of late March. However, many cases listed on NamUs aren’t up to date, with found individuals still listed, and some missing not included. The NamUs site lists 42 cases of unidentified human remains for Connecticut.
Early this year, at the urging of State Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz, a special team of state police investigators was formed to focus on missing-person cases.
Sgt. James Thomas of the state police Central District Major Crime Squad, who is leading the team, says the new team includes investigators from all major crime squads within the state police. The team is available to help municipal police departments with their cases, according to Thomas.
“The team is in place and is getting boots on the ground,” Vance says. “They’ll provide assistance to other agencies for new cases, and will tackle older cases too.”
On the national level, there have been recent efforts as well to address the missing- persons problem. U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5, has proposed the federal “Help Find the Missing Act,” which seeks to create an organized system to match remains to missing persons, and an incentive grants program for law enforcement and medical examiners to report information to various databases, like NCIC and NamUs.
A state law went into effect in October that requires Connecticut law enforcement agencies to accept “without delay” any report of a missing adult. Also, information collected relating to a missing adult has to be entered into the NCIC database “with all practicable speed.”
According to Cruz, there are still differences in how missing-person cases are handled.
“We have to take the families seriously until we know otherwise,” Cruz says. “When it is a missing child or someone with a mental health issue [it is addressed right away], but if it is a missing adult, especially a missing male, it is not taken seriously.”
When William Smolinski Jr. of Waterbury disappeared in 2004, police told the family to wait three days before filing a missing-person report, according to his mother, Janice Smolinski of Cheshire.
In spite of the new law, the misconception of a waiting period persists among some law-enforcement agencies. William Young of New Haven was last seen alive on Jan. 5, 2012, and his family called police Jan. 7 to report him missing. The family says they were told by New Haven police that they needed to wait 72 hours, so a missing person report wasn’t filed until the next day. Young’s body was found Feb. 11 in the Mill River.
But fast police response is crucial to solving these cases, says Cruz. Police need to obtain video recordings from surveillance in an area, such as from stores and parking lots, before they are recorded over and lost.
Meanwhile, the missing are still unaccounted for by the hundreds and thousands. Here, we spotlight a few of Connecticut’s cases.
Jeanette Patton, 48, will never forget the day she brought her nephew to his first day of kindergarten. There were numerous proud parents snapping pictures of their children, and while the day should have been joyous, it was a sad one for Patton.
All she could think about was that it should have been her sister, Elizabeth Kovalik, with the boy, who was Kovalik’s son.
Milford police say the search continues for Kovalik, who was 28 when she disappeared 24 years ago, but they have no idea what happened to her. There is no evidence Kovalik is dead, but they have no leads concerning her whereabouts.
Patton describes her sister as “fun loving, energetic and beautiful.” She fondly remembers family picnics, singing and dancing together. One of their favorite activities was roller-skating in Stratford.
After seven years of desperately hoping Kovalik would come home, her family had her legally declared dead.
“It’s very difficult every time they find human remains,” Patton says. “It stirs a lot of emotions. It’s very raw from day to day. On anniversaries, I pray she’ll walk through the door. I pray that if her remains are out there, we could bring her home.”
Milford police spokesman Officer Jeffrey Nielsen says the department received a missing-person report from Kovalik’s father on Nov. 22, 1987, days after she was last seen. Kovalik had missed the family’s Thanksgiving celebration. According to the police report, it was “very unusual” for her to misse a family holiday.
An investigation determined that Kovalik had last been seen with an acquaintance who drove her to New Haven to visit a friend. Nielsen says it was not unusual for Kovalik to be away for a few days, but that she was always in touch with her family.
Police interviewed her friends, family and co-workers at Dictaphone Corp. in Stratford. A co-worker told police Kovalik’s behavior was unusual right before she disappeared. Kovalik missed three days of work Nov. 9, 10 and 11 before returning Nov. 13. Further investigation revealed Kovalik was in New Haven Nov. during that period. An acquaintance said he saw her at a bar in New Haven Nov. 14 and that she stayed overnight in the city. The acquaintance told police he dropped Kovalik off on her street in Milford on Nov. 15. That was the last time anyone saw her, Nielsen says.
According to Nielsen, Kovalik’s information was submitted to other law enforcement agencies, NCIC and a missing-person database. He says there have been leads over the years, but nothing that has helped solve the mystery.
Anyone with information should contact Sgt. Antonio Vitti at (203) 878-6303.
William “Billy” Smolinski Jr. disappeared Aug. 24, 2004, at the age of 31. Police say they believe he was murdered.
His parents, William Smolinski Sr. and Janice Smolinski of Cheshire, have a website, justice4billy.com, that counts up the days, hours and seconds since they last saw him. His case is the jack of spades in the state’s cold-case playing-card deck.
According to his parents, Billy loved fishing, snowmobiling and riding horses. He worked as an apprentice heating and air-conditioning technician and part-time tow- truck driver before his disappearance.
“We will not be able to rest until Billy is found and brought home to us,” Janice Smolinski says. “It has been a life change and struggle since Billy went missing. We have a new norm now. Gardening was my primary passion along with jet skiing, before Billy disappeared. Now, instead of spending time on what we love, the days are consumed with trying to find my son.”
No one has been charged. Police have searched unsuccessfully for Smolinski’s body in several places, including in Shelton and Seymour.
A reinvigorated investigation into his disappearance was promised in early April by Waterbury police.
When Billy disappeared, he and his girlfriend, Madeleine Gleason, had just broken up, police reports say. Gleason told Waterbury police that Smolinski had broken up with her because he thought she was cheating on him, and he left her place in the early morning of Aug. 24, 2004, “a little depressed”—and that was the last time she saw him.
Police reports say that Gleason had also been seeing Chris Sorensen of Woodbridge, who told police he received a phone message that same Aug. 24 in which a male caller said, “Chris, you better watch your back at all times.” The caller was identified as Billy Smolinski. The last three calls Smolinski made prior to his disappearance were to Sorensen, police reports show, but Sorensen said he never saw Smolinski the day he disappeared.
In 2006, police received information from a tipster that Gleason’s son, Shaun Karpiuk, killed Smolinski. A tipster reported hearing that Karpiuk and a male accomplice then buried him. Karpiuk died in 2005 at age 27 of a drug overdose.
In 2007, a tipster told police that Karpiuk had said Smolinski “got what he deserved,” and that he and Chad Hanson of Seymour buried him in Shelton. Another witness told police in 2008 that Hanson bragged he and Karpiuk killed Smolinski, and police would never find his body.
Police interviewed Hanson in 2008, at which time he “stated he did not kill Smolinski, but he did help Karpiuk bury the body.” Hanson then led police to property on Bungay Road in Seymour, where Hanson said he had helped bury a barrel, though he told police he did not realize at the time that Smolinski was inside the barrel.
Police conducted a search of the property, with Hanson directing crews to the alleged location of the body. However, while investigators searched an area the size of a football field, there was “no sign of human remains or a barrel being located.” In a later interview with police in 2008, Hanson said he had lied to police and “did not know where the body of William Smolinski was buried.” Shelton police later charged Hanson, 32, with second-degree making a false statement and interfering with a police officer for lying to investigators. The warrant describes Hanson and Karpiuk as “suspects” in the Smolinski case. Hanson was convicted in February 2011, and received a 20-month prison sentence, which included charges related to the Smolinski investigation as well as unrelated charges.
Anyone with information should contact the tip line at (866) 623-8058.
Doreen Vincent, 12, disappeared from her father Mark Vincent’s house in Wallingford on June 15, 1988, after a disagreement with him.
Mark Vincent told police she left through the front door of the house he had recently moved into on Whirlwind Hill Road. Yet his wife at the time, the late Sharon Vincent Hutchins, told police it would have been impossible for Doreen to have left through the front door because it was locked with a deadbolt that required a key.
Police have never been satisfied with Mark Vincent’s account.
“All we can say is his explanation of the circumstances surrounding her disappearance [is] suspect,” says Wallingford Detective Lt. Robert Flis.
Vincent, 55, a contractor who now lives in Milford, is aware police think he had something to do with Doreen’s disappearance. When questioned, he repeats what he told police: “If you’re looking to me, you’ll never find Doreen”—meaning, he says, that she’s “somewhere else other than here.”
He believes his daughter left the house and hitchhiked somewhere. “She did it before,” he says, recalling that when they lived in Bridgeport, Doreen hitchhiked to her mother’s house in Waterbury.
Doreen’s mother, Donna Lee, doesn’t buy his story at all.
June 15, 1988, was a Wednesday. Lee says she called her ex-husband’s house to get directions to Wallingford from his wife, Sharon. Lee had not yet been to the Whirlwind Hill Road address, Mark and Sharon having moved there less than two weeks before. Lee planned to pick Doreen up on that Friday, but when she called the home several times Friday, there was no answer. (Police say Mark Vincent had removed the phone from the wall.)
The next day, June 18, “We just went there, and he was outside, sunning himself,” Lee says. She says he acted as if she had Doreen. “He insisted I had sent her to my mother’s house,” Lee says.
Lee recalls that Mark Vincent didn’t want to call the police. “I insisted he call the police,” she says.
Wallingford Detective Sgt. Anthony DeMaio says the case is periodically reviewed to see if there is anything police overlooked. Mark Vincent’s account of the day Doreen disappeared still contains many holes.
On the evening of June 15, Sharon Vincent cooked dinner for her family, including two younger children, then left for a church service in West Haven, DeMaio says. Mark Vincent told police he was in his workshop after dinner and, at about 8 p.m., saw Doreen in the kitchen. At about 9, he said, he went to her bedroom and she wasn’t there. When his wife returned at 11:30, he told her Doreen was missing.
While the matter was initially handled as a runaway case, inconsistencies soon started to pop up, DeMaio says. That summer, Mark and Sharon Vincent split up, and he moved out. “But he doesn’t give us a forwarding address and police don’t know where he is for quite some time,” DeMaio says.
Vincent counters that this is a persistent police falsehood. “I didn’t hide,” he says. “I lived and worked in Wallingford. I noticed them noticing me.”
After about a year, police developed information that led them to obtain search warrants for several locations, including Vincent’s mother’s house in Bethel. “Some of the items the father reported Doreen took with her were found there,” says DeMaio. “Obviously, a red flag developed.”
Mark and Donna say they searched for Doreen in Bridgeport, New Haven and New York. Police say they searched, with dogs, a large park in Bethel near the Huntington State Forest. Flis says Vincent was reportedly seen in the park soon after Doreen’s disappearance; Vincent says he can prove he was not there.
“I’ve come to accept the fact we may never know what happened to her,” Lee says.
Vincent says he hopes his daughter is alive: “I’d like to think she’s alive. It’s like a dream to see my baby.” With tears in his eyes, he says he misses his daughter.
Lee says that if her daughter had continued to be in her life, “there wouldn’t have been such a void. She might have had children, been married. I think about her every day and certain dates bring back memories. I miss her terribly.”
Flis says, “Twelve-year-old girls don’t go missing forever. The majority come home within a few hours or days. It’s rare for people to run away and never be heard from again. Gone without a trace is very hard to do, unless something bad happened. There is no evidence to say she’s dead, and I certainly hope she’s alive, but it’s hard for me to feel she is.”
Anyone with information should contact Wallingford police at (203) 294-2805.
of New Haven
The family of Jose Ortiz, who was 19 when he was abducted six years ago, knows he was likely murdered. They are hoping his remains will be found, and that they’ll learn who is responsible. His relatives have issued a plea to those who know what happened to come forward.
His mother, Carmen Colon of Meriden, says, “I want to know what happened to my son. Please, find it in your heart to say something. I am no one to judge. I leave that to God. I want to know—where is his body?”
New Haven police Lt. Julie Johnson, commander with the Major Crimes Unit, says Ortiz was abducted while riding his bicycle on Dec. 28, 2005, on Poplar Street, near Lombard Street in New Haven.
A city firefighter saw three males force Ortiz into a silver Ford Taurus. Ortiz lived with his mother at 417 Lombard St. in New Haven at the time, and their home was near the firehouse. The suspects are described as males between the ages of 15 and 21, according to Johnson.
“We have received many anonymous tips regarding this case, indicating he has been murdered,” Johnson says.
In early February 2006, police searched the area of Valley Service Road in North Haven with the aid of a cadaver dog and helicopter, Johnson says. “A tip was received that Ortiz had been killed and dumped in a wooded area off the highway near New Haven,” he says. “Detectives searched many abandoned properties and desolate areas for evidence.”
The sixth anniversary of Ortiz’s disappearance came in December, with his grieving family still waiting for answers and justice.
“To the people who did this—please know how much I am suffering as a mother,” Colon said. “If it was your mother suffering, how would you feel? If you are a parent yourself, how would you feel if it were your child?”
Ortiz’s sister, Carmen Ortiz of New Haven, says, “Someone took him away from us. This can happen to any one of your family members at any time. Please help us bring whoever did this to justice.”
Jose Ortiz’s photograph and information about his case have been featured on a cold-case playing card deck, which was distributed to prisoners in the state’s correctional facilities. His case is the 10 of hearts.
“There has been at least one tip from the card,” Johnson says, “but it didn’t provide any new information.”
According to Johnson, the motive of the abductors is unknown, but “through interviews with family and friends, there is an indication that he may have owed someone money.”
Ortiz’s family say they don’t think he was involved in any drug activity.
“It could have been over a girl, over money, or because they just didn’t like him,” Carmen Ortiz says. “He was quiet, and always at home.”
Carmen Ortiz says her brother wanted to become a police officer one day.
“We are upset we don’t have any closure,” Carmen Ortiz says. “If he was kidnapped, the chances that he is alive are slim to none. If he isn’t alive, we want to give him the proper burial he deserves.”
Anyone with information should contact New Haven police at (203) 946-6316.
Each passing second on a website clock devoted to Mary Badaracco’s disappearance might be seen as an intensification of her daughter’s’ frustration—at one point in mid-March, the woman who lived in this rural community had been missing for 10,067 days, 14 hours, 56 minutes and 48 seconds.
Even as the time flowed on, the words in “A Daughter’s Plea For Justice” on the website, marybadaracco.com, felt engraved in stone: “August, 1984, my life was changed forever. The nightmare from which I’m still trying to awaken began. After all we went through, our Mom was just gone,” reads the account by daughter Beth Profeta.
State police believe Badaracco was killed; Lt. Vance refers to it as “a homicide case.” Indeed investigators searched the property of Dominic Badaracco Sr., Mary Badaracco’s husband, as recently as February of this year. He was Profeta’s stepfather at the time of Mary Badaracco’s disappearance.
“By no means have we put this case on the the back burner—this is an active investigation,” Vance says. “There is still a monetary reward for information in this case.”
Badaracco’s case is featured as the queen of hearts in the state’s cold case card deck, with a $50,000 reward for information.
Dominic Badaracco has said in published reports that his wife left with $100,000 in cash and possessions after they decided to divorce. His son, Joseph Badaracco, told the News-Times of Danbury that the police investigation is a “witch hunt.”
Vance says, “We believe that there is someone out there that has a little bit more information and we welcome that,” even though a one-man grand jury investigation ended in early April without resolving the mystery.
“Unless someone comes forward with the information the police need, I don’t see any end to this,” Profeta wrote, on marybadaracco.com. “I need the truth. At the very least, my Mother deserves the truth [to] be told. That’s all I ask.”
Information can be given anonymously to the state police at (800) 376-1554.