By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
It has been more than 35 years since Joanne Coughlin vanished from friends and family, but photos found in the possession of a convicted California killer may shed some light on what happened to the North Side woman.
Coughlin went to the European Health Spa on Boardman-Canfield Road on Dec. 27, 1974, wearing a pair of blue jeans, black top and a green leather jacket. The 21-year-old aspiring actress also had plans to meet her boyfriend later that night, but has not been seen since the health spa visit.
Funds were left untouched in Coughlin’s bank account, and no clothes were taken from her Ohio Avenue home, leading family members to suspect foul play.
Youngstown police began a search for the woman that would span decades, but a call from police in California has given a new spark to the case.
Police in Huntington Beach, Calif., recently released more than 100 photos of unidentified women found in the storage locker of a man convicted of killing four women and a 12-year-old girl. The photos can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/scpr/sets/72157623600695928/. Officers in Huntington Beach have called YPD saying they have reason to believe a photo of Coughlin is among them.
Prosecutors, according to an Associated Press story, say Rodney Alcala used his camera to lure in victims. They fear some of those in the photos may have fallen victim to Alcala.
Police department personnel spent Wednesday compiling information to be sent to California officials concerning the Coughlin case. A call to detectives working on the case in California was not returned.
Local authorities have been fielding calls about Coughlin, virtually since the Youngstown Playhouse actress disappeared.
In one account from January 1975, a person reported seeing Coughlin leaving a Kmart store in Austintown. The informant told police the woman she believed to be Coughlin seemed to be in a hurry and drove away in a gold-colored car with Ohio plates.
Multiple rewards for information leading to Coughlin’s whereabouts have been offered over the years. The initial reward was $500, then $4,000.
Local police have had several theories about what might have happened to Coughlin, but none was concrete.
In 1985, a judge declared the Youngstown woman dead.
Members of Coughlin’s family, in a 1995 interview, said they will not give up on finding answers as to what happened to her.
Then-Boardman Police Chief Glenn Bowers told The Vindicator in 1995, “...I believe she was murdered.”