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New lead fails to solve mystery

Published: Fri, March 26, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.




Police say a convicted killer in California is not responsible for the fate of a missing woman here, but investigators will continue to look for the person who is.

Joanne Coughlin vanished from friends and family more than 35 years ago, but an arrest in California gave brief hope that her killer had been found.

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. Police say Rodney Alcala used his camera to lure in victims. They fear some of those in the photos may have fallen victim to Alcala.

Officers in Huntington Beach, believing one of the women to be Coughlin, called YPD asking for information.

Lt. Mark Milstead, Youngstown Police Department, said officers between Youngstown and Huntington Beach spent time comparing notes and creating a time line Thursday. Police here have determined that Alcala is not responsible for Coughlin’s disappearance.

According to Milstead, Alcala was in prison in California from October 1974 through June 1977. Coughlin was reported missing in December 1974.

Milstead said the crime may not have been solved with the additional information out of California, but investigators are not letting the case go.

“The case is active; it will not be closed. We are going to try to follow up a little more and re-interview some of those people we interviewed before,” he said. “We will work on and look at any new information we receive in this case.”

Dave McBride is a radio personality in Florida, but in 1974 he was living on Indianola Avenue here and dating Coughlin.

“The night she disappeared I was waiting for her. She was going to come over, and we were going to hang out. I remember waiting up so long I fell asleep on the couch,” he said.

McBride describes Coughlin as a talented aspiring actress and sees how a man offering professional photographs could have appealed to the young woman’s vulnerable side. He was excited to hear about a possible break in the case and disappointed to realize the case is still cold.

Sheriff Randall A. Wellington was a member of the Youngstown Police Department when Coughlin was reported missing and remembers the case well. He has a theory about the case, and that theory has not changed in three decades.

“We felt it was robbery. She was going to the health spa, and they grabbed her, killed her and put her in the stone quarry out by the Pennsylvania line,” he said.

Wellington said police searched the area extensively, but he believes sediment in the area may have concealed Coughlin’s body.


1dburkey(19 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

Being Joanne Coughlin's niece, I was shocked to see the "new spark" out of California, on this case. I have never given up hope of solving my favorite aunt's disappearance.
After reading in the Vindicator about the possible connection from California, I immediately called the Huntington Beach police.
Last night, I received a return call from, Detective Patrick Ellis with the Huntington police and also learned, the Alcala photo's aren't connected to my missing aunt.
YPD Lt. Mark Milstead's comment that they will "try to follow-up a little more" is wonderful news! As for Sheriff Wellington's 3 decade old "theory"...let me just say, this was *not* the only one.
I welcome any contact that will help solve this case. Especially, contact from any authorities that will be following-up on any new leads.

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2Mooneygrad72(42 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

dburkey -- my husband is a retired MCP officer and he spent time looking at the photos. he went to WWHS with your aunt. he called Det. Ellis with HBPD when he noticed a similar look to the one in his yearbook. We are so sorry, it didn;t pan out. Still hoping for closure. At least you know people are still working to solve it, She is not forgotten !

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3dburkey(19 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

Mooneygrad72--THANK YOU and your husband for taking the time to follow-up on this lead with the HBPD. We are truly grateful for your thoughts and kind words. Joanne was a special person . It's so nice to know, others work and still hope for closure. Thanks Again for remembering my "Favorite Aunt"!

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4dburkey(19 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

In the 1995 interview on Joanne's case, Wellington speculated Ms.Coughlin's car, with her inside, may have been crushed at a salvage yard. He said, "One suspect worked at a junkyard"

Sheriff Wellington's theory hasn't changed in three decades....hmm

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5Larue62(1 comment)posted 6 years, 3 months ago


My cousin was murdered by this animal Alcala in 1971. My family lived their lives never knowing who did it. Only about 4 years ago we found out that DNA linked him to the crime. The DNA was checked around the same time the DNA was compared to the victims in LA.

All I can say is that at least we have closer now, even though he will probably never be sent to NY for prosectution. I am absolutely convinced there are many other victims out there.

I hope that some day, you will at least be able to get some closure as well. I wish you and your family well!

God Bless!

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6Mooneygrad72(42 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

We now live near HB and believe me we shall be watching this case as it goes ahead. He is already convicted of killing a 12 year old female;closure for other families would be nice. Pray for true justice in his lifetime.

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7sarahq74(1 comment)posted 6 years, 2 months ago

I've tried to learn more about Joanne's case since I was a teenager. My family is related to your family. I was just a baby when Joanne disappeared but I remember my mom and grandmother telling me about her disappearance when I was a kid. I now live in Los Angeles and have been reading about Alcala, so I was shocked to read about the possible connection. I'm sorry it didn't bring any answers. I hope and pray that something will bring closure to your family!

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8LBMSOUTH(1 comment)posted 6 years, 2 months ago


As I can only email you through the
vindy site, I wanted to answer some of your questions.
My brother, who is four years older
than me, went to school with Joanne.
They were the best of friends and Joanne
spent a lot of time at my house.
I'm glad that you too thought is was ill resposible to write that article.
The good thing is we are talking about it and it may spark some interest again.
There was a lot of talk that there was a local bigwig involved. I know people were told to back down. The news reporter, Ms.Woods, was taken off of the case.
She had been investigating and asking too many questions.
I was a young teenager at the time
but my family was very troubled by this and followed the case throughout the years.


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