New lead fails to solve mystery
By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
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.