Editor’s note: From the Record-Journal archives, this story originally appeared on May 6, 2001. Doreen Vincent’s stepmother Sharon Vincent has since died. Vincent’s mother Donna Jones is now Donna Lee.
Two miles from I-91 and farther from the center of Wallingford, number 1316, the violet-colored farmhouse Doreen Vincent disappeared from, sits along a hilly bend of Whirlwind Hill Road. Fields of hay and corn still bare from last season's harvest border the narrow street. In two houses, 100 yards away in each direction, the closest neighbors remember the vanishing of a girl 13 years ago.
"You never knew who these people were," said Jim Pyskaty. "I guess they moved away after that. You wonder. It happened on our street. It's always in the back of your mind because it's unsolved. You always wonder when you're walking around."
Pyskaty said he had heard arguing from Doreen's house in the weeks before the 12-year-old disappeared, but nothing that alarmed him.
"I used to hear hollering up there," Pyskaty said. "I didn't know what was going on; it wasn't my business. I wish I heard something, some kind of commotion, but I didn't."
News of Doreen's disappearance did not reach the police or Doreen's mother, Donna Jones, until three days after her disappearance.
Jones remembers that week well.
Mark Hunter Vincent, Doreen's father, and his family had moved from Bridgeport to Wallingford 10 days earlier.
Doreen's stepmother, Sharon Vincent, who had a son and daughter of her own, said Doreen felt isolated living in the woods of Wallingford and longed to be back with friends in Bridgeport.
Jones was supposed to pick up her daughter and got directions to the Wallingford house Mark Vincent had recently rented. Jones set off a little early on that Saturday after no one answered telephone calls to the house.
She arrived to find Mark Vincent tinkering with a lawn mower in a grassy side-yard lot. Doreen was gone.
"He insisted that I took her, but didn't say anything. He didn't seem concerned," Jones said. "He had this little attitude of 'What are you doing here?' and 'Where is she?' " Jones said she found her ex-husband neither frantic nor searching for their missing daughter. In fact, he had not even called police. If Doreen had run away, it seemed different to Jones this time. Only after Jones insisted were police called.
1316 Whirlwind Hill Road.
Doreen had run away from home once before, to her mother's house in Waterbury, and Mark Vincent had followed right behind his daughter. "I thought there was something more wrong," Jones said. "She would have called. Where's a 12-year-old girl going to go — especially in a wooded area? There's nothing around."
The police investigation of Doreen's disappearance has taken many turns since her disappearance on June 15, 1988, but always has come up tantalizingly short.
"Probable cause. There is no case to prove anybody did anything," said Wallingford Police Lt. Robert Flis, who was one of the first detectives in 1988 to investigate. "If you lay out the facts, you know something happened, but what? There have been cases before that have been prosecuted without a body. We can't prove there was a murder at the present time. That's not to say it couldn't change."
The case was originally classified as a missing person, but larger suspicions have always lingered as the Wallingford police dug more deeply into Doreen's fate.
"There was a lot of energy at the time and a lot over the years — and for good reason," said Wallingford Police Lt. Thomas Curran. "I remember going to Bridgeport and talking to people and hanging posters. Every phone call that was received was taken very seriously, a lot of follow-up work."
But because the investigators initially believed they were looking for a runaway girl who left to be back with friends in the city, the evidence trail went cold, according to Jones.
Whirlwind Hill Road near Gouveia Vineyards, right, in Wallingford, Mon., June 24, 2019. Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
Officers who responded to the missing-person call became wary of the information Mark Vincent gave about his daughter's disappearance.
“If it wasn't that night, it was the next morning — we realized something was wrong," said patrol Sgt. Ed Donofrio, who was one of the first officers to respond. “It was the interval that he claimed she was missing and that he kept it from his ex-wife and never bothered to tell anyone either. I think the feeling has never negated. The longer it went on, the more questions were asked, the wider the gap got.”
The detective bureau was called in early to investigate, a signal that police considered the case to be more serious than a routine call for a youth gone missing in town.
“Back then they didn't just call the bureau because a gum-ball machine gets knocked over,” said Sgt. Steve Davis. "A missing juvenile is not an uncommon thing in Wallingford. In this case the bureau responded."
Officers in the department disagreed with how the case was handled early on — a runaway instead of a crime.
“It sounds like some conclusions had been drawn," said a veteran officer in the Wallingford Police Department. “To make the assumption somebody was at a certain place isn't the way I would have done it. From what I saw back then, I certainly would have raised an eyebrow about who was reporting this person missing and why. I would ask questions. I would nail him down on so many questions and I wouldn't give him the opportunity to change his story.”
New information emerges
The investigation instead focused on where Doreen might have gone — to see school friends or relatives out of state. However, little attention was paid to what was in Doreen's bedroom and what clothing and items her father said she left with.
Detectives talked with downtown Wallingford merchants and showed Doreen's picture, but Jones recalled that investigators were at first unwilling to take her statement.
Donna Jones in her Waterbury home Wed., March 28, 2001 with photos of her daughter Doreen Vincent, who has been missing since 1988.
"I can remember talking to the police officer on the phone, furious, cussing because they wouldn't listen to my side of the story," said Jones. "They didn't want me to fill out the police report in the beginning, because it would be confusing to have conflicting stories for any outsiders coming in who might take an interest in the case. That's what they told me."
A year after Doreen disappeared, however, new investigators worked the case and new information began to emerge.
Detective Tom Hanley was assigned in June 1989 after expressing an interest.
“Just one day the following spring I asked Lt. Bill Butka what happened to the Doreen Vincent case," said Hanley, who left the department in 1991 and is now chief of police in Middlebury, Vt. “I just got curious, I guess. I don't know what happened in the first year of the investigation. Not a whole lot of stuff was done, I guess. It was initially handled as a runaway."
Even years after leaving service with Wallingford, Hanley keeps a picture of Doreen in his Vermont office.
“Case No. 88-9112 — It's just one of those things; you don't forget a case like this," Hanley said. "It just seemed strange for a 12-year-old to disappear. You usually find them, dead or alive, or get some indication at that point.”
In 1989, police searched Doreen's personal items and her medical records at Mark Vincent's childhood home in Bethel and a Danbury house where Sharon Vincent moved after the two separated. The search of the Bethel home on Marywood Drive where Vincent had temporarily moved in with his mother, Laurie Vincent, turned up a revolver hidden between wall studs in the garage. Mark Vincent was arrested for criminal possession of a weapon, and the gun was seized because he had been convicted of two larceny charges in 1974 and 1984, as well as three burglary charges from 1974 to 1984.
Vincent fought the gun seizure and his arrest, and the case reached the state Supreme Court in 1994. Vincent claimed the search warrant was invalid because any probable cause to search his residence had ceased to exist 13 months after his daughter's disappearance. Vincent lost. The ruling described the search warrant affidavit for Doreen's possessions as providing "information that could support different theories of criminal activity, including homicide, sexual abuse, assault and battery, kidnapping or risk of injury to a child ...” and included excerpts from the search warrant which has been withheld from public review.
The excerpts revealed contradictions in Vincent's accounts as well as untoward elements of his relationship with Doreen.
She wouldn't cross that line
Doreen's disappearance couldn't have happened the way Mark Vincent explained it to Sharon Vincent when she returned from church at 11:30 that night, according to the affidavit. "The defendant (Mark Vincent) said that she had left through the front door. Sharon later stated this was impossible because the door was locked with a deadbolt that required a key."
Police also searched Sharon Vincent's house in 1989, and Hanley interviewed her as well.
“We actually recovered a number of items she was said to have possessed when she disappeared — this couldn't happen,” Hanley said. “Everything from a certain kind of hair brush, a denim jacket. There was a litany of clothes. Why did she save all this stuff? It's a year later. Why did she save all of Doreen's stuff?”
Sharon Vincent gave information during the interview, but only went so far with it, out of some kind of allegiance to Mark Vincent even after being separated as his wife, Hanley said. “She knows a lot more than she's willing to divulge. Period. The end.” Hanley said. “Even though she didn't live with him, she would say certain things, she would make certain admissions but wouldn't cross that line.”
In the interview, Hanley said Sharon Vincent explained some of what happened when she came back from church the night Doreen disappeared. Mark Vincent said that Doreen had left and that he was going to look for her.
The front door he said Doreen left through was deadbolted. But Sharon Vincent had the only key. “The issue with the door lock was, there was a key to the deadbolt and she had it,” Hanley said. “She came home and Doreen was gone. He was all nervous. He took off in the truck and was gone for four to six hours. He said don't tell anybody about this.”
Mark Vincent could not be reached for comment for this story despite repeated attempts to locate him through family members and at his last known addresses in Milford and Bristol. Sharon Vincent could not be located either.
Mark Vincent met police for only one interview, refused to take a polygraph test and never asked how the case was developing. Hanley confronted him with the conflicting information police had gathered.
“We explored all of that," Hanley said. "He had a lot of contradictory information. He had no answer for all that stuff. He never denied anything. He never admitted to anything. You can look at the information in this case and come to your own conclusion. We're missing a little piece. That's her. She's somewhere. She's not dancing on tables.”
‘I never believed it’
Four days after Doreen's disappearance, Mark Vincent visited family friend Georgia Lewis at her house in Redding. No mention was made of his daughter's disappearance during the Father's Day visit.
“He didn't mention that she was missing,” Lewis said. “I think that he was embarrassed. I did ask myself the question. I took it that he was embarrassed thinking she would come back home.”
Mark Vincent was strict but adoring of Doreen, Lewis recalled. She has found the allegations that he had something to do with Doreen's disappearance hard to believe.
“I heard some of the allegations but I don't know, I never believed it — I could never bring myself to believe that,” Lewis said. “I can't speak for Donna, I can't speak for what she believes. They were husband and wife; she may have reasons to believe that way. I'm hoping that he didn't because there are allegations going around. I also pray to God Mark didn't have anything to do with it.”
Relatives don't begrudge police for focusing their investigation on Mark Vincent, but maintain his innocence.
“The police have always said he had something to do with it,” said his mother, Laurie Vincent. “One of the things was he didn't report her missing right away. He was plain embarrassed. She wasn't getting along with the new family. I think that he wanted to get a handle on where she was before he reported it.”
For reasons having nothing to do with Doreen's disappearance, Laurie Vincent said her relationship with Mark Vincent has become estranged, and she does not keep in contact with him. Police have come around to her house in Bethel almost annually, but she said she thinks it is time they moved on to other suspects.
“I can't sit and say the police don't know what the hell they're doing,” Laurie Vincent said. “I think they should be looking elsewhere, but then you get down to what should they have done. I don't know, I don't blame them. You can only go with what you have, but yes, they should look elsewhere. People usually want things wrapped up in a neat package. Good, bad or indifferent, you want to know.”
The police went so far as to interview serial killer Hadden Clark.
Clark had been convicted in 1993 and 1999 of two murders in Maryland, but he claims to have killed 11 others in the Northeast from the mid-1970s to 1993, including someone in Connecticut. In April 2000, the state police took Clark to search for locations of his victims in Meriden, the city he lived in during parts of the 1970s and 1980s.
Wallingford police didn't adopt the theory that Clark was responsible for Doreen's disappearance, and state police came to a similar conclusion after taking Clark on a tour of possible victim burial sights.
Family photos of Doreen Vincent, who went missing at age 12 from Wallingford | Contributed by Paul Vincent
The case of Doreen always returns to disturbing information revolving around Mark Vincent, including allegations from Jones’ sisters that Mark Vincent had molested them years before. Vincent had married Jones in 1975, after Jones became pregnant with Doreen. She was 15 years old at the time. He was 19. The two moved into the basement of a New Fairfield house they shared with Jones’ parents and her two younger sisters — one 11 years old and the other 13.
The sisters, now 37 and 39, recalled Mark Vincent's behavior toward them that they believe he might have carried on with Doreen. Both sisters agreed to talk on the condition that their names not be published. “I think he sexually abused her; maybe she was pregnant,” said the older sister. “He did it to me and my younger sister. I'm only two-and-a-half years younger than Donna. He always bothered me. He'd come up to my room with a flashlight.”
Jones’ sisters shared a large bed in an upstairs bedroom of the house. Their parents worked third shift. The younger sister said Mark Vincent was persistent, though he never engaged in sexual intercourse with her or her older sister. “I'd hear him coming. I couldn't sleep. It started,” the younger sister said.
"I can't remember the first encounter, but I remember he used to sneak into the bed and I remember he used to touch me on top. All he had on was his underwear and he was on top of me. I was the one who stopped it. I don't know how far he would have went. That's what made me think he did that to her (Doreen). She was pretty and looked a little older.” Mark Vincent was kicked out of the house after Jones’ parents became convinced of the validity of the allegations.
For the family, defusing the situation was enough, and no one called in the police. The two sisters acknowledged that neither had pursued criminal charges against Mark Vincent. Detective David Blythe said the investigation includes information about the sisters' allegations, but there is no proof to back it up.
The affidavit revealed that Vincent had, however, taken photographs of Doreen in her underwear, and “the defendant (Mark Vincent) admitted to the police that he had a volatile temper and that on June 15, 1988, he had become angry with Doreen, had hit her and had pushed her into a window, breaking it."
“We learned, potentially, something — some kind of disturbance happened in the house was covered up and evidence destroyed,” Hanley said. “A second-floor window was broken. We have a crime. We know we have a crime scene. The crime scene was cleaned up. The bedroom was cleaned up. Sharon cleaned the sheets, she said she did. She cleaned the place up.”
The man in the park
Family photos of Doreen Vincent, who went missing at age 12 from Wallingford | Contributed by Paul Vincent
In November 1988, five months after Doreen disappeared, Mark Vincent moved into another house in Wallingford he shared with a woman named Roseann Pelloni.
According to the affidavit, Pelloni said Vincent often took photographs, but after searching through his personal items she could not find any.
In a recent attempt to interview her, Pelloni spoke from behind the glass of a closed storm door to her house in Wallingford. Pelloni said she wanted nothing to do with Mark Vincent.
The house on Whirlwind Hill Road wasn't the only scene holding unexplained occurrences.
Between the late summer and early fall of 1988, two months or so after Doreen disappeared, a state Department of Environmental Protection officer encountered a man at night in the woods of the state park he patrolled in Bethel and Redding.
Sgt. Paul O'Connell came across a man removing something from the back of a pickup truck in the woods of Collis P. Huntington State Park, according to Hanley.
“He had his two arms out like he was carrying a kid or something — anything, a carpet,” Hanley said. “The person ran off into the woods. He actually called in the plate of the truck, but he didn't call it in to the state police. He called it in to his office.” O'Connell declined to comment about the incident without permission from the Wallingford Police Department, which refused.
Huntington Park is a wooded expanse of more than 800 acres that runs through two Fairfield County towns, Bethel and Redding. The park has two entrances off Sunset Hill Road, one a partially paved unimproved road that rolls through trees and a stream trickle before rounding out into a dirt lot that leads to a system of trails. The night O'Connell encountered the man in the dark, he stayed to document a description of the truck left behind.
“For some reason he was fixated on the truck,” Hanley said about O'Connell. “He didn't have any idea where the guy went; it was dark. I don't think he even had a radio.”
O'Connell gave a detailed description, including dent marks and a jury-rigged toolbox attached to the back of the pickup bed. Hanley said he doesn't recall how investigators in Wallingford found out about the DEP sighting in a state park in Bethel and Redding in 1988. However, when Wallingford police received a warrant to search Mark Vincent's pickup truck, they brought along O’Connell.
“He gave a detailed description of the truck,” Hanley said. “Vincent had built in the back of his truck a toolbox; it was a homemade thing. Everything fit the description — the placement of the tow hook on the truck, all this.”
O'Connell could not identify the man in the woods as Mark Vincent. The truck, however, they're certain was Vincent's.
“What was he doing? The guy wasn't known to be a deer-jack,” Hanley said. “We know it was his truck, everything from the color of it, the dents. I think we actually got some black hairs out of the back of the truck, but we had nothing to match it up to.”
‘I want justice to be done’
Police have searched Huntington Park several times through the years since Doreen disappeared. In the summer of 1999 a psychic named Colette and a medium named Steve walked through the park woods with family and police in an attempt to pick up a new lead on where Doreen might be buried.
“When Colette first did her reading, she sat down with me and she got a lot of things,” said Maureen Walker, a friend who introduced the psychic to Jones.
“One of the things she came up with was ‘hunting’ or ‘hunter.’ I guess it was the detective who mentioned Huntington Park. We went to the park. It was disappointing. They both felt there were different areas that were strange to them.” The park walk did not uncover new evidence, but for Jones it stands as one of the last strides taken to find Doreen. Police continue to investigate the case. Detective Blythe works the investigation when his caseload allows. He spends that time locating people connected to the case who have long since moved out of state and changed names through marriage.
Jones hopes her daughter is alive, but has come to realize she can't be.
Still, there is no cemetery to visit. Jones is left to hide her feelings for Doreen. “You want some sort of closure; I just kind of stand by myself,” Jones said.
"I want justice to be done and it's long overdue. At this point, it's been 11, 12 years. How much of a sense are you going to pick up? How much digging are you going to do?"