WALLINGFORD — A podcast has re-ignited interest in a 31-year-old missing child cold case, but police officials remain tight-lipped on what they’re doing with any new information.
The second season of “Faded Out,” which debuted in January, explores the case of Doreen Jane Vincent, a 12-year-old girl who disappeared from her father’s Wallingford home in 1988.
The amateur production team consists of host Sarah DiMeo, who originated the project, Joe Aguiar and Jason Pinette of Clovercrest Media Group, and Aguiar’s wife, Jessica Fritz Aguiar, a lawyer who’s employed as an insurance claims analyst.
A former filmmaker, DiMeo was a student of Aguiar’s at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in 2018. Today, she’s a radio news anchor for WTIC-1080 AM and production technician at Fox 61/WTIC-TV.
The first season of the podcast, which ran from February to December 2018, covered the 1982 abduction of Johnny Gosch, a 12-year-old boy from West Des Moines, Iowa. Gosch was one of the first children to have his face printed on milk cartons in an attempt to find him.
For the second season, DiMeo said she wanted to investigate a lesser known case and one closer to home. She found Doreen Vincent’s story by searching through DoeNetwork.org, the website of the International Center for Unidentified and Missing Persons.
Aguiar and Fritz Aguiar have appeared on the podcast as co-hosts.
Aguiar graduated from Southern Connecticut State University in 1997. The same year, he completed an eight-week program at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting.
That kicked off his 22-year radio career, including stints at KC101 and The River 105.9. He started teaching at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in 2014, and is now the campus coordinator.
He launched Clovercrest Media Group in January. That was around when DiMeo was gearing up to launch season two of “Faded Out,” and she asked him for help, Aguiar said.
Fritz Aguiar said she has no journalism experience, but developed an interest in DiMeo’s podcast through her husband.
“I was learning more about what (DiMeo) had done on the Johnny Gosch case, and I became extremely interested,” she said.
Aguiar introduced her to DiMeo, and they agreed she would look into the case in her spare time, drawing on her legal background.
“I thought it would be interesting to take a look at it, and it snowballed from there,” Fritz Aguiar said.
Missing person case
Mark Vincent and his family moved to 1316 Whirlwind Hill Road just 10 days before his daughter Doreen Vincent disappeared on June 15,1988, according to Record-Journal archives.
Doreen Vincent's mother, Donna Lee, arrived at the house to pick up her daughter June 18, 1988, three days after the date her ex-husband Mark Vincent said Doreen ran away from home.
He hadn't notified police, Lee discovered. Mark Vincent said at the time that Doreen had packed a bag and ran off. It was Lee who insisted on calling the police.
Doreen Vincent has never been located nor her body found.
Mark Vincent has never been charged in connection with Doreen Vincent’s disappearance but was convicted on criminal possession of a weapon charges and served two years in prison after police found a gun hidden between wall studs in the garage of his mother’s home in Bethel while searching the house as part of the missing person case. He was charged and the gun seized because of prior felony convictions. Mark Vincent was convicted of two larceny and burglary charges in 1974 and 1984.
The missing person case is still open and active, according to police, and investigators believe Doreen Vincent disappeared under suspicious circumstances.
Lt. Anthony DeMaio, who once investigated the case and is now head of the traffic division, issued a press release on Jan. 23 around the launch of the podcast regarding inquiries into the case.
“Investigators established a time line of Doreen’s last known activities and contacts, interviewed many of Doreen’s family members and friends, executed search warrants on Mark (Vincent)’s vehicle, his mother’s residence, as well as several other locations, and recovered items that Mark (Vincent) initially told investigators that his daughter took with her when she ‘ran away.’ These findings only added to the belief that Doreen’s disappearance was suspicious in nature,” DeMaio said.
DeMaio’s press release was emailed to the podcast team and has not been published to the police department’s press release archive on the Town of Wallingford website.
It’s unclear whether police have ever applied for an arrest warrant in the missing person case. New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin last week referred all questions to Wallingford police. Police officials have repeatedly declined to comment or share information from the case file with the podcast team or the Record-Journal.
“We will not be making any statements at this time about the podcast or the investigation,” Police Chief William Wright said via email June 17. “The case is active and any comment would be inappropriate.”
The premiere episode of season two of “Faded Out,” released on Jan. 27, features interviews with Lee, her sisters and other maternal family members.
All four members of the podcast team met Lee’s family at her home Jan. 9.
“They met us outside and started talking to us immediately,” DiMeo said. “They wanted to talk about Doreen and give the whole story. …They were really eager to talk to somebody new.”
The 20 episodes released so far examine news stories, police documents and court records, and include original interviews with Doreen’s family and others who knew her.
Among other interviews, the podcast team has talked to Tom Pannone, Doreen Vincent’s elementary school teacher, Teresa Lyon, an ex-girlfriend of Mark Vincent’s, and Paul Vincent, Doreen Vincent’s half brother, who was 3 years old when she disappeared.
“Once we started doing episodes, getting her name out there, it’s like an avalanche of people wanting to talk to us,” DiMeo said.
Doreen Jane Vincent | Courtesy of Sarah DiMeo
Doreen Vincent’s father told the podcast team at the beginning that he didn't want to be involved with their production, saying he didn’t believe it would help, according to the production team.
The Record-Journal reached Mark Vincent by phone on June 21.
“No one loved Doreen more than I do,” he said. He called the podcast a “joke,” a “sham” and a “scam,” and alluded to bringing legal action against the podcast team.
“I listened to a few bits,” Mark Vincent said, adding that it turned his stomach. “They drew a conclusion and framed their story around it.”
Mark Vincent hung up before the Record-Journal could ask for further comment.
The premiere episode received nearly 1,200 downloads on the first day, DiMeo said, and according to Aguiar there’s been about 200,000 downloads so far for both seasons of “Faded Out.”
It has been profiled twice in online roundups of true crime podcasts on Vulture, an entertainment and culture website, once in February and again in April.
“It’s a truly heartbreaking case that may never have a resolution but demands investigation nonetheless,” wrote Vulture editor Hillary Nelson in February.
Chanel Dubofsky, another Vulture editor, wrote in April that the podcast is “enthralling, meticulous, and creepy as hell.”
After the second write-up, DiMeo said the podcast received 6,000 downloads in one day.
The podcast has also been drawing attention locally. About 25 people attended a gathering for “Faded Out” listeners on June 15, the 31st anniversary of Doreen Vincent’s disappearance, at Gouveia Vineyards on Whirlwind Hill Road.
The location choice had significance to the podcasters. The house Doreen disappeared from is across the street from the fields of grapevines.
Looking towards Whirlwind Hill Road from Gouveia Vineyards.
Doreen’s maternal aunt, Debbie Pereira, attended the gathering. She had just turned 24 when Doreen Vincent went missing.
“I think about my niece all the time,” she said. “Anything that we can do to maybe solve the case, any of my time, I’m willing to do that.”
Critical of police
Pereira believes police weren’t thorough in the beginning of the investigation, which has hampered efforts in the years since.
The podcast team, she said, has done more work than police.
“They’ve contacted more people than the police ever have,” she said, adding that police hadn’t interviewed her, though she and her sister, Doreen Vincent’s mother, had planned to meet with police officials June 17.
The Record-Journal first reported on the disappearance June 28, 1988, after police turned to the public for tips with a photograph of Doreen Vincent. The newspaper published two more stories on her case that year.
The next story came out in October 1994, when a computer-enhanced photo of what an older Doreen Vincent might look like was circulated on a direct-mail card. A follow-up story on the direct-mail campaign was published in February 1995.
The Record-Journal published an in-depth investigation of the case in 2001, from which the podcast team has drawn heavily. The story by former reporter Jason J. Barry revealed that Mark Vincent said in an affidavit he had taken photographs of Doreen Vincent in her underwear. The story included allegations from Lee’s sisters that Vincent had molested them as teenagers. The podcast team devoted an entire episode to the article, reading the story on the broadcast and using voice actors to reenact quotes.
The podcasters, like Doreen Vincent’s relatives, have also questioned the thoroughness of the police investigation over the years.
Aguiar said he and Fritz Aguiar met with Chief Wright, Lt. DeMaio and Lt. James Cifarelli, who was assigned to the case until recently, to share information and ask questions on March 4. At the time, the podcast had released five episodes.
Aguiar said he was disappointed that none of the police officials seemed to have reviewed their files on the disappearance beforehand, and felt frustrated because he thought police had agreed to exchange information at the meeting, in particular Mark Vincent’s police statement.
Fritz Aguiar said she even offered to sign a non-disclosure agreement if police would share information with them.
Aguiar said he gave police names of people to speak to and questions to ask them, but when he followed up with those people, they said police hadn’t called them.
“I know I can’t solve the case,” he said. “We’re simply trying to pass that onto to them to relaunch the investigation.”
Without police cooperation, the podcasters have been forging ahead on their own.
They discovered through Facebook that Cifarelli is related to Mark Vincent’s coworker Jeff Cifarelli at Teen Challenge Connecticut, a drug recovery and ministry outreach group that serves men 18 and older in New Haven.
Cifarelli is the developmental supervisor at Teen Challenge, and Mark Vincent is the group’s construction project manager.
Believing the relationship could be perceived as a conflict of interest, Fritz Aguiar text-messaged Lt. Cifarelli on April 29 and asked if they should discuss the connection.
“No Jess it is not something we should discuss,” Lt. Cifarelli responded. “It has nothing to do with the investigation. Leave my personal life out of it. Thank you.”
Fritz Aguiar replied, “I fail to see how the fact that your relative works alongside a murder suspect in a case you’re handling should be considered your personal life.”
Lt. Cifarelli stopped answering text messages from Fritz Aguiar after that, she said.
It’s unclear whether Lt. Cifarelli remains assigned to the case. At the end of April, he was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant.
Contacted at Teen Challenge on June 21, Jeff Cifarelli said Lt. Cifarelli is a family member but declined to comment further. Jeff Cifarelli does not supervise Mark Vincent, according to Rick Welch, executive director of the Vermont and Connecticut campuses of Teen Challenge New England. Welch said via email on June 22 that Vincent reports directly to him.
The podcast team is still pushing for information from police and in June filed a complaint under the Freedom of Information Act seeking the case file on the disappearance.
The complaint is pending.
“It’s not the job of the police to assist us,” Fritz Aguiar said, “but they have not been able to answer the hard questions.”
The podcast is not an objective account of the case, and the producers don’t claim otherwise.
“We do incorporate our own opinion,” DiMeo said, “and I think it’s hard not to because when you get this involved in a story, you get very passionate about it.”
Sarah DiMeo, producer of "Faded Out."
Fritz Aguiar even cried during one episode.
In addition to including commentary, DiMeo and the other producers share theories on the disappearance, as well as speculation on the circumstances and people surrounding the case.
“I think all the theories that we have are based on factual evidence” that draw on news reports, police statements and interviews and firsthand accounts of people who knew the family, DiMeo said.
“It’s more than our conjecture,” she said.
Some of their reporting methods may raise legal and ethical questions.
In January, Fritz Aguiar recorded a phone interview with James Farnam, the former property owner who rented the house on Whirlwind Hill Road to the Vincents.
She did not inform Farnam that she was recording the call until a few minutes into the conversation.
Connecticut is a two-party consent state when it comes to recording phone calls, meaning that consent must be obtained from all parties at the start of the recording, according to state statute. Violators may be subject to civil damages.
The call was broadcast in episode 5, and replayed in episode 12 with critical commentary from Aguiar and DiMeo on Farnam’s statements during the recorded interview, including reservations he expressed when told he was being recorded.
Fritz Aguiar said June 19 that she wasn’t aware of the laws regarding recording phone conversations when she began work on the podcast.
The production team routinely implicates Mark Vincent in his daughter’s disappearance and refers to him in highly pejorative terms as a “master manipulator” and a sociopath.
Aguiar even called him “Hannibal Lector-esque,” referring to the fictional serial killer, “the way he talks in riddles.”
Aguiar said he doesn’t consider a lot of his words to be opinion and said Mark Vincent “hasn’t denied it or accused me of making stuff up,” Aguiar said, though Mark Vincent denounced the podcast in his brief interview with the Record-Journal this month, and referenced possible legal action.
Aguiar is currently a defendant in an unrelated civil lawsuit stemming from a March 2017 incident. According to court documents, Aguiar pulled a man from a vehicle parked at a Newington gas station and threw him to the ground, briefly knocking him out.
Aguiar fled the scene, but turned himself in a month later. He was charged with third-degree assault, third-degree reckless endangerment and second-degree breach of peace.
Aguiar said the incident was “an accident,” and that the victim didn’t pursue criminal charges.
“I misread the situation badly,” he said.
Because he had no prior criminal record, he applied for accelerated rehabilitation and the case was dismissed after a year.
Donna Lee, Doreen Vincent’s mother, credits the podcast team with compiling “more information than we’ve ever had in the last 31 years,” echoing her sister Debbie Pereira’s comments that they’ve “done a lot more than the police have done.”
Donna Jones (now Donna Lee) in her Waterbury home Wed., March 28, 2001 with photos of her daughter Doreen Vincent, who has been missing since 1988.
“I have to praise them,” she said June 25. “It’s not their job, they’re not being paid for this, and they’ve still been going forward with it.”
DiMeo funds the podcast out of pocket, using money from Clovercrest ad sales and from donors on the crowdfunding platform Patreon. She estimates the grand total spent so far on both seasons is about $1,730. On Doreen Vincent’s case alone, she’s spent $775.
Even though Lee says she’s “always been cooperative with people” investigating the case, rehashing the story of her missing daughter has taken an emotional toll.
“It really wears you down emotionally after awhile,” she said. “In the beginning, we did a whole lot of things (but) it’s hard to talk about it.”
She said that Mark Vincent never offered to assist in finding their daughter, not even when Lee paid a total of $7,500 to a private investigator.
The podcast team, as informative and hard-working as they are, can only do so much, she said.
"You just kind of hope to get results, something definitive,” Lee said. “We need the police’s help or it’s going to remain unsolved.”