Police release select records of ‘dead leads’ in Wallingford homicide cold case

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WALLINGFORD — The town Law Department recently released several dozen previously undisclosed records related to the 1988 disappearance of 12-year-old Doreen Jane Vincent.

The disclosure comes months after a complaint to the state Freedom of Information Commission by Jessica Fritz Aguiar and Clovercrest Media Group against the Wallingford Police Department.

They are seeking access to the entire police file on Vincent’s disappearance from her father's home on Whirlwind Hill Road, which police have long considered suspicious.

The Law Department released the records this week. They document more than 100 tips on Vincent’s whereabouts that police have investigated and ruled out over the past 31 years. 

Almost all were forwarded from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Arlington, Virginia.

Doreen Vincent’s father, Mark Vincent, declined to comment. Her mother, Donna Lee, could not be reached for comment.

Records show that calls to police regarding possible sightings of Vincent began to trickle in just two weeks after her disappearance was reported to police on June 18, 1988.

An explosion of reported sightings occurred after an October 1994 mailer with an age-progressed photo of Vincent was distributed nationwide.

The tips came from 30 states, spanning large swaths of the country.

People claimed they spotted Doreen at high schools, strip clubs, dealing drugs, camping, at laundromats, malls, restaurants, churches, casinos, grocery stores and on the street.

There was even a caller who thought she saw Vincent as a guest on “The Jenny Jones Show.”

Some tips involved other girls named Doreen who said they were from Connecticut, or named Doreen Vincent residing in other states.

The records also contain reports of investigations of skeletal remains in various wooded areas in Connecticut.

The newly released records give little indication of the internal workings of police beyond the due diligence of investigating the leads. 

The documents do contain some handwritten notes, in which police investigators call Vincent “our girl.”

One report, however, stands out.

‘Believed to be dead’

On Nov. 8, 1994, then-New Jersey State Police Detective Daniel Murphy investigated a tip that Vincent possibly was working as a waitress at a Rudy Tuesdays restaurant in a Deptford Township mall.

Murphy’s report states that he believed he could reasonably rule out that the person in question was Vincent.

He further stated that Wallingford Police Detective Kerry Coon told him that “the suspicious circumstances in which the above referred person (Vincent) became a missing individual are that she is believed to be dead. Possibly killed by her natural father, who is a known criminal in the area, and with whom she was last living with and seen prior to her disappearance.”

The state's attorney's office reclassified the disappearance from a missing person case to a homicide investigation only a couple of months ago.

Wallingford Police Chief William Wright declined to comment on the records release or the indication that police believed as far back as 1994 that Vincent may have been killed by her father, saying that it’s still an open criminal case.

According to town records, Coon started his employment with the Wallingford Police Department in July 1974 and was fired in September 1997 for conduct unbecoming an officer.

Coon allegedly solicited a prostitute and watched her use cocaine in her apartment. His position when he left was police officer. Attempts to reach Coon for comment were unsuccessful.

Complaint pending

Police weren’t ordered to release the documents by the Freedom of Information Commission. After two hearings — on Aug. 15, 2019, and Feb. 3 — the FOIC hearing officer’s report is still pending.

At the Feb. 3 hearing, Town Corporation Counsel Janis M. Small, who appeared on behalf of the town, said she planned to disclose some documents, what she called “dead leads.”

Fritz Aguiar, a lawyer who works as an insurance claims analyst, said Thursday via email that she believes the documents speak for themselves.

“Especially when taken in light with other records produced to me last year, they are very elucidating, but I will withhold comment for my podcast,” she said.

Fritz Aguiar assisted with research and co-hosted several episodes of “Faded Out,” a true crime podcast that explored the unsolved case last year. She created a spin-off podcast delving further into the Vincent case, called "Sticky Beak", which debuted Feb. 10.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s taken so long for the police to winnow out the wheat from the chaff,” she said, “given the transparency requirements of the statute and the fact that my complaint is almost eight months old at this point.”

The other complainant, Clovercrest, is a media production company owned by Fritz Aguiar's husband, Joe Aguiar, that produced the latest season of "Faded Out" as well as “Sticky Beak.”

Host Sarah DiMeo created the “Faded Out” podcast, which devoted its second season to the Vincent case in a series of 26 episodes released between January and August 2019.

Assisting with production were Aguiar through Clovercrest, and Fritz Aguiar.

DiMeo did not return a request for comment on the records release.

The Freedom of Information complaint remains open. Attorney Kathleen K. Ross is the FOIC hearing officer in the case.

Burden on law enforcement

By state statute, FOIC hearing officers have one year from when a complaint is filed to complete a report. Fritz Aguiar filed her complaint via email on June 11, 2019.

The hearing officer’s report is then presented to the full commission, which may either uphold the report or overturn it.

Commission decisions can be appealed up to the state Supreme Court.

Ross requested and reviewed the full police file in camera, a process in which information is reviewed privately by a judicial authority to determine what, if anything, may be made public.

After the initial hearing in August, Ross called police back in to testify in February as to whether a specific law enforcement action exists and how disclosure would harm that.

“It remains my position that they have not fulfilled their burden under the exemption,” Fritz Aguiar said. "In addition, no testimony was offered as to how each piece of withheld record would be used in any hypothetical law enforcement action, as the statute also requires. Obviously, I am hoping to be successful. I can and will appeal if I am not.”

Twitter: @LCTakores

The highlighted states show where dozens of tips to police originated over 31 years regarding Doreen Vincent, who went missing from Wallingford at age 12 in June 1988. Created at visitedstatesmap.com
The home at 1316 Whirlwind Hill Rd. in Wallingford where Doreen Jane Vincent was last seen in June 1988. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal

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