Cookies

This Website use Cookies OK

Read more Crime News

Justice Story: Connecticut serial kid killer never charged

2019-05-19

Diane Torney, Dawn Cave, mary Mount, and Jennifer Noon (Handout)

Fifty years ago, an 11-year-old girl went missing from the annual Freddy Fixer parade in New Haven, Conn.

Diane Toney was dressed for spring in a green polka-dot dress as she left home in the Hill neighborhood for the short walk to the parade route.

Her mother, Juanita Reese, reported her disappearance when she failed to return that day, May 18, 1969.

Nine days later, another adolescent girl, Mary Mount, 10, went missing from a park adjacent to her home in affluent New Canaan.

And three days after that, on May 30, yet another young Connecticut girl vanished. Dawn Cave, 14, had stomped out of her home in Bethany, north of New Haven, after an argument with a sibling.

None was seen alive again, and their remains gradually revealed themselves.

Mount’s body was found June 17 in the woods in nearby Wilton, and Cave’s remains turned up June 30 at the wooded edge of a hay field near her home. Toney’s bones and a piece of her polka-dot dress were recovered that fall scattered in the Timberland forest in Guilford, 15 miles from home.

Over just 12 days, the three had been abducted and murdered in a 35-mile stretch of southwestern Connecticut. Cave and Mount had been bludgeoned with stones, experts could not tell how Toney died. Each was dumped in the woods.

Authorities never revealed whether the girls had been molested, but the similar modes suggested a serial killer.

Yet it wasn’t until five months after the murders that federal, state and local police agencies had a sit-down to discuss that possibility. And even then they dithered.

As the Bridgeport Post put it, “While officials are reluctant to state this emphatically — mostly because it cannot be proven at this time — so many similarities in the three deaths have made it mandatory investigators keep the possibility in mind.”

Authorities promised “a meticulous sifting of data,” which begged the question of what they had been doing.

The fragmented probe was an example of the clunky coordination in that era among the nation’s 15,000-plus law enforcement agencies.

Today, the cases would be cataloged in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center and likely would have prompted timely appointment of an inter-agency task force. Each abduction would have cued an Amber Alert and drawn additional attention from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Robert G. Lowery Jr., Vice President, Missing Children Division, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
Robert G. Lowery Jr., Vice President, Missing Children Division, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (Evan Agostini/Invision for Starz)

“The very reason we opened our doors was to try to help foster communication between agencies investigating missing children,” says Robert Lowery, a former St. Louis homicide cop who is a vice president of the nonprofit.

“Everyone now understands that sharing information in a timely manner is a key to solving these cases,” he told me. By “these cases,” he means the 30 or 40 child abductions by strangers reported in the U.S. each year — “the worst of the worst.”

The three Connecticut cases had distinctly different press profiles.

The murder of Mary Mount in leafy New Canaan drew national notice. Her father, Joseph Mount, was an IBM executive, and the family’s colleagues, friends and neighbors posted an attention-getting $50,000 reward — roughly $350,000 in today’s money. Hundreds of volunteers scoured the town for the girl

Cave was largely ignored as a suspected runaway, and Juanita Reese complained that racism diminished attention to her daughter, the only black victim of the three. The Black Panthers chipped in by posting missing-person fliers.

After 15 months without arrests, a barbaric triple homicide pointed to a suspect.

On Aug. 12, 1970, truck driver Harold Meade, 22, attacked three intellectually disabled residents of a state facility in New Haven who were out for a walk.

The MO was similar: skulls crushed with stones, bodies left in the woods.

In 1972, Meade pleaded guilty for those murders and was sent to prison for life.

He was never charged in the girls’ murders but became their assumed killer, leaving the cases in permanent limbo.

Michael Dearington, a prosecutor in New Haven, confirmed that in a letter to the state parole board in the late 1980s, arguing against freedom for Meade.

He said prosecutors did not press additional charges because they believed Meade would die in prison, according to the Hartford Courant. “As a result of this assumption, other serious crimes in which Mr. Meade was a suspect were not pursued to the point of arrest," Dearington wrote.

For what it’s worth, Meade told the Courant in 2000, seven years before he died behind bars, that police were using him to clear their failed investigations.

"I didn't kill anyone but the three I killed in New Haven," Meade said. "The cops all want to say I did other murders, but it's their job to prosecute them, and where are they?"

This was cold comfort to the girls’ loved ones.

“Parents of victims talk about the pain of living the rest of their lives never really knowing what happened,” said Lowery, the ex-homicide cop. “It won’t bring the child back, but an arrest offers some comfort if not closure.”

Juanita Reese gave up on closure.

She refused to believe that the collection of bones found in the woods belonged to her daughter and declined to accept the remains.

Remarkably, they sat forgotten for decades in a state prosecutor’s safe. They were rediscovered and buried in Guilford in 1996, at long last.