What to Know
- Suffolk County Police continue their search by digging up a back yard in Brentwood for a missing Long Island woman that disappeared in 1983
- Janice Donohue disappeared from her home in December 1983, but her husband didn't report her missing for three weeks
- Police and even Richard Donohue's son look at the man, who died in 2000, as the primary suspect in the still unsolved case
Suffolk County Police continue their search by digging up a back yard in Brentwood for a missing Long Island woman that disappeared in 1983.
After NBC New York first reported the case in May, Lisa Rizzi continued her search for Janice Donohue, Rizzi’s biological mother.
Rizzi was given up for adoption by Donohue, then Janice Sancomb, at birth. Once Rizzi lost her adoptive parents as an adult, she set out to find her biological parents. She found her father in New Jersey, but soon learned her mother is likely a murder victim.
Donahue vanished from her Long Island home on Wicks Road in Brentwood on December 16, 1983. Husband Richard Donohue reported her missing three weeks later. Janice has not been seen or found since that fateful holiday season. According to police reports, Richard Donohue claimed that in the midst of a divorce, his wife ran away.
After contacting NBC New York nearly four decades after the vanishing of her mother, Rizzi has led detectives back to that very home in search of her mother’s body.
“It’s never been solved. She’s been missing for over 30 years,” said Rizzi.
Suffolk County Police Lieutenant Kevin Beyrer says Richard Donohue has always been the main suspect.
”We would be naive or foolish not to suspect and not to look at Richard Donohue as the lead suspect,” said Beyrer.
And the lieutenant isn’t alone. NBC New York tracked down Donohue’s son, Chad Donohue by phone in Georgia. He was just 4 years old when his mother vanished.
“He was a dangerous man. You know, he was meticulous,” said Chad Donohue of his father.
“Whenever I had a question about my mother, it was always, ‘Your mother had mental problems.’”
Chad Donohue never got the answers he was looking for.
“Even when I turned 15, 16, I was still asking these questions.”
Now in his 40’s, Chad says his father died of lung cancer in 2000. On his deathbed, members of his family asked Richard about Janice.
"Did you kill Chad's mother? He didn't answer. Everything that lives and breathes inside of me tells me that my mother was murdered in that house. That's where she is. Somewhere in that house mixed in with the cement."
And that’s exactly where Suffolk County Police looked. Earlier this month, investigators scanned the property with ground penetrating radar.
“It was just in abundance of being thorough that we use this new machinery to search this area, to make sure that there was no one buried in the back yard,” said Beyrer.
A few hours into the scan, an image resembling a body appears.
What appears on the scan seems to be a figure with two legs, an extended arm and a head. It is outlined in red below:
Lieutenant Beyer said different layers and densities of soil, like hard clay, can create misleading images on GPR.
A cadaver dog was even brought in to sniff out the excavated soil.
“We were definitely excited about it,” said Beyrer. “Unfortunately, it was a false positive.”
Investigators had a second lead and dug yet another hole. The remains of Janice Donohue were not found.
Like detectives nearly 40 years ago, the Suffolk County Police investigation is in a familiar place.
“We're at a dead end right now,” said Beyrer. “You know, we dug trenches and holes and we did whatever it took to potentially find her,” said Beyrer. “If we do get more new information we'll do whatever it takes.”
Rizzi is grateful for efforts made by investigators, but disappointed that at least for now, she will not be laying her mother to rest in peace.
“This is the end of the road because there's not much else I can do at this point,” said Rizzi. “But I can at least say that I tried all avenues and did everything that I could.”
Suffolk County Police is seeking the public’s help finding Janice Donohue. Tips and information can be called into 1-800-220-TIPS.