Decades later, still a mystery in Lynbrook

Iris Olmstead holds a photograph of her daughter Iris Olmstead holds a photograph of her daughter Kelly Morrissey who went missing in 1984. (Nov. 10, 2010) Photo Credit:

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Over a 10-month period, from June 1984 to April 1985, three teenage girls disappeared in Nassau County. The bodies of two, Theresa Fusco, 16, and Jacqueline Martarella, 19, were found brutally murdered. The third, Kelly Morrissey, 15, of Lynbrook, simply vanished.

Three men were arrested in connection with Fusco’s death; their convictions were later vacated in a Nassau County courtroom. One of the three was retried and found innocent by a Nassau judge. There have been no arrests in the case of Martarella. Nassau police say they believe Morrissey, too, was murdered. There have been no arrests in that case.

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Morrissey, a freshman at Lynbrook High School, said goodbye to her mother for the last time on the night of Tuesday, June 12, 1984. She walked from her home at 98 Fenimore St. in Lynbrook to a gas station at the corner of Merrick Road and Earle Avenue. She met friends there but soon left, telling them she might visit a video arcade at Merrick and Nieman Avenue, about half a mile away. It should have been a 10-minute walk. She never arrived.

Last month, Nassau homicide detectives announced they were looking into Morrissey’s disappearance again, after picking up chatter about her on a Facebook page devoted to Hot Skates, a Lynbrook roller rink and popular spot for teenagers in the area. They say conversations on Facebook have so far paid off in the form of 10 to 12 leads, including a tip that a car may have pulled up alongside her as she walked on Merrick Road.

Today, Morrissey’s mother, Iris Olmstead, is a 67-year-old great-grandmother living with her husband in Vermont. For years she drove a jeep with Kelly’s missing poster taped to the back window. She tells Newsday she agreed to talk for this story because she remains convinced that “somebody knows something.” She said she is hopeful publicity may encourage witnesses to come forward.

Iris Olmstead’s story of hope and anguish is not so different from the families of two women, one from New Jersey and the other from Maine, who were notified earlier this month that the bones of four unidentified women had been found on a Suffolk County barrier beach. Testing and medical records showed that the missing Jersey City woman was not one of the four; testing continues to see if one of the four sets of bones belongs to the woman from Maine. In the meantime, their families agonize over the fate of their loved ones and ask themselves: what happened to them?

For the families of Morrissey, Fusco and Martarella, the agony of loss — and the mountains of unanswered questions — has not faded over time.

“There’s no closure,” says Paul Olmstead, Kelly’s stepfather. “It’s just as if the sidewalks opened up and devoured her.” After detectives said they were, once again, looking into Morrissey’s disappearance, two Newsday reporters reviewed court records and conducted numerous interviews with friends and family members of Morrissey’s, plus a retired Nassau assistant district attorney and retired and current detectives. Here is Morrissey’s story.

Fateful night remembered

Iris Morrissey inherited the house at 98 Fenimore St. from her parents. She’d grown up there and moved back 20 years later after a divorce.

That early summer of 1984, she and the man she would later marry, Paul Olmstead, occupied the basement while the master bedroom upstairs was being renovated. Morrissey’s two daughters, Kelly and her older sister, Debbie, stayed upstairs, as did, some nights, the boys from Olmstead’s previous marriage.

Morrissey had been a homemaker and troop leader when her daughters were in Girl Scouts and a faithful cheerleader when they played soccer. But after the divorce from her children’s father, she took a full-time job at the Lambda Electronics plant in Melville.

While she worried about the girls needing her during the day, the family depended on her income.

Supper was over by 6:30 or 7 that Tuesday night in June. Kelly told her mother she was going to meet a friend named Gail Cole, 18. Mother and daughter agreed Kelly would be back by 10. It was a school night and she had a final exam coming up in a social studies class that she needed to pass.

“She would squeak by each year,” her mother said. “Maybe as time went on, she would have gotten better at it.” Her daughter’s dream was to move out of the house and into an apartment with a friend and make a living as a hairdresser.

The night was mild and it was still light when Kelly, 15, left the house, wearing a gold chain around her neck, jeans and a pink sleeveless sweatshirt.

She would have walked south on Fenimore, bordered by giant oaks, and past the comfortable homes of their neighbors. Past the Rhodes, the McKnights, the Pizzos. Michael Pizzo, not long off the 5:32 or the 6:09 p.m. train home from his job as a facilities manager at Merrill Lynch in New York City, remembers waving to her. A series of turns would have put Kelly on Merrick Road, the Village of Lynbrook’s main thoroughfare, and into the village center.

Most of the businesses would have been closed. Patrons of the businesses that were open — the theater, a luncheonette, and a couple of bars — later told police they didn’t remember seeing a girl of Kelly’s description that night.

She would have walked east to get to the Shell gas station, where, according to interviews, she met Paul Bastian, who worked there, and Cole.

Kelly and Cole were to meet friends named John Nuttini and Chris Lampasona, but the boys never showed.

At the gas station, Kelly bought a pack of Marlboros. Around 9:30 p.m., Cole remembers, she tried to persuade Kelly to come with her to visit her boyfriend who lived nearby. Kelly declined, saying she might stop by a video game arcade called Captain Video, a short walk west.

“She was in the gas station parking lot headed toward Merrick, just about at the sidewalk,” Cole said. “I remember looking back and seeing her.”

A quiet village

A New York City policeman lived across the street from Kelly; a Nassau County homicide detective lived at the end of the block. Her neighborhood was not accustomed to crime.

Life in the 2-square-mile village of Lynbrook was so rarely punctuated by disturbance of any kind that residents called it the “cocoon” or the “bubble.”

Lynbrook had always had ties to New York City — its very name is an anagram of Brooklyn. By the 1980s, many residents were second-generation Long Islanders whose parents had left the city after World War II when the suburbs began to grow rapidly. “They were coming out of apartments, buying these tiny plots of land and giving their kids whatever they could give them,” said Deirdre Spielman Young, whose father, Glenn Spielman, was village mayor in the early ’80s.

The 1980 U.S. Census shows a median income of $22,764 in Lynbrook and a population of 20,424, of which 2,343 were teenagers. There were few gathering places for them outside adult scrutiny: Hot Skates, a roller rink; various pizza joints and diners downtown; and Captain Video.

The roller rink offered music and late-night skating on weekends. On a stretch of Merrick Road that received little evening traffic, it was conveniently located near Rockville Cemetery and a McDonald’s, so teens could make a night of it: skating, then games of manhunt among the tombstones, and hamburgers and milkshakes.

The video arcade, in a small shopping plaza across from the Liberty Mutual insurance building, had, for some parents, a different reputation.

“There was no way my kids were going there,” said Art Mattson, a retired banker and the village historian. “There was an aura around game parlors. There was no adult supervision. It didn’t seem right.”

There were other hangout places, too, like the 7-Eleven on Atlantic Avenue and an apartment on the same street occupied by a young man named Dennis Halstead.

In 1984, Halstead was 31 and worked as an aluminum-siding installer. He and two other men, John Restivo, 27, and John Kogut, 22, later served 18 years in prison for the rape and murder of 16-year-old Theresa Fusco, a onetime friend of Kelly’s whose body was discovered in December 1984, near the roller rink.

Ed Grilli, then a spokesman for the Nassau district attorney’s office, described the men in a 1985 Newsday story as “active suspects in other deaths and disappearances,” including Kelly’s and that of Jacqueline Martarella, found naked and strangled that year near the 17th hole of the Woodmere Country Club’s golf course. The men’s convictions in the Fusco case were vacated in 2005 after the forensics used to convict them in a Nassau courtroom were determined to not connect them to the death. Kogut’s lawyer, Paul Casteleiro, also said at the time that his client’s confession, implicating all three men in Fusco’s murder, was false. Only Kogut’s case was retried; he was acquitted by a judge.

Kelly dated Kogut for a time, her mother told Newsday at the time of her daughter’s disappearance. Cole, in a recent interview with a reporter, says their relationship was brief and casual.

In the 1985 story, Cole said: “Me and Kelly and another girl named Kim used to go over to Dennis’ apartment to hang out.” There was beer and marijuana to be had there, she said in that story.

Pat Ryder, now commanding officer of the Nassau Police Department’s Asset Forfeiture and Intelligence unit, worked at the Lynbrook 7-Eleven in the early ’80s. In a recent interview, he said, “It was an apartment that a lot of the kids would hang out at. A lot of the young kids hung there with older guys.”

A 1985 Newsday story states that Kelly met Kogut at her after-school job at a Venetian-blind factory off Merrick Road. Detectives working Kelly’s case now under Det. Lt. John Azzata will only say that Restivo’s last name appeared in her address book. While they announced publicly that they were again looking into Morrissey’s disappearance, detectives declined to be interviewed about the specifics of their investigation.

Around 10 that night, as Iris Morrissey and Paul Olmstead watched TV in their basement room, they heard someone come into the kitchen upstairs. Iris Olmstead now tells Newsday she assumed it was Kelly; in fact it was her older sister, Debbie. When Kelly had not returned the next morning, her mother thought she might have spent the night at Cole’s house. But when Morrissey spoke to Cole the next afternoon, she learned her daughter had not spent the night with her.

Kelly’s bedroom — its walls painted purple, the bedspread in flower print, a painting of a rainbow hanging over them — offered no clues to her whereabouts, her mother said. Kelly had laid out clothes for the next day. Iris Morrissey grew frantic and frustrated in the days that followed. She says Newsday did not aggressively cover the story and that Nassau police, who initially treated Kelly as a runaway, were slow to investigate. Nor did her neighbors offer assistance.

“Not one neighbor came forward to ask if they could help,” she tells Newsday. Pizzo, from a few houses down, said he remembers the awkwardness of conversations with Iris Morrissey at that time. “How do you approach a mother whose daughter’s missing?”

Rumors abound

There have been rumors over the years: Kelly is in the Midwest; she is working in a supermarket in Long Beach; her body is buried behind Malverne High School.

Generations of Nassau detectives have tracked down these leads, twice going so far as to excavate parcels of land in upstate New York, but they have never found a body.

Detectives tell Newsday the conversations on Facebook have so far paid off in the form of 10 to 12 leads, many from people who were Kelly’s contemporaries.

They would not elaborate, but did say they are now investigating a lead that would extend the long-accepted timeline for the night Kelly disappeared: as Kelly walked back down Merrick, a possible witness now claims, a car pulled up next to her, pulling away when she didn’t get in.

“We are here trying to do the right thing by the Olmstead family,” Mike O’Leary, a retired Nassau homicide detective who worked on the case almost a decade ago, tells Newsday. “Time passed, but you’re not going to forget.”

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