Patsy Sant’Angelo, of Cranford, N.J., spoke about her sister, Audrey Chin, of East Norwich, who went missing at 21 in 1981. Credit: Craig Ruttle; Photo Credit: Patsy Sant'Angelo

It was July 7, 1981, that 20-year-old Audrey Chin drove to a veterinary office near her family home on Ross Lane in East Norwich to pick up Joy, the family tabby cat who had just been spayed.

Chin, who was driving her mother’s Chevy Nova, returned with the pet and then drove away again, ostensibly to go shopping for her mother. She was never seen again.

About three weeks later, police found the mud-splattered Chevy about 10 miles from the Chin home in the parking lot of the now-closed Plainview Diner at Manetto Hill and Old Country roads. The car doors had been locked, but inside the vehicle police found Chin’s purse, her wallet and some other items.

Some cigarette ash was found on the floorboard (Chin didn’t smoke), and two of the tires were flat. But there was no lead to the whereabouts of the young woman who was studying to be a nurse.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Nassau County police have signaled renewed interest in the missing persons case of Audrey Chin, part of what one law enforcement source said was a new effort by the department to focus on cold cases. 
  • Chin, 20, disappeared on July 7, 1981, after leaving her East Norwich family home to go shopping.
  • In March, Chin’s two older sisters — Patsy Sant’Angelo, 66, of New Jersey, and Frances Creed, 64, of Port Jefferson — said they traveled to police headquarters in Mineola at the request of investigators to give DNA reference samples

In recent weeks, Nassau County police have signaled renewed interest in the case, part of what one law enforcement source said was a new effort by the department to focus on cold cases. 

In March, Chin’s two older sisters — Patsy Sant’Angelo, 66, of New Jersey, and Frances Creed, 64, of Port Jefferson — said they traveled to police headquarters in Mineola at the request of investigators to give DNA reference samples. The sisters were told that their genetic material will be run through the national CODIS database, the system overseen by the FBI that law enforcement agencies use to identify unknown human remains or crime suspects.

Chin's case is one of the oldest missing persons cases in Nassau County. Over the years — other than one or two news stories — there has been virtually no publicity about it.

It took until Feb. 8 of this year, almost 43 years after her disappearance, for Chin’s case to become an official entry in the database known as NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which was started in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Justice. It is not clear why Chin's case took so long to get listed. 

There are 17 sets of unidentified human remains in CODIS from Nassau, and about 100 sets of unidentified remains in Suffolk, officials said.

In a statement to Newsday, Nassau police spokesman Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun said the inclusion of the Chin case in NamUs hopefully will help solve the case. The department’s missing persons unit monitors NamUs cases and cross references them with other databases, LeBrun said.

Still, getting results may take time. According to Emanuel Katranakis, a retired NYPD chief of forensic investigations, the process of running the family DNA profiles could take months, depending upon the urgency and public safety ramifications of previous requests in the search queues.

“Two to four months” was Katranakis’s estimate of the duration of the CODIS search in the Chin case.

Kinship analysis of the results also might add to the timing since it is a “labor intensive process,” Katranakis added.

Kinship analysis would solidify any family relationships between unidentified remains and the Chin sisters. All three women also would have the same mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down to children from the maternal side.

There is no guarantee the DNA samples submitted will match any known profiles in the CODIS system. But the Nassau police interest has given both of Chin's sisters hope that, after years of hearing nothing from officials, the mystery might be solved.

“I do think they are really trying to help,” Sant’Angelo said of the Nassau police missing persons investigation.

“The department continues to stay in touch with the Chin family and is always looking for new leads,” said LeBrun, adding the department has used detectives from various units and utilized “updated technology” in the search.

Undated photograph of Audrey Chin and her late mother, Helen...

Undated photograph of Audrey Chin and her late mother, Helen Chin, from the Facebook page "Audrey Chin Never Forget-Never Give Up" dedicated to search of Chin, who has been missing since July 1981. Credit: Frances Creed via Facebook

Since Chin disappeared, her sisters and parents searched through her old belongings, letters and other documents and made a shocking discovery. The sisters said that some of the letters uncovered indicated that Chin harbored a secret: She was having an affair with an older, married man.

Chin, an introspective and artistic woman, was never known in her days as a student in Oyster Bay High School to have dated or had any boyfriends. Evidence of such an affair stunned her sisters.

“I was shocked, totally surprised … shocked that my sister was involved with a married man,” Sant’Angelo said.

What was also distressing was that the man in question — who died more than a decade ago — had been considered a friend and might have known what happened to Chin, Sant’Angelo speculated. The sisters said they were told by investigators not to approach the deceased man’s family because of the investigation.

Sant'Angelo and Creed said the bulk of the letters were turned over to Nassau police, and the sisters have been trying — without success — to get back some copies of the correspondences. For Sant'Angelo and Creed, the letters are the only tangible things left from their sister.

Creed told Newsday she suspected Chin was having a secret relationship when she overheard her sobbing on the telephone the day she disappeared. But even under her sister’s gentle questioning, Chin didn’t want to speak about what was bothering her.

“She was obviously upset on the phone, and before I left the house I said something to the effect that I will talk to you later,” Creed said of the last conversation she had with Chin.

Patsy Sant’Angelo with a picture of her sister Audrey Chin, who...

Patsy Sant’Angelo with a picture of her sister Audrey Chin, who has been missing since 1981. Credit: Craig Ruttle

To revive interest in Chin and to search for possible leads, the sisters, with the help of their respective spouses, Russell Sant’Angelo and Bob Creed, have maintained a Facebook page titled “Audrey Chin Never Forget-Never Give Up.” The couples also have been searching for Chin’s old friends and anyone else who might have information.

The sisters are aware of two unidentified bodies found within a few miles of the old family home in East Norwich. The cases are described in the NamUs inventory for Nassau, and under normal procedures should be undergoing comparison in the latest DNA search. One set of remains were those of a woman whose estimated height was between 4-foot-9 and 5 feet — Chin was 4-foot-9. The remains were found in 2003 by hiking Boy Scouts in Muttontown Preserve, an area famous for containing the ruins of the old estate of King Zog of Albania. The location is about a mile from the old Chin family home.

Another set of remains, known to some as “Lattingtown Jane Doe,” was found at the end of Sheep Lane in Lattingtown, close to Long Island Sound in January 2013 and just over   four miles from the Chin home. The Lattingtown skeleton was found in a garbage bag with indications it had been at the site for a long time.

If the mystery of Audrey Chin is solved, it will come too late for her parents, both of whom emigrated from China in the tumultuous period surrounding World War II and made a living for years with their laundry business in East Norwich. The couple worked hard to make the business a success and provide for their daughters, relatives said.

Audrey’s mother, Helen Chin, whose Chinese name was Wai Ping Chin, had a small shrine in the house to commemorate her lost daughter, complete with photographs and incense. She spoke with a fortune teller in Hong Kong who said Chin was dead but at peace. But she never talked much about her missing child with her two other daughters. Helen Chin died in 2017.

The girls’ late father, John Chin, whose Chinese name was Guey Shing Chin, also kept his anguish private, never talking about Audrey’s disappearance, the daughters said.

The sisters don't believe Audrey Chin ran away, since her bank accounts weren’t touched. Chin, who had graduated high school in 1979, had many plans, including being in Sant'Angelo's wedding party in September 1981, and was taking courses to prepare for nursing school. They think it is more likely Chin met with foul play, but they know that without the discovery of any remains, the question of what happened may never be answered.

“The person I think was involved in her disappearance is no longer alive today,” Sant'Angelo said. “Can we get any more information? You know, I am not super hopeful.”

The sisters’ sense of loss is heightened by the fact Chin was never able to have a full life, as they did, to come into her own and experience the simple pleasures of being an adult.

“She should have been able to marry and have children,” said Sant'Angelo, her voice again breaking with emotion. “She didn’t have the opportunity to grow, to change, to have a life.”

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