Private investigator Leo Schmidlin, who is still investigating a 30-year-old...

Private investigator Leo Schmidlin, who is still investigating a 30-year-old case of Janice Fullam. (Oct. 29, 2011) Credit: Thomas A. Ferrara

The night she disappeared on Halloween eve 30 years ago, Janice Fullam set off on foot for a neighborhood bar about a mile from her house in Hauppauge to meet her older brother Jimmy.

It was a Friday. She wore jeans, a striped pullover and a maroon leather jacket. She was 17 but looked older and, like many of her peers, had a fake ID.

Fullam stopped at the home of a friend, Liz Salomon, and tried to convince her to come along. Salomon said no -- a decision that still haunts her.

"Janice was a nice girl, a free spirit; she trusted everyone and that was her ultimate mistake," said her friend -- now Liz Sussman. "I always felt if I had gone with her that evening, she might still be here today."

Fullam's family holds no hope she is alive, but yearns for "closure" on her fate.

"Before I pass, I would like to know," said her father, James Fullam, 76, a retired New York Fire Department lieutenant. "Before I take my last breath, when I see my wife again, I would like to know."

A few years before she died in 2007 at age 68, Janice's mother, Joan Fullam, submitted her DNA to police so it could be compared with DNA from unidentified murder victims.

Fullam's case is one of the oldest unsolved disappearances in Suffolk County, said Det. Sgt. Mark Maieli of the police department's fugitives and missing persons unit. Fullam's accordion file contains hundreds of pages of documents and notes. Little new has been added in recent years.

Suffolk Det. Leo Schmidlin was an early investigator on the case. Now retired, he is still trying to unravel the mystery because "I promised her mother I wouldn't give up."

In the summer of 1981, Fullam pleaded guilty to selling LSD. The boyfriend of a friend of hers had hired Janice and other teens to sell the hallucinogenic drug, said Joe Fullam, Janice's brother. Janice was to have been sentenced five days after she disappeared. She faced up to a year in jail.

Police initially suspected she had jumped bail and they issued a fugitive warrant for her arrest.

Over time, and based partly on anonymous tips he deemed credible, Schmidlin came to believe Fullam ran afoul of other drug dealers who killed her and hid her remains. Police told Newsday in 1983 that Fullam became an informant, but dealers knew of her arrest and would not sell her drugs.

Janice Fullam left Salomon's house at 10:45 p.m., on Oct. 30, 1981. As near as anyone can tell she walked west on the Nesconset Highway, a four-lane road flanked by a thick growth of trees. The bar she headed for was at Nesconset and Hauppauge Boulevard.

"She never showed up," said her brother Jimmy Fullam, who now lives in Center Moriches.

The next morning, her family realized she was missing. Her bedroom, adorned with posters of rock stars, was empty. They put up fliers and called everyone they could think of seeking clues.

The family did not believe she ran off. She was close to her three siblings. She had a boyfriend. She got along with students and teachers at Smithtown High School West, where she was a senior. She was looking forward to a new job waitressing at a local restaurant.

But Fullam also courted danger. She hitchhiked often. A friend, Cindy Streppone, told Newsday in a 1983 interview that Fullam sold drugs to earn cash for expensive clothes and rock-concert tickets.

Several months after Fullam's disappearance, her case was assigned to Schmidlin, who tracked down fugitives for the Suffolk district attorney's office. Suspecting foul play, he subpoenaed three of her friends before a grand jury in 1983 but learned little.

"I have to believe that she died," said her older sister Joanne Fullam, "because I can't imagine that she would've spent all these years away and not contacted us."

Authorities never formally searched for her remains, said Schmidlin, who lives in Smithtown. Now 70 and a private investigator, he has walked miles of horse trails and woods in nearby parks, finding nothing.

"This case haunts me, it really does," he said. "I have to drive down this road all the time."

The family learned several years ago from police that the man for whom Janice allegedly dealt drugs had died in Florida of a drug overdose.

"I don't want to say it gave us closure," said Joe Fullam, who was 16 when his sister disappeared and now lives in Pennsylvania. "But it put an end point on our finding out if he was responsible in any way."

The family always doubted Janice's friends told police all they knew. Police still see a chance the case can be solved.

"I'm sure somebody out there knows something," Maieli said. "They might have been reluctant back then, or thought what they knew was unimportant. We're hoping they'll come forward now."

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