Hundreds of murders and suspicious disappearances have gone unsolved across the region. And a series by Time Warner Cable News, "Unsolved But Not Forgotten," will delve into some of those cases to see where they stand. The series airs the first Saturday of the month through the end of the year.
ONEIDA, N.Y. -- Thirty-three years ago this month, 19-year-old Tammy Mahoney disappeared without a trace.
Investigators say it started as a case with no leads, no suspects and no closure in sight for Mahoney's family.
Then came the tip that led police down an unexpected path.
It's a case police are still working and one several people may be able to help bring to an end.
"It wasn't long after this disappearance was reported that things didn't look right. Her clothing, personal belongings were left behind. She made very frequent contact with her family -- that ceased immediately," said Doug Bailey, a former investigator on the case.
The silence began on May 8, 1981, when Mahoney, originally from Long Island, disappeared from the Oneida area.
At the time, Bailey was an officer with the Oneida Police Department.
He says Mahoney's boyfriend reported her missing three days after she didn't return home to her Lenox Avenue apartment.
"From May of 1981 until September of 1981, we knew nothing. We had no solid lead, no nothing -- she was just vanished," Bailey said.
What officers did know was that Mahoney was seen at a bus terminal outside her apartment early that evening.
There were also possible sightings of her hitchhiking along Main Street.
It wasn't a lot to go on, since hitchhiking was common practice back then and Mahoney didn't have a car to get around herself.
Bailey says it was a phone call from someone living on Oneida Indian Nation Territory that was the case's first big break.
"Police, at that time, were told that Tammy Mahoney disappeared from there. That 'there' being the 32 acres on the West Road in Oneida," Bailey said.
Officers talked to Oneida Nation residents who told them they were at a party on the territory on May 8.
They developed information that led them to believe Tammy was taken there by men who picked her up, then raped and murdered her on Oneida territory that night.
"You have someone disappear and no one knows what happened, and you hear what possibly took place, and it's definitely something that's unnerving," said Oneida police Chief David Meeker.
But no body had been found.
Bailey says at the time, an Oneida City policy linked to nation sovereignty issues prevented officers from freely investigating nation land.
Police liaisons would coordinate investigations with the Oneidas when needed.
Bailey says he's not sure what the cooperation level was in the early days of the case, but Oneida Nation Police played an important role in a multi-agency task force convened in 1996 to re-examine Mahoney's disappearance.
More than 30 years and 800 tips later, all leads still point to those same 32 acres, and while police say they're now confident they know who killed Mahoney, no arrests have ever been made.
Hurdles include lack of physical evidence and lack of cooperation from those at the May 8 party.
"It's a very complex case. There are successful prosecutions of bodyless homicide cases. That would be a choice made by a prosecutor," Bailey said.
Meeker says they still get tips on this case. And technology not available in 1981 could provide a substantial break if the most important piece of the puzzle falls into place.
"If we find the body, we can get some DNA from there. A lot of it's just going to depend on information right now," Meeker said.
Bailey says the teens and twenty-somethings that were at the party the night of May 8, 1981, and saw what happened to Mahoney are still alive.
They still live in the community, and they can close this case today.
"Those people that are living this secret, they're probably mostly parents themselves right now, and I often wonder how they would feel if this was their child, having knowledge that somebody's keeping it from them," Bailey said. "I'm just hoping somewhere, someone along the line, men and women that are living with this secret will come forward, call the Oneida Police Department so things can get moving on this case. Tammy needs to come home."
Investigators encourage anyone with information about Tammy Mahoney's disappearance to contact Oneida Police at (315) 363-9111 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and (315) 363-2323 at any other hour.
They say even something that seems insignificant could be an important lead that helps bring Tammy home.
Watch extended interviews with Bailey and Meeker
(Mobile users: View from a computer browser)
CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Oneida Investigator: Witnesses Could Close 1981 Cold Case Today
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