On July 11, 1973, 15-year old Diane Compagna swung her red beach bag over her shoulder and headed out the door of her house in Merrimack, New Hampshire. She was off to a nearby lake to swim with her friend, 15-year old Anne Psaradelis. At least, that was the story they told their parents.
Neither girl was expected home that night. It appears they pulled a classic teenager scheme – Anne told her mom she was spending the night at Diane’s, and Diane told her parents she’d be sleeping over at Anne’s house. But their parents weren’t suspicious as the girls left for the day. It wasn’t until the next afternoon when the pair didn’t return to either home that their parents began to worry.
What began as a missing persons investigation for two teenage girls in the summer of 1973 ended as a double-homicide that fall. In 2023, this case will reach its 50 year anniversary without answers.
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The Girls Are Missing
On July 12, 1973, a concerned father walked into the Merrimack, New Hampshire police station. Dispatch had called for Sergeant Joseph Horak over the radio and asked him to come down to the station to take the initial missing person report from Marcel Compagna, Diane’s dad.
Sergeant Horak told the concerned father that they typically didn’t take missing persons reports in the first 24 hours because in many cases, people turn up in that window. But the father was adamant, and so Horak said he could issue a bulletin in the local community and put their physical descriptions over the radios and in local newspapers.
Diane was last known to be wearing blue jeans and sandals with a dark blue crop top blouse and her red beach bag. She had long dark hair and was about five feet four inches tall. Anne left the house wearing jeans and a red blouse with a multicolor bag. She, too, had long dark hair and was about the same height as her friend Diane.
Anne and Diane’s parents publicly appealed to their daughters in local papers, asking them to please call home and let them know they’re alright, but the phone never rang.
Detective Joseph Horak on the Case
The day that Mr. Compagna walked into the police station to report his daughter missing, was the same day that Joseph Horak began what would become a lifelong dedication (or infatuation depending on who you ask).
Joseph Horak had served in the Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War. He was also a veteran of the United State Air National Guard. But in 1957, he retired from the military and began a career in police work. He’d been at it for over 15 years by the time the case of the missing teenagers landed on his desk in 1973, previously serving as the Chief of Police in Northfield, Massachusetts before joining the Merrimack, New Hampshire force as Sergeant and later ascending to the detective lieutenant position.
Joseph Horak would eventually write and publish three books, two of which cover Anne and Diane’s cases extensively. The books, Justice Denied: A Detective’s Dilemma, and Pride and Honor: Behind the Badge, are out of print and incredibly hard to find. But not impossible.
I read it with a skeptical eye. A lot of it is dialog, and Joseph said at the time of the book’s release that it was all written from memory. To me it just seems like a stretch that someone could remember each and every word from dozens of conversations so many years in the past without taking some creative liberties to fill in where memory failed.
But his book also includes documents from the original case file, newspaper clippings that weren’t available in other archives, copies of letters he sent throughout the years with responses from recipients, and details of court proceedings. Those pieces can be cross-checked with other sources and those are what I was most interested in.
Horak made this case his passion project from day one, and he continued to pore over it even after he retired from police work. He’d been called devoted by some, and obsessed by others. His persistence alienated some family members of the girls in the process. Joseph passed away at 88-years old in 2017. The case is even mentioned in his obituary.
Searching for Anne and Diane
Beginning on July 12, 1973 and the days and weeks that followed, Joseph Horak worked with the Psaradelis and Companga families to find their daughters. He told New Hampshire Union Leader writer John Clayton in 2004,, “I would finish a tour of duty, get a call to come in and Mr. Compagna would ask me to go out and look for the girls…We’d do that, drive around Merrimack for four or five hours and when we’d get back, Mr. Psaradelis would ask me to do the same thing.”
Horak details in his book these non-stop efforts during the first few critical days that the girls were missing. He says he spent hours with each father, checking backroads, bowling alleys, shopping malls, local hangouts, anywhere that a 15-year old girl might want to spend some time away from her parents. But each time, nothing. None of the other local kids had seen Anne or Diane either – or maybe it was that none were willing to rat on their friends. Two days after the missing persons report was filed, Merrimack police issued a national bulletin.
Several reports of sightings came in during those first days, one saying the girls were spotted hitchhiking to Boston. According to Horak, Diane was known to hitchhike every once in a while, but the Boston lead didn’t seem particularly reliable in the eyes of law enforcement. Other calls said the girls were spotted in Nashua, Salisbury, Lowell, Hampton Beach, even Florida and New York.
Two weeks passed. Each day police searched, and every time they came up empty. By July 30, Joe Horak said he was beginning to fear the worst. That was the same day Joe says he received a phone call from an anonymous source. The source wanted Horak to know that a man, who Horak only refers to by Tom Jefferson (a fake name) throughout his book, may have been with Diane on the night of July 4th. After that night, Diane told people that Tom raped her.
Although the anonymous tipster told Horak that his information was all hearsay, it was still a compelling lead. Horak says in his book that they tracked Tom down and questioned him, reading him his rights before asking about Diane Compagna. Tom didn’t appear to conceal anything – he spoke openly about his involvement with Diane on the night of July 4th. He admitted to having sex with her even though she did not consent. He said, in summary, that Diane said no but didn’t give a reason and didn’t try to physically stop him, so he didn’t. Tom gave a written statement with the same details, and was released at the end of the interview.
Information about this interview with Tom was not released to the public at the time. Two months later, a second report about Tom raping Diane on July 4th came in from a different source. Horak tried to contact Tom for another conversation on September 30, but couldn’t reach him. Horak didn’t know yet that the search for Diane and Anne ended the day before.
Episode Source Material
- Cold Case Unit: Diane Compagna
- Cold Case Unit: Anne Psaradelis
- Missing Merrimack girls are believed in this area, Nashua Telegraph, 23 Jul 1973
- Bodies of Merrimack girls found in Candia, Nashua Telegraph, 01 Oct 1973
- Rudman sees double murder in Merrimack girls’ deaths, Concord Monitor, 01 Oct 1973
- Teen bodies discovered by hunter, Fitchburg Sentinel, 01 Oct 1973
- Two bodies identified in Candia, Portsmouth Herald, 01 Oct 1973
- Double homicide probable, The Times Argus, 01 Oct 1973
- Bodies of two missing girls found in N.H., The Recorder, 02 Oct 1973
- Compagna Funeral Announcement, Nashua Telegraph, 02 Oct 1973
- Psaradelis Funeral Announcement, Nashua Telegraph, 02 Oct 1973
- Dianne Compagna, Anne Psardelis Funeral, Nashua Telegraph, 05 Oct 1973
- Two women in Fitchburg, two girls in N.H. found dead, Boston Globe, 02 Oct 1973
- Boy and two girls found slain, Nashua Telegraph, 31 Dec 1973
- 20 years later, girls’ murders remain a puzzle, Concord Monitor, 28 Sept 1993
- Retired policemen think 20-year-old murders can be solved, Bennington Banner, 28 Sept 1993
- Child-abduction cases often fall through the cracks, Hartford Courant, 15 Apr 2001
- An unsolved murder, an obsessed detective by Rebecca Rule, Concord Monitor, 09 Jan 2005
- Ex-cop takes on murder case by Rebecca Rule, Nashua Telegraph, 09 Jan 2005
- 2 retired officers offer reward in ’73 murders, Nashua Telegraph, 14 Jul 2006
- Ex-detective points finger in long-unsolved killings by Sarah Schweitzer, Boston Globe, 29 Jun 2007, page 2
- Troubled histories: State is considering unit for unsolved police cases by Karen Lovett, Nashua Telegraph, 02 March 2009, Page 2
- State hears push for ‘cold case squad’ by Andrew Wolfe, Nashua Telegraph, 04 Mar 2009, page 2
- N.H. lawmaker, victims’ families want cold case unit, Sun-Journal, 04 Mar 2009
- Lynch signs cold case unit legislation by Karen Lovett, Concord Monitor, 30 Jul 2009, page 2
- Joseph A. Horak Jr Obituary
- Ex-detective points finger in long-unsolved killings By Sarah Schweitzer, Boston Globe, 29 Jun 2007
- Justice Denied: A Detective’s Dilemma by Joseph Horak