The Disappearance of Judith Leo-Coneys

Reggie Brown stood at the counter of the Motor Vehicles Department, sifting through the limited paperwork he had on the Red Volkswagen he’d just fixed up. The car appeared on the lot of his junkyard a few week’s prior with the windows smashed out and some other damage that looked relatively fresh. A handwritten note left on the vehicle read: “Dear Reggie, this hunk of junk is yours if you want it. Don’t run too good but OK for parts. I am leaving Vermont and don’t need it no longer. Signed, R. Peterson”

The note was good enough permission as any for Reggie, but he thought that with a little effort he could bring the car back to life. Other than the broken glass and cosmetic damage, it was in good working order. It took a few weeks to fix up the damage, but this wasn’t a hunk of junk as the note described. And so with the car running just fine, Reggie was at the Motor Vehicles Department to get it registered. 

But when the agent returned to the counter where he stood waiting, Reggie learned he wouldn’t be registering the red Volkswagen that day. There was a problem – a big one. This car came back already registered. It belonged to a woman from North Cambridge, Vermont. She’d been reported missing on November 5, 1979. The same day the smashed up car appeared on Reggie Brown’s junkyard lot.

It was the first big clue in the disappearance of a beloved school teacher and young mother that would spiral into an investigation spanning a decade and stretching across the United States… Before investigators would uncover any answers though, they’d be searching for not one but two missing people from Vermont. The primary suspect disappeared, too.

About Judith Leo-Coneys

It was Monday morning, November 5, 1979 and Judith Leo-Coneys had a lot to do. Though she was a teacher at Milton High School and would typically be in the classroom on Mondays, Judith had a dermatologist appointment and so she planned to stack a few errands and make the most out of her few hours off. Judy was with another teacher that morning, too, Noble Francouer. Some sources report that Judy and Noble were dating at the time. She first dropped her 3-year old son off with the babysitter, then stopped by the high school to drop off Noble in time for work, and then she headed to Burlington, Vermont for her appointment. 

Judith had just one more stop to make after that doctor’s appointment, a quick pick up in Shelburne, Vermont. If she timed it right, she’d be back to school by 9:30 a.m. 

But when Judith never returned to Milton High School as planned, alarm bells rang in the minds of her fellow teachers. She was a dedicated educator, working with students who needed additional support with reading and comprehension. I wouldn’t be like her not to show up as planned. By the end of the school day, with no sign of Judith and no phone calls, Noble was the one who decided to take action. He reported Judith Leo-Coneys missing around 3:15 p.m.

Three days later, news of Judy’s disappearance made the papers, reporting her last known location as that doctor’s appointment in Burlington around 8:15 a.m. on November 5. A brief article by the Burlington Free Press included a photo of smiling Judy, who was reported to possibly be driving her red Volkswagen with Vermont plates. 

The search for Judy began two days later, on Wednesday, November 7, as State and local authorities in both Shelburne and Milton coordinated the investigation into her whereabouts. One week into the search for Judy, Chittenden County State’s Attorney Susan Via told the Times Argus, quote, “It doesn’t seem to be the type of case where she just left town.” End quote. She added that foul play had not been ruled out.

By the time Reggie Brown tried to register Judith’s red Volkswagen, foul play was looking more and more likely. The name signed from the hand-written note on the car was apparently fictitious; authorities unable to track down any R. Petersons who might be connected to Judy or the car. At that point, Judith Leo-Coneys had been missing for 22 days – no sightings and no calls to her young son. State’s Attorney Mark Keller told the Burlington Free Press, quote, “We are definitely treating this case as a kidnap and/or homicide.” End quote.

Investigators let on that they were following one strong lead, and it had everything to do with that final stop Judy planned to make in Shelburne on Monday morning before returning to school. Noble had filled them in on her plan.

The last quick errand Judy had to run that morning wasn’t a pleasant one. She and her boyfriend had recently ended their relationship, but a few of her things were still lingering at his house, a small cabin he’d built himself in Shelburne, Vermont. Judy was going to swing by his place that morning because she knew he wouldn’t be home – he was a teacher, too – so it would be an easy in and out, just grab her stuff, and leave without incident. 

Whether she ever made it to his house before disappearing was unclear, and so police knew it was time to talk to Judy’s ex-boyfriend, Francis Malinoski. 

Press play on this episode to hear Part 1 of Judith Leo-Coneys story. Part 2 will be released on Dark Downeast on Monday, April 4, 2022.

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