Finding Judith Leo-Coneys

It was described as one of Vermont’s most frustrating cold cases. A dedicated mother and beloved school teacher disappeared in November of 1979, with nothing but a smashed up vehicle and a strange hand-written note left behind. When her ex-boyfriend disappeared a month later, too, authorities had two people to track down – one they presumed to be dead, and the other they suspected of causing her death.

The search for the suspect would become a cross-country event, tracking aliases and addresses out west until finally, a dedicated detective and a new State’s Attorney saw eye to eye on what needed to be done in the case, what needed to be done for Judith Leo-Coneys.

If you haven’t listened to the first episode in this two part series, start there, with The Disappearance of Judith Leo-Coneys.

The Case Continues

Judith Leo-Coneys’ last known destination on November 5, 1979 was to pick up some of her belongings at the home of her ex-boyfriend, Francis Malinosky. Francis, called Frank, didn’t have much of an alibi for that morning – he never showed up for work at the Burlington School System, and when asked, he told police he spent the day walking around the woods and shooting birds.

Frank’s movements on that day put him in the same town where Judy’s red Volkswagen Beetle would later be recovered. An FBI handwriting expert said that the handwritten note found on Judith’s car was likely written by Francis Malinosky. When police caught up to Frank to speak with him on the day Judy disappeared, he was wearing a torn down jacket. Detectives would later find feathers in Judy’s abandoned car.

With the search for Judith intensifying and the heat turning up on Frank, he put his kids on a bus to their grandparents house, signed away the rights to his property in Vermont, cleaned out his bank accounts, and vanished. Gone. 

And yet, it didn’t matter that all the evidence uncovered in the decade-long investigation pointed to one singular suspect. A suspect that investigators were unable to rule out. But for the two Chittenden County State’s Attorneys who could have brought charges against Francis Malinosky for the disappearance and presumed death of Judith Leo-Coneys, all the compelling evidence in the world was not enough. Without recovering Judy’s body, there was no evidence of murder or any crime at all. 

State’s Attorney Kevin Bradley told the Rutland Daily Herald that they didn’t charge Frank because he couldn’t disprove that the two of them, Frank and Judy, didn’t just take off together, “As ridiculous as that may seem.”

Ridiculous, indeed. A loving mother of a toddler son, a dedicated teacher… Not to mention, she’d broken up with Frank and was dating someone new. He’d previously threatened her life and held her captive at gun point when she refused reconciliation of their relationship. Running off together seemed like the least likely of scenarios, but if they couldn’t prove it wrong, it remained a snag in the State’s case against their prime suspect. And so the case stalled. No body. No crime. No charges. No arrest. That was that.

But the new detective assigned to her case did not roll over and give up. Detective Sergeant Leo Blais had become an absolute hound dog about Judy’s case. Saying in the Rutland Daily Herald, quote, “I’m a pain in the ass when I’m on something. I keep bugging people. I have my style. I documented everything, interviewed everyone I could, even a cab driver who picked up Malinosky the day of the murder and had since moved to Singapore.” End quote.

His dedication proved to be exactly what the case needed to finally move forward after so many years sitting stagnant. Detective Sergeant Leo Blais finally found the man who’d been evading detection since that day he put his kids on a bus to grandma and grandpa’s house. Leo Blais found Frank Malinosky.

Finding Frank

The name Francis Malinoski popped up in the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles database. It seemed Frank had tried to get a driver’s license in Salt Lake City at one point during his travels. Detective Blais was on the first flight out west, quietly arriving in Utah so as to not spook Frank into running. But Frank was long gone. No sign of him in Utah.

Still, it was the first sign of Frank since he took off in late November 1979. Surely following his trail, tracking him down and having a conversation with the man would be top priority? I mean, he’d been on the lam for years following the mysterious disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, you’d assumed police would at least want to ask him WHY?

But that wasn’t the case. Prosecutors appeared disinterested in tracking him down. They reasoned that Frank was unhelpful during his three interviews as part of the original investigation. He lawyered up and didn’t answer a single question. Former State’s attorney Keller said that if Frank retained a lawyer the first time around, it was reasonable to assume he’d retain one again. 

“The case is in limbo right now,” Detective Blais told the Rutland Daily Herald, “It is up to the prosecutor as to what should and shouldn’t be done.”

The case standing in limbo meant much more than just an investigative hold up. The lives of Judy’s family were in a continuous loop of wondering what happened, where she was, and if they’d ever get her back. Judy’s mother Patricia said in 1989 that she believed Frank Malinosky murdered her daugther, “I live with this morning, night and noon… We wish the state would do something; either they are going to get this guy or they aren’t.”

Despite years of waiting with no action in the case, there was hope on the horizon for Judy, her family, and the investigation. It came when State’s Attorney Kevin Bradley resigned in 1989.

Episode Source Material