The Disappearance of Nadine Mendonça (Massachusetts)

When 25-year old Nadine Mendonça went to her favorite hang out in downtown Fall River, Massachusetts for a casual night out, neither she nor her family could’ve expected it would end the way it did.

To this day, Nadine’s family is still trying to figure out exactly what happened that July night in 1991, and after over 30 years, where exactly Nadine could be now.

If you have any information about the 1991 disappearance of Nadine Mendonca, please contact Massachusetts State Police Lt. Ann Marie Robertson at 508-961-1918 or submit an anonymous tip online or by texting “Bristol” to 274-637.

About Nadine Mendonça

What Shawn Mendonca remembers most about his big sister is her natural musical talent, and her all around good vibes personality. She was just easy to be around.

“She was an awesome singer and guitar player. She’s been in a few bands,” Shawn continued. “She was good natured. She liked to make people laugh, and she was always on the ball with things. Very active and very friendly.”


She was born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, and though not technically a small town, Nadine knew just about everyone. Her older sister Angela Mendonca told me Nadine made friends easily.

“She definitely embodied the concept of ‘a stranger is a friend that I haven’t met yet,’” Angela said.

Angela painted a vivid picture of Nadine for me – this 4 foot 10 woman who had to sit on a pillow to see over the dash of her car and who could make anyone laugh by changing the lyrics to a song into a comical parody. Nadine also had a way of catching people off guard, like they underestimated her in some way. That was especially true for the unsuspecting bar patrons she’d challenge at the pool table.

Angela laughed as she spoke, “She had her pool cue and she used to go play and I watched her play and she was very good. I mean, she used to beat most of the guys. They’d all walk away pissed off because this itty bitty little four-foot-ten, barely a hundred pound pipsqueak of a girl was beating all of these big old bubbas at the game of pool.”

She had her own custom pool cue and darts, and that’s how she liked to unwind on the weekends with her friends.

“But she was a bit of a party girl too,” Angela explained, “You know, back in those years that kind of was the norm, especially for that part of New England, being in an old mill town that was basically becoming an obsolete place to be. A lot of the mills had closed, work was difficult to come by,and  many people were moving away because you couldn’t find work.”

In the summer of 1991, Nadine was 25-years old and in a place where a lot of mid-20-somethings find themselves – trying to figure out what comes next. She was laid off the previous year and as Angela said, it was hard for Nadine to find work. In the meantime, she was living off unemployment checks and had gone back to school to earn a certificate in secretarial skills so she could hopefully find an office job. But Nadine was starting to feel the walls of her hometown closing in on her. She wanted to start fresh somewhere new.

Angela lived in Texas at the time. She was a single mom and going back to school while working full time, so she told Nadine that she could come down to Texas to live with her and help with the baby until she got on her feet. Texas held the promise of a clean slate for Nadine, so she decided to take her sister’s advice.

By early July, Nadine’s flight was booked. She was going to stay with her parents for a few weeks before flying out on August 6, so she started packing up her things, selling off furniture, and planning ahead for the big move. Her brother Shawn was there to help. He remembers their conversations as normal. Nothing seemed wrong. Nadine was looking forward to the new beginning waiting for her in Texas.

Even though it’s been nearly three decades since Shawn last saw Nadine, he remembers that time in their lives well. It’s not easy to forget when he’s spent year after year replaying the events of that summer, and trying to make sense of the one night in July of 1991 when their entire lives were plunged into a tailspin.


On the evening of July 12, 1991, Nadine started her Friday night attending the wake of a friend, and then she stopped back into her apartment to change outfits and freshen up for a night out of pool and darts with the girls.

It was Nadine’s weekend routine – friends, pool, partying – but it’s possible that this Friday night was unique or more significant than any previous Friday night, because she’d be wheels-up for Texas soon. It would’ve been one of Nadine’s last hurrahs at her usual spot in Fall River. Nadine frequented a bar on Pleasant Street called Jake’s Saloon, and witnesses placed her there for several hours on Friday night and into the early hours of Saturday morning.

Now, Nadine was very close with her family. She called her parents every night to check in when she got home, and if it was a late night out like this one promised to be, she’d call them in the morning, too. Shawn told me that their parents heard from Nadine on Friday night – she last checked in around 8 p.m. before she left her apartment to head to Jake’s Saloon.

Nadine didn’t call in the morning as would’ve been typical or expected, so their mother tried to call her apartment but there was no answer. And this struck Nadine’s father Fernando as odd, so he drove by her place and noticed her car wasn’t parked outside.

This was strange, but the Mendonca family waited out Saturday night, expecting Nadine would call or stop in to visit her mother and father, but again, no Nadine. Another call to her apartment on Sunday morning went unanswered and even though it was out of character for Nadine to be MIA for over 48 hours, she was an adult with her own life. Her family thought there had to be an innocent explanation. So they tried to temper their concerns for a little while longer.

But by the morning of Monday July 15th, there was no more waiting.

“My dad and I went to the Fall River PD to report her missing,” Shawn said, “And that’s when the nightmare began.”

Search & Discovery

In the original missing persons report filed with Fall River Police on July 15, Fernando told the officer exactly what we know up until this point –  that he’d last had contact with his daughter around 8 p.m. on Friday, July 12 and that her car was missing all weekend. There are only a few notes in the remarks section of the report, but it appears Fernando also told police he’d spoken to a guy Nadine had been dating and he talked to Nadine’s landlord but neither had seen or heard from Nadine and they didn’t know where she was.

Now the notes on the original incident report are chaotic to say the least, but from what I can gather, it looks like Fall River PD started making calls on July 16, the day after Nadine was reported missing. The partially redacted record shows a series of phone calls to individuals in Massachusetts and Texas – some are marked “no answer” and others marked “answering machine”. But other than that, there’s no real substance to those phone calls in the meager 6 pages of case documents I have to work with.

The missing person report details what Nadine Mendonca was last seen wearing that night: a white sweater dress, black nylons, black shoes, and a purse, as well as a description of her car, a 1980 black Chevrolet Monte Carlo with red pinstripes. Shawn told me Nadine’s photo and that description of her car made the news the same week and the Fall River community was on the lookout for Nadine.

During that early phase of the investigation, police learned through witness interviews that Nadine was playing pool that Friday night at Jake’s Saloon, as expected, but she was also hanging out with some guy. They reportedly left together and went to New Bedford.

“And next thing you know it, she disappeared,” Shawn said.

David Weber reported for the Boston Herald that Nadine stayed at Jake’s Saloon until around 2 a.m. and then left with a guy in her car, reportedly to give him a ride home to New Bedford about 20 minutes away from Fall River.

Of course, Police identified the man Nadine left with that night and interviewed him. Fall River Police Captain Cathleen Moniz told the Boston Herald that the man was a “friend” of Nadine’s, and the “friend” was forthright with police, saying that Nadine did give him a ride home during the early morning hours of July 13 but she left after dropping him off. Captain Moniz said investigators corroborated the story and it held up… So by the sounds of it, police took his story as fact and moved on, trying to figure out where Nadine went next.

Locating Nadine’s car would’ve been key to tracking her movements that night, but it still hadn’t turned up almost two weeks after she was officially reported missing. The description of her Monte Carlo continued to run in the local newspapers and on Sunday, July 28, the details of Nadine’s car were front of mind for a local cab driver as she weaved through the streets of New Bedford.

Turning onto Weld Street, the driver took notice of a car parked on the south side of the road. It was a black Monte Carlo, and the driver’s side window was smashed out. The license plate confirmed it – this was Nadine Mendonca’s car. And what investigators found inside left everyone reeling with the fear that something truly terrible had happened to Nadine.

Nadine Mendonça’s story continues on Dark Downeast. Press play wherever you listen for the full episode.

Episode Source Material

  • Case file documents from the Fall River Police Department obtained via FOIA Request by Shawn Mendonca
  • Boston Herald: Search on for Fall River woman missing 2 weeks by David Weber
  • Boston Herald: Missing Fall River woman’s car found in New Bedford by Michelle Caruso
  • Boston Herald: Serial prosecutor targets DeGrazia by David Weber and Michelle Caruso
  • Boston Herald: Dad fears missing daughter may be serial victim by David Weber
  • Boston Globe: Police find missing woman’s car
  • NBC 10 I-Team: Police re-examine 1991 mysterious disappearance of Fall River woman by PARKER GAVIGAN
  • NBC 10 NEWS: Search for justice continues decades after disappearance of Nadine Mendonca by TAMARA SACHARCZYK
  • WPRI: The Highway Killings Timeline by Tim White
  • WBZ CBS Boston: New Bedford Highway Serial Killer Mystery Remains Unsolved More Than 30 Years Later