Olmstedville, a tiny hamlet in Minerva in southern Essex County, has lived with a mysterious disappearance for 30 years.
When June Marion Collard went missing in 1980, many townspeople suspected foul play.
She lived on Trout Brook Road with her husband, Thomas, and their three young children: Tommy, 9; Tammy, 8; and Candy, 7.
Mr. Collard told police his vehicle broke down and his wife got a ride with a person named Mike, according to Press-Republican news reports from the time.
He said he and Mrs. Collard had separated, and she was dating someone else.
Mr. Collard also told police he last saw his wife in Johnsburg, some nine miles away, and that she and Mike went to Texas.
But neighbors in this small community weren't so sure.
Stephen McNally grew up in Minerva and remembers the time well.
Now a town councilman, McNally said Mrs. Collard was a quiet and unassuming woman who rarely left the house.
"Everybody assumed something bad happened to her because she wasn't a traveler. No one I'm aware of believed (Mr. Collard's story). There was always a suspicion. She wasn't out in public very often.
"Over the years, her disappearance gets brought up, and people always felt her husband killed her. I know they dug up some basements in town over the years."
The Collards' old house on Trout Brook Road is owned now by Brian Warrington, who works for the Town Highway Department.
Police visited the home several times in the past, as recently as early this week.
"They were actually living here when she came up missing," Warrington said from his home Wednesday.
"One clue they got from somebody led them here, to dig around in the cellar. There was a pile of rocks in one of the corners. They found some bones in there, but they weren't human bones."
AFRAID OF HUSBAND
Warrington, who was 23 in 1980, said most folks didn't find truth in Mr. Collard's claim that his wife left town.
"She was pretty quiet. Nobody thought she went to Texas with another guy because she was just so afraid of Tom.
"There were very few times you saw her out. I know she was a good mother. No one believed she would have taken off and left her children behind."
Bruce McGinn was 26 when Mrs. Collard went missing.
"She was a good mother; that's why I think the investigation had traction," the Minerva highway superintendent said.
"Right from the word go, you heard people saying he killed her. Because she wouldn't leave. But there was no proof."
The disappearance remained a mystery never wholly removed from memory.
"It was shocking," Warrington said, "but everybody knew Tom and that he was a nutcase from the start. I'm sure, when she came up missing, within a week, pretty much everyone thought he killed her.
"I don't think she would have left those children," Warrington added.
"It was strange, too, because her daughter had her mother's glasses in school within two weeks of the disappearance. And (Mrs. Collard) was nearly blind. She wouldn't have left without her eyeglasses."
Tom Collard was working in the woods at the time, Warrington remembered, in a wood lot off Route 28, an area some locals suspected might be the burial site.
TALK OF THE TOWN
Closing the 30-year-old murder case brings some relief to years of unease.
"It is a small town; it just doesn't happen here," Warrington said.
"(Conviction) will be a sigh of relief."
"It's been a long-standing part of conversation in town," McNally said, "the mystery of what happened to her."
He recalled that Mr. Collard remained in town for quite a period after the disappearance.
"The kids lived here for a while, but then they moved out," Warrington said.
"A spot in my heart goes out to the kids," McGinn said. "At least they know. I would want that."
E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: firstname.lastname@example.org