Thirty-five years later, missing family case still a mystery
February 17, 2012 By JOHN ROCHE
An age-enhanced image of how Timothy Guthrie Jr. and his sister Julie Guthrie might look today. He was 3 years old and she was 6 years old when they disappeared from Katonah 35 years ago with their mother, Leslie Guthrie, pictured here in a photo from the late 1960s.
On Feb. 5, 1977, Leslie Guthrie got into a car with her young son and daughter and drove off from the family’s Katonah home, never to be seen again.
Now, 35 years later, the search for the mother and her two children continues, although their disappearance remains as much a mystery as it did the day they were last seen.
“A case likes this never ends unless it’s solved, because the case never ends for the family,” Detective Matt DiBiase of the Bedford Police Department said this week, just days after the anniversary of the disappearance. “It remains an active investigation.”
There have been few leads in the three and a half decades since the trio went missing, and none that ever went anywhere, according to the Bedford police. But Chief William Hayes and Detective DiBiase are hoping that age-enhanced photos of Julie, who was 6 when she disappeared, and her brother Timothy Jr., who was 3, might lead to information that could crack the cold case.
“The age-enhanced photos that were created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children are intended to depict what Julie and Timothy Guthrie Jr. might look like today,” Detective DiBiase said. “Because they were so young when they went missing, they may or may not have any idea of what the circumstances were in 1977. Perhaps these photos might lead to someone recognizing them, or even Julie and Timothy recognizing themselves.”
A Guthrie family photo of Julie, 6, and Timothy Jr., 3, taken before both children and their mother went missing in February 1977.
Leslie Guthrie was 29 when she picked her kids up about 1 p.m. on Feb. 5. She and her husband, Timothy Guthrie Sr., were separated, but by all accounts, there were no apparent signs she was planning to take off for good. When she drove away from the family’s home at 7 Grandview Avenue in a 1974 Ford Maverick, it was the last time anyone ever reported seeing the young mother, her two kids or the white car with the green top.
“There was never even a trace of them after that,” Detective DiBiase said last week.
Mr. Guthrie didn’t become concerned when the kids didn’t come home that night, because it wasn’t unheard of for them to spend the night with their mother in White Plains, where his estranged wife was living with her mother. When he called the Bedford police to report them missing about 7 p.m. on Feb. 6, about 30 hours after he watched them drive off for an afternoon together, an investigation was launched that still remains active to this day.
“Timothy Guthrie Sr. was cleared back then, and is not considered a suspect or a person of interest in the disappearance of his wife and children,” Detective DiBiase said. “He was thoroughly investigated back then, as any spouse would be in a case like this, but he was fully cleared.”
In fact, Mr. Guthrie not only fully cooperated with the police investigation into his family’s disappearance but also hired a private investigator and spent significant time and money trying to locate them on his own, according to Detective DiBiase.
“He basically spent his life savings trying to find them, even so far as flying two detectives from our department across the country with him to pursue a lead,” the detective explained. “Nothing ever came from that, nor from any other information we received over the years.”
If someone went missing today, doing so without a trace — voluntarily or otherwise — would be more difficult, according to police, because of how anyone can be tracked by computer usage, cellphone signals, credit cards, ATM withdrawals, even video cameras on roadways and elsewhere in the region.
Driver’s licenses and other identification were simply paper documents in 1977, Detective DiBiase said, “so it was a lot easier to assume a different identity than it would be now.” There were no fingerprints on record for her or the children.
Mrs. Guthrie did not withdraw a large amount of money before or after picking up her kids, not did she take any of her personal belongings or clothes, according to police. “She didn’t do anything or say anything that would lead anyone around her, family or friends, to think she might be leaving for good with her kids,” Detective DiBiase said. “And nothing ever turned up that would indicate any sort of foul play or accident. There was just nothing at all.”
Mr. Guthrie eventually moved from Katonah, and lives out of state. Leslie Guthrie’s mother died apparently without ever knowing what happened to her daughter or grandchildren.
Still, the Bedford police press on with their investigation, said Detective DiBiase, who took on the cold case in 2004.
Two cardboard file boxes containing all the paperwork and other items related to the Guthrie case sit atop a shelf across from Detective DiBiase’s desk. Occasionally, he’ll pull the boxes down and go over the contents, hoping something will jump out at him.
“It comes and goes in terms of the attention on the case, but it never goes away,” he said. “It’s always there.”
From time to time, the investigation seems to pick up steam, only to lead to more dead ends.
In 1993, other detectives chased down a possible development when Leslie Guthrie’s mother started receiving odd calls from someone who knew basic information about the case. It turned out to be a relative with emotional problems who could not have been involved in the 1977 disappearance.
In 2006, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children opened a file on the Guthrie children, but dropped it soon after. Because the children weren’t the subject of a custody fight and there were no allegations of mistreatment, the center, known as NCMEC, determined the case didn’t fit the necessary criteria.
But in 2009, NCMEC reopened the case, and created age-enhanced photos of Julie and Timothy Jr., and also distributed fliers about the case nationally and online.
“In the year or two after that, we got maybe two dozen leads from all over the country because of NCMEC’s involvement in the case, but nothing ended up being of substance or value,” the detective said. “We haven’t gotten any calls about it since late 2010.”
Detective DiBiase said that although DNA evidence and tracking was not in place in the 1970s, DNA believed to be that of Mrs. Guthrie and possibly one or both of the children was recorded in the fall of 2006. “We got some DNA off two toothbrushes that she and the kids might have used that we had from the original investigation,” he said. “There was DNA from three people on two toothbrushes, and that was sent to the University of North Texas, which is the central location for DNA testing. So far, there have been no hits from that, but now it’s in the national database.”
Although Detective DiBiase said he’s hopeful that the age-enhanced photos or the attention from NCMEC around the 35th anniversary of the disappearance might result in some leads, he stops short of expressing optimism that the case will ever be solved.
“I just don’t know,” he said. “It’s been so many years. One of the things about this case has always been that we have nothing to go on. Nothing. That’s unusual. So the same questions remain today, 35 years after, as they did right when it happened. Did she just take off with the kids? Did she intend to just spend the day with her kids and something happened to them? It’s just so wide open.”
The Guthrie case is one of two open missing persons investigations in the Bedford Police Department, both assigned to Detective DiBiase. The other involves the disappearance of a Bedford Hills business owner, George Primavera, who went missing from a parking lot on Adams Street on March 17, 1988.
He said he’d like to solve that case, too, but most of all, he’d like to be able to call Mr. Guthrie and tell him what really happened to his wife, daughter and son.
“It bothers me, and I guess it always will, unless it gets solved,” Detective DiBiase said. “This case originally belonged to another detective, Ted Wyskida, who is retired now, and it still bothers him. In fact, he and I talked on the phone last week on the anniversary. There are just some cases that stay with you.”Anyone with information about the case is urged to call the Bedford Police Department at 914-241-3111.