Details of Disappearance
Atwell was last seen at the Staten Island Developmental Center (formerly called the Willowbrook State School), the institution for mentally disabled children where she worked as a physical therapy aide, in the New York City borough of Staten Island, on October 24, 1978. She arrived at 6:00 a.m., parked behind Building 47 and locked her car.
Before she could get from the parking lot into her building, two female employees inside the building heard a male voice outside say "Come on, come on," and Atwell say "No, you'll beat me." Then she screamed. The employees called the police after hearing the screams. The parking lot was still dark, the streetlights were off, and it was difficult for them to see anything.
When authorities responded, they found Atwell's tan pocketbook, one earring, one black shoe, three black coat buttons and half her set of dentures scattered on the ground at the left side of her car, which was locked. Her keys turned up in the woods about seventy-five feet away.
An extensive search of the area turned up no sign of her; Atwell has never been seen or heard from again. A composite sketch of the suspect in Atwell's disappearance is posted with this case summary.
Andre Rand is considered a possible suspect in Atwell's disappearance. Photos of him are posted with this case summary. Rand, whose birth name is Frank Rashan, was convicted of the 1987 kidnapping of Jennifer Schweiger, a twelve-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who was murdered on the grounds of the Staten Island Developmental Center near his campsite, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He was not convicted of her murder; the jury could not reach a verdict on that charge.
In 2004, Rand was convicted of kidnapping seven-year-old Holly Hughes
; the child disappeared in 1981 and was never found. He is also believed to be connected to the disappearances of Alice Pereia
in 1972, Tiahease Jackson
in 1983, and Henry Gafforio
in 1984, among other missing persons' cases. There is speculation that Rand may have been involved with the 1977 disappearance of Audrey Nerenberg
All of the victims vanished from the Staten Island area, with the exception of Nerenberg. Rand reportedly confessed his crimes to a cellmate in prison and compared himself to the serial killer Ted Bundy.
It hasn't been proven that Rand was involved in Atwell's case. She lived in the 80 block of Schuyler Avenue in Newark, New Jersey in 1978. Her presumed abduction remains unsolved.