Joanne Elaine Coughlin

Coughlin, circa 1974; Robert Shughart

  • Missing Since 12/27/1974
  • Missing From Youngstown, Ohio
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Female
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 06/24/1953 (70)
  • Age 21 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'5 - 5'8, 120 - 140 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description A green leather jacket, a black shirt, a blue tie, blue jeans and tan shoes.
  • Associated Vehicle(s) Four-door 1968 Ford Fairlane with the license plate number H4482G
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Brown hair, brown/green eyes. Coughlin may wear eyeglasses or contact lenses. Her hair was cut short at the time of her disappearance.

Details of Disappearance

Coughlin was last seen in Youngstown, Ohio on December 27, 1974, when she supposedly went to the European Health Spa on Boardman-Canfield Road. She had plans to meet her boyfriend at his home on Indianola Avenue later that night, but never arrived and has never been heard from again.

Coughlin's family last saw her on Christmas Day, at the family celebration. Her family was close-knit and she had three sisters. She worked on December 26 and December 27, and told her coworkers she was going to the European Health Spa that night, as she had just gotten a membership for it. Her niece, however, doesn't believe she ever actually went to the spa. She claims the signature on the sign-in sheet doesn't match Coughlin's handwriting and that nobody actually saw her at the facility.

The same day she disappeared, Coughlin wrote a check for her latest life insurance premium and mailed it. Nothing was missing from her apartment on Ohio Avenue except a small suitcase, her hair dryer and her bathing suit. Her four-door 1968 Ford Fairlane with the license plate number H4482G vanished with her, however, and has never been located.

Shortly before her disappearance, Coughlin had received a $3,400 settlement from a car accident. Her mother decided to alert her daughter's bank about her disappearance, in case anyone tried to withdraw money from her account, which was at the Struthers branch of the Mahoning National Bank.

On December 31, four days after Coughlin was last seen, a young woman went to the Mahoning Bank branch located on Midlothian Boulevard in Boardman, Ohio and attempted to withdraw $800 from Coughlin's account at the drive-through window. The teller asked the young woman to come inside and call her mother, and the woman said she would do so after she arrived in Florida. The teller told her she would have to go to the Struthers branch of the bank to withdraw the money, and the young woman left. The teller noted that the woman appeared to be under the influence of drugs.

She never went to the Struthers branch, and the manager of the Boardman branch assumed Coughlin had gotten in touch with her mother and that her disappearance was a family matter. He called Coughlin's mother a week later after he saw an article about Coughlin in the newspaper and realized she was still missing. The signature on the withdrawal slips the woman signed at the Struthers bank branch didn't match Coughlin's writing, and when the teller who handled the transaction was shown a photo of Coughlin, she said the woman who tried to withdraw the money wasn't her.

In January 1975, police were able to identify and interview the woman who had posed as Coughlin at the bank, and she told them she had gotten the bank book from two men who waited at the nearby Point Market while she tried to withdraw the money. The men she identified, Robert Shughart and Howard Rodriguez, were both known figures in the local drug scene. A photo of Shughart is posted with this case summary. By 1975, he was already suspected of having some involvement of multiple murders that had happened in the local area. The killings were believed to have been retribution because all of the victims were either police informants or had spoken about local drug activity.

Authorities tracked down and questioned Rodriguez and Shughart, but they said they knew nothing about Coughlin's disappearance. Shughart said Rodriguez had stolen Coughlin's belongings from a drug party in Warren, Ohio. The men were released after being questioned. Authorities think Coughlin may have known them. Both were acquaintances of her former boyfriend, a married man who used heroin and had gotten Coughlin acquainted with the local drug culture. By the time she went missing, she had ended her relationship with that man and was seeing someone else.

Coughlin's mother wanted to press charges against the woman for the attempted fraud, but the police asked her not to do so, saying she was a potential witness in whatever had happened to Coughlin and they wanted to "keep her in the background" to see if she would provide any more information to implicate Shughart and Rodriguez. Neither of the men, or the woman, were ever charged in the attempted bank fraud or Coughlin's disappearance.

Authorities theorize she was robbed and murdered and her car, with the body inside, was disposed of in a quarry near the Pennsylvania border. Witnesses reported seeing a screaming woman being dragged out of a car and into a truck on Villa Marie Road, near the quarries, at 10:00 p.m. on the day Coughlin disappeared, but the woman couldn't be identified as Coughlin and searches of the quarries have turned up nothing.

Coughlin lived in 1400 block of Ohio Avenue at the time of her disappearance and was an aspiring actress who performed at the Youngstown Playhouse and took tap dance lessons. She was declared legally dead in 1985. Her case remains unsolved.

Investigating Agency

  • Youngstown Police Department 330-742-6921

Updated 6 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated December 8, 2020; six pictures added, details of disappearance updated.