Details of Disappearance
Tricia left her family's Uptown apartment in Chicago, Illinois after school on May 7, 1982, and went to play with friends in the street.
She was playing with puppies on a neighbor's porch and then was sighted getting into a car with one or two men near the corner of Leland and Malden. Witnesses described the vehicle as a blue four-door 1979 Dodge or Pontiac car, with a damaged front passenger door and a license plate beginning with the letters "Q" and "R."
Her mother realized she was missing at 4:00 p.m. and the family started looking for Tricia. Her mother called the police a few times that evening, but the authorities didn't join in the search until 10:00 p.m. Tricia has never been heard from again and the vehicle remains unidentified.
Investigators believe the man Tricia was with was Marvin Pontarelli, who owned car matching that description. A photo of him is posted with this case summary.
He had an extensive criminal background, including charges of kidnapping, sexual assault and rape. People in Tricia's neighborhood recognized Pontarelli's photo, and three witnesses picked him out of a lineup as the man they'd seen with her on the day of her disappearance. One witness had seen him going into the Malden Arms Hotel with Tricia and another man.
Pontarelli was questioned about Tricia's case and took a polygraph, which he failed. He was charged with other offenses committed on the day of the kidnapping, not to do with Tricia but with other children in the neighborhood: contributing to the delinquency of a minor, indecent liberties with a child, child pornography, and various weapons charges. Authorities believe he may have kidnapped Tricia for prostitution purposes.
Three of Tricia's friends, aged between eleven and twelve, picked Pontarelli out of a lineup and gave statements about what he'd done to them on the day Tricia disappeared. They said he'd taken them to his apartment, given them beer and drugs, sexually assaulted them and forced them to engage in sexual acts, and photographed them. When police searched his apartment, they found 66 items of child pornography, including photos of the three girls, as well as guns, brass knuckles, tear gas, cattle prods and handcuffs.
Six months later, however, all charges against Pontarelli were dismissed after the victims failed to appear in court to testify against him. Investigators believe he paid their families to ensure they would not cooperate with the criminal case.
In 1984, the police in Arizona, where Pontarelli was living, found out he wanted to photograph a young, blonde girl having sexual intercourse with Larry Fassler for blackmail purposes. Fassler was a former inmate whom Pontarelli had met in a California prison, and he owned Pontarelli money. Chicago police found Fassler's address book, and an entry dated October 1982 had Tricia's name and home address in Chicago. Right under her name was Pontarelli's name.
In 1984, Fassler contacted the authorities in Arizona and said he wanted to be interviewed. He said he'd written the address book entry after being questioned about Tricia by police, and that he thought Pontarelli was the kind of person who would have been responsible for her disappearance, due to his sexual attraction to children and his history of violence.
In 1985, while Pontarelli was in custody in Arizona on unrelated charges, he was asked about Tricia and started crying. He claimed she was dead and buried on some property his family owned in Illinois, and claimed Fassler was responsible for his death. Weeks later, he changed his story and speculated Fassler had taken Tricia to Mexico. In fact, in was Pontarelli who had previously gone to Mexico with underage girls.
If Pontarelli was the person responsible for Tricia's disappearance, it's possible her body is buried in the foundation of Pontarelli Apartments in Chicago. Cement was being poured at the apartment complex at the time of her abduction. Pontarelli died in prison in 1994, and Fassler is also deceased.
Tricia's parents are divorced. She lived with her mother and stepfather at the time of her disappearance, but saw her father regularly. She was well-known in her neighborhood and was active in a local church. Her mother moved out of their former apartment later in 1982 and now lives in Missouri. Her father died in 2009, but her sister is alive and hopes for answers in her case.