Barbara Jean Monaco: Missing for 40 Years
Forty freaking years.
Still no body, no answers, no one in prison.
Forty years since 18-year-old Barbara Jean Monaco came to Virginia Beach for a week’s vacation with her sister and a friend. Forty years since she vanished along Pacific Avenue between 15th and 21st Streets.
Forty years since some local boys, not much older than she, likely abducted her and spent the night in rural Virginia Beach assaulting the pretty majorette who’d just graduated from high school.
A night that ended in her death.
For 40 years Beach police have been fairly certain they know who was with her that night. They’ve tried repeatedly to get that “handful of persons of interest” to tell them what happened to the missing girl.
“They’re still refusing to talk,” sighed Det. Kristy Curtis of the Virginia Beach Police Department’s Cold Case unit on Wednesday, noting that although this is almost certainly a homicide, the “BJM case” as they call it, is still categorized as a “long-term missing person” file.
It's one of the oldest open cases in the city.
“We know they’ve talked about it at parties, to their spouses and friends," Curtis says of the guys suspected of being with her that night. “But no one wants to come forward and talk to us.”
Police have always said the number of those involved is what makes this case so unique. It’s unusual for four or five people to keep their mouths shut for decades about a killing. Usually someone tries to clear their conscience. Or blabs to the wrong person.
But not these local lowlifes.
It won’t be long before everyone who played a part in the drama that surrounded the disappearance - or rather homicide - of Barbara Jean Monaco on August 23, 1978 is dead.
So far, two of the “persons of interest” in the case have died. One killed himself on August 22, 2001 - the eve of the 23rd anniversary of her disappearance. That was just hours after he submitted to a polygraph from Beach police and gave them details about Barbara Jean that had never before been made public. He agreed to return to the police station the next day to tell them everything he knew about what happened to the girl on that long-ago August night.
Instead, he ran a hose from the exhaust pipe to the cab of his truck and turned on the ignition.
The other died of cancer in 2016.
Earlier this summer, former Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Andre Evans, who made the decision in April of 1979 not to grant immunity to an informant in return for details about the homicide, died at the age of 85.
In May of 2011, Joseph Monaco, Barbara Jean’s father, died at 88 without knowing what happened to his youngest daughter.
The family placed a photo of Barbara Jean in his casket.
Even the Aloha Motel at 15th Street, where the girls stayed that week, is gone. Razed in 1999.
Pauline Monaco is 88 - she was 47 the last time she saw her daughter - and still living in Derby, CT where Barbara Jean grew up. Her other daughters, Theresa and Joanne (who was with Barbara Jean at the Beach that week) live nearby.
Joanne Monaco-Stec remembers exactly where she was 40 years ago today. She was frantically looking for her younger sister up and down the resort strip. Barbara Jean had left the Aloha Motel on foot shortly after midnight. She had a date with a bartender at Peabody’s, who was about to finish his shift. Somewhere between the Aloha and the bar on 21st Street, she disappeared.
“I went to the police first thing in the morning,” Joanne recalled yesterday in a phone interview. “I knew something was wrong. We were that close. We wore each other’s clothes. I knew.
“But the police said I had to wait 48 hours to file a missing person’s report.”
By then Barbara Jean was probably dead. The trail was cooling. And tourists who might have seen something that could help police had left the city, unaware that a girl had vanished.
Pauline and Joseph Monaco rushed to Virginia Beach with photos of their missing daughter. The police promptly lost them, Joanne says. Those pictures of their pretty brunette eventually made the front page of the local paper and the evening news.
I’ve written about this case almost every year since I got to The Virginian-Pilot in 1984. I’ve met the Monaco family, prayed with them at their church in Derby and I try to touch base with them every August.
These good people deserve answers. The creeps who killed their daughter deserve justice.
If you have any information about what went down on August 23, 1978, call the Cold Case Unit’s Tipline at 757-385-4241. Or send me an email and I’ll pass it along.
“We would love to provide some solace to the family,” said Curtis. “Now is the time for someone to come forward.”
Long past time.