Jul 3, 2014
09:02 AMConnecticut Today
Father's Disappearance in Salisbury Still Haunts Daughters Seven Years Later
Every year, Allison Drew, a professor at the University of York in England, returns to rural Salisbury, Conn., to visit her father, Thomas, who had been a fashion designer in New York City before retiring to the sylvan setting at the edge of the southern Berkshires.
At least that used to be the purpose of her trip. For the last seven years, including earlier this month, she's come to check on his house, which the family still owns, and the status of his case with Connecticut State Police.
Thomas Drew disappeared on July 21, 2007, and despite the fact that he had full-time caregivers, no one knows how or why the frail elderly man with dementia walked away from his home and has never been found.
Today, the case is being handled by the State Police missing persons unit. It was transferred from the Troop B barracks in North Canaan to the specialty unit two years ago at Allison Drew’s request.
Lt. J. Paul Vance, public information officer for the state police, says that the case is updated when, and if, new information surfaces.
But over the last seven years those leads have been few and far between. Since the case was transferred to the missing persons unit, the police have re-interviewed all of the witnesses and dredged several ponds in the vicinity of the the isolated Drew house, based on a tip indicating that Thomas Drew’s body may be found there.
Nothing was discovered.
At this point, Allison Drew and her sister, Bettina, who lives in upstate New York, just want to “find and bury [their] father.”
“What I would like is for the state’s attorney to give complete confidentiality and immunity to anyone who would come forward with information leading to the discovery of my father,” Allison Drew said in a recent interview in Washington, Conn.
Since the beginning of the investigation, she has taken issue with the handling of her father’s case by police. She believes they were willing to follow only one line of inquiry—that her father had dementia and simply wandered away from the home (below).
Considering her father’s physical condition—he had cardio pulmonary disease and was described as having to hold onto pews when walking through church—Drew believes it’s impossible that he wandered into the woods surrounding the property and walked away. He would not have been able to get far.
“If he had gone out and had a heart attack we would have found him,” says Drew, which is why she believes something else happened to her father.
On her most recent trip back to Connecticut, Drew says she met with the missing persons unit for an update. She asked them to interview four witnesses who, she says, came forward with knowledge of the events in the years following her father’s disappearance. Drew calls the witnesses A, B, X and Y to protect their identities, and says the police did not properly interview them for information—just one piece of the case she believes was mishandled.
Thomas Drew’s primary caregiver, Mario Zecca, had the night in question off. He told investigators he went to pick up his girlfriend at the Metro North Rail Station in Wassaic, N.Y., and ate dinner at a restaurant before returning to the house, which was after Thomas Drew had disappeared.
Accordiring to Drew, Zecca said he left the house around 10 a.m. but in a later interview said he left at 3 p.m. She has pressed the police to figure out why the facts in Zecca’s account of the day changed.
Zecca could not be reached for comment. Police have never said he was suspected of any wrongdoing.
There were a number of phone calls made from her father’s house before and after his disappearance that Drew would like details about. Not all phone records were subpoenaed, she says. Emails were also not subpoenaed, according to Drew.
If they were, she believes they would be able to better establish a time line of events that night.
“If the detectives at the time had asked Mario for emails…we could have had a timeframe,” says Drew. “Nor did they get the credit card receipts to get a timeframe. Basically they did nothing.”
The facts that are known about that night leave many unanswered questions, and that is what Drew is looking for—answers.
Thomas Drew was last seen by his weekend caregiver, Catherine Paton, around 7:20 p.m., when he decided he didn’t want to watch the program on television and left the den. Paton had been sporadically caring for him for several months when Zecca had the night off. According to police reports, she continued to watch the show for 10 or 15 minutes before searching for Thomas Drew. She searched the house and the yard until Zecca returned home. Then they searched together. The police were called around 8:14 p.m. by an unconfirmed caller and they arrived on the scene around 8:30 p.m.
(Above, Tom Drew and his friend Larimore Hampton about a month before he disappeared.)
During that initial investigation and in the years following, the woods surrounding the Drew home were extensively searched and no sign of Thomas Drew has ever been found.
There are a slew of small details Drew believes the police missed during their initial investigation, including checking if her father’s jacket was hanging in the hallway when Paton indicated he had left the house with a jacket on.
According to Drew, the police asked Zecca to search his car, which he allowed them to do. They were not able to look in the trunk of Paton’s car because the lock was broken and Drew says she has documents obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) laws indicating the next day when investigators went to look in the car, Paton wasn’t home—and then police never followed up on checking the trunk.
Paton has pushed back in the past against Drew's line of thought. In a May 2012 letter to The Litchfield County Times, Paton wrote, in part:
The Tom Drew situation is being covered in The Litchfield County Times, a caring friend has told me. Reporters asked to interview me, and I agreed, against much good advice not to. For years, I have been counseled to keep quiet, because of liability issues.
I gave an extensive response to a deposition when the Drew sisters, Allison and Bettina, pursued a lawsuit against me. Without being able to prove any wrongdoing on my part, the attorneys discussed that I could possibly countersue for “vexatious litigation.”
Starting in 2008, Drew has been writing to the Connecticut State Police and state officials about the discrepancies she believes they have yet to address in the case.
“I was asking them to look into these matters,” she says. “It took me several years of writing those letters—lengthy and detailed letters. It’s incredibly difficult to be clear because it’s an emotionally stressful thing.”
Since the case has been transferred to the missing persons unit Drew believes they have done a better job, but says “these problems could have been avoided” if it had been handled by a specialty unit from the beginning.
Now, Drew is back in England awaiting any sort of break in the case that could bring her family some peace.
Lt. Vance says he understands how frustrating this must be for Drew and her sister because investigators haven’t been able to provide any answers, but he says the unit is doing all it can.
“I think the missing persons unit should continue to pursue these leads, keep it open and put out a public request for information,” says Drew. “All we want is to find our father. I don’t care about anything else.”
An attempt to reach Catherine Paton for this story received no response.