YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Youngstown police Detective Sgt. Dave Sweeney is not just looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
About a month ago, someone called him with information on the city’s oldest missing person case, the Dec. 27, 1974, disappearance of Joanne Coughlin, 21, who was last known to be heading toward a Market Street health spa in Boardman.
When Sweeney hung up the phone, she was no longer the department’s oldest missing person case.
Now, Sweeney is trying to determine the fate of Frank Cerimele, 21, who was last seen in July 1969.
Now he has to find two needles in the same haystack.
It is not lost on Sweeney that he received the information that Cerimele is missing when he was talking to someone who said they had information on Coughlin’s case.
But he said he doesn’t know yet what the connection is between the two, if there even is a connection, noting that the two disappeared five years apart.
Sweeney has been spearheading a renewed emphasis on missing person cases that began in 2018. He was able to determine the fate of a missing Austintown woman from 1998 that city police initially investigated because her husband worked in Youngstown.
With help from police in Utah, where her remains were found a few months after she disappeared, it was determined the woman was murdered. No arrests have been made in the case.
The first thing Sweeney had to do in the Cerimele case was determine if he was missing. There was a missing person report filed for him in July of 1969. But he wasn’t sure if he had ever been declared a “returned missing” or if his fate had somehow been determined.
Sweeney was able to find out that Cerimele, who last lived on South Richview Avenue on the West Side, had never been heard from again, so the case became an active missing person case.
Cerimele was last seen on July 14, 1969, according to the initial report. His car, a 1968 Pontiac Grand Prix, was found in the parking lot of the old International Tavern at Poland Avenue and Center Street a couple of days after he was reported missing. The building is still there today.
That was a contrast to the Coughlin case; her car was never found.
Although Cerimele is missing, he was never entered into any of the missing person databases that law enforcement frequently use, such as the state Attorney General’s website, which has a section for information on missing persons and unsolved homicides, and the National Missing and Unidentified Person System, better known as NAMUS.
Now that Sweeney knows he is missing, he has entered DNA information for Cerimele into NAMUS, which can be matched to remains found across the country.
NAMUS has helped the city solve other missing person cases, such as the former owner of the Avalon restaurant, who was last seen on the railroad tracks by the Mahoning River behind the Covelli Centre. It was dental records submitted to NAMUS that were able to confirm his identity in 2013 over a year after he was fished out of the Ohio River by authorities in West Virginia.
Sweeney said Cerimele had some “run ins” with police but was never in any kind of major trouble.
The original detectives, Gerald Brace and Peter D’Alesio, told “The Vindicator” at the time that they suspected foul play in Cerimele’s disappearance from the start.
The paper noted in a story in its July 22, 1969 edition that witnesses told police Cerimele was especially fond of his car and would not leave it somewhere overnight. The paper said the car was found with the windows open and a door unlocked. There was no sign of a disturbance in or around the car, which was parked in the back of the parking lot near a bluff that leads to a set of railroad tracks behind the old Republic Steel plant.
The paper did not say if any tests were done inside the car for fingerprints or other evidence.
It also appeared as if wherever Cerimele was going, he wasn’t expecting any trouble. The last thing he was wearing was a pair of bermuda shorts, a plaid shirt and beach slippers, the paper said.
The story may not have received much play for awhile because the city was dealing with riots and had the National Guard helping police keep order in the city that summer. The papers were filled with stories on firebombings and curfew arrests, mostly on the South Side in the Hillman Street area.
One thing Sweeney said he is banking on for both the Cerimele and Coughlin cases is that because the cases are so old, someone who has a troubled conscience carrying around what they have known over the years might be ready to finally talk.
He did say he thinks there is someone who knows what happened to Cerimele.
“I think people have it in their minds,” Sweeney said. “I don’t know if it’s because of the COVID or they’re getting older, but they may want to get some things off their chest.”
Anyone with information on Cerimele can call Sweeney at 330-742-8268; send an email to email@example.com; or, if they wish to remain anonymous, they can call CrimeStoppers Youngstown at 330-746-CLUE.
This story is part of a series of cold cases that WKBN is examining.