Cold case: Upstate New York nurse disappears into the night without a trace
11/17/2017 5:03 pm PST
Fifteen minutes. That's all it should've taken for Audrey May Herron to drive from work to home. Just fifteen minutes.
How did a beloved mother of three simply vanish while driving? Where could she have gone?
It's a mystery 15 years in the making.
A Crime Watch Daily investigation to uncover once and for all what really happened to a young mom who drove onto a darkened roadway and was never seen again.
She was who you wanted taking care of you if you had to be taken care of: Nurse Audrey, compassion personified.
"She loved being a nurse. Her patients and her coworkers loved her," said Sonsia Court, Audrey May Herron's eldest daughter.
"Audrey was spunky and full of energy, that's how I remember her," said Audrey's friend Corrina Dedrick.
And Audrey fit a lot into that life. She had her oldest daughter Sonsia when she was just 22, and while things didn't work out between her and Sonsia's father, they remained friends. And before long, Audrey would have a second chance at love.
What about when you met Jeff, what did you think of him?
"I liked him," said Audrey's mother Shirley Olmsted. "She seemed like she was [happy]."
His name was Jeff Herron, and he was the son of a wealthy golf course owner. The playful young couple quickly made the leap from going steady to dating more permanently, eventually getting married.
"Even though I wasn't his child, he still considered me his daughter and I still called him dad," said Sonsia.
And soon, there were others calling Jeff dad and Audrey mom: A little girl named Katie and a newborn son named Quinn following two years after that.
Sonsia was 10 years old when it happened. Katie was just four. It was the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, August 29, 2002. Audrey was working a late shift at the medical center while Sonsia and Audrey's mother Shirley were just returning from a month-long trip to Florida.
"I talked to her that night. She was coming over in the morning," said Shirley. "She was excited that Sonsi was back and she was going to see Sons and me."
And there was even more reason to be excited. Around 9:30 that night Audrey reportedly called Jeff with big news: she had just gotten a raise.
"She was happy she had gotten that raise and everything was good," said Audrey's friend Marie Parker.
But everything wouldn't be for long. Sometime in the middle of the night, Audrey's husband Jeff says he wakes up to find the bed empty.
"Jeff called me at 6:30 that morning and asked me if Audrey was there. She hadn't come home," said Shirley Olmsted.
A call to the medical center where she worked revealed she left at the normal time the night before at 11 p.m. So where was she?
Jeff continues making calls to family members, and around 9:30 that morning, word finally reaches Audrey's stepmom, who knows just what to do.
"Audrey Herron's stepmother worked at division headquarters for the state police, and I received a phone call here at around 10 o'clock in the morning," said New York State Police Sgt. William Fitzmaurice.
State Police Sgt. Fitzmaurice and Lieutenant Peter Kusminsky are two of the first to arrive, and after talking to everyone at the house, they formulate a plan of action.
"We had a helicopter by that afternoon to check that route," said Sgt. Fitzmaurice. "If there was an accident or something along those lines, which most of them turn out to be on something like this, you usually want to get there as quick as possible."
It had rained the night before, and the road leading to Audrey's home was heavily wooded and poorly lit.
"At that point we thought she had gone off the road," said Corrina.
But an exhaustive search of the 12 miles between Audrey's work and home turns up no skid marks, no dented guard rails, no sign of Audrey or her 4,000-pound Jeep Grand Cherokee at all.
So investigators question the last known people to see her alive: her co-workers.
"After the shift at 11 o'clock they came out that door, walked down through parking lot here," said Lt. Kuminsky. "Her car was parked next to the black Chevy, the second spot in. They said their goodbyes and they drove out this road."
One of Audrey's co-workers goes on to tell police that Audrey was right behind her when she left the parking lot for about five minutes. After that, the co-worker says, the two took different paths, which left 10 minutes between that point and when Audrey should have arrived home.
"There were officers there and Jeff was distraught," said Shirley Olmstead. "I didn't tell Sons anything then because I was still hoping."
But Shirley can only keep it from Audrey's oldest for so long.
"I remember as soon as my grandmother told me that she was gone, I just knew she was really gone, and I think that's probably when my childhood kind of ended, is then," said Sonsia.
So where did Audrey Herron go? If she didn't leave on her own, and if it wasn't an accident, that only left one option.
"Something horrible happened that was nefarious," said Lt. Kusminsky.
In the days after Audrey Herron went missing, New York State Police scoured every inch of the road she traveled that night.
"Nothing ever came up," said New York State Police Sgt. William Fitzmaurice. "We've probably re-searched it a dozen times just to make sure that somebody didn't miss something. Each body of water along that route, even a route that she may have taken as a detour or change for some reason."
At what point did you say this is not a typical missing-person case anymore?
"Probably a few days into it when we didn't come up with the car," said Sgt. Fitzmaurice. "That is one of the most frustrating parts and most unusual parts of this missing-person case. The majority of missing-person cases, you will come up with the car dumped somewhere or in a parking lot somewhere."
And since everyone was convinced Audrey never would've just left on her own, all signs were pointing to foul play.
"We always start with the people who know them, knew the victim, and were close to them," said Lt. Kusminsky.
And that meant questioning Audrey's husband Jeff. Was he cooperative?
"Somewhat," said Lt. Kusminsky. "At times he was, and at times he was a little bit -- maybe not fully."
What did that mean? Unfortunately, neither Kusminsky nor Fitzmaurice would elaborate.
"He's been cooperative to a degree, I would classify it as," said Sgt. Fitzmaurice. "He allowed us to search [the house], very cooperative at the residence, no problems there."
Nothing came of that search.
And why would Jeff Herron want his wife dead anyway? Even if she had a life insurance policy, his family was wealthy and there didn't seem to be any of the other factors investigators often find in these cases.
Do you think she was having an affair?
"Oh God no, one of us would have known, you gotta tell one your girlfriends, you know what I mean? So no," said Audrey's friend Marie Parker. "She wasn't that girl."
And so, police continued to look elsewhere, even questioning the father of Audrey's first child Sonsia.
"My mom and him ended things when I was not even one years old, so," said Sonsia.
"Everything seemed to be fine at work," said Sgt. Fitzmaurice. Police did not find Audrey had any enemies.
But maybe Audrey wasn't the real target.
"All the little theories that come around, they don't make sense to me," said Marie Parker. "Even the Russian theory. They all think the Russian Mob took her."
The Russian Mob, for Audrey May Herron? Why?
"The golf course that Audrey's husband's family owned, the silent partner as they call him, was Russian," said Marie.
"There was a rumor that his father owed them money, and they were warning him, they took her to warn him," said Audrey's friend Corrina Dedrick.
And as farfetched as it seems, police did investigate.
"They left an officer there because they thought it might be ransom, that maybe someone would call wanting money," said Audrey's mother Shirley Olmsted. "So there was this officer that stayed one or two weeks."
But that call never came, and none of the other leads police were chasing seemed to pan out either. They drained lakes, they searched by air.
"We've done ATV, we've done dog searches, we've done an actual house-to-house where we talked to every resident or property owner within an 8-mile circle of her residence," said Sgt. Fitzmaurice.
But nothing led them to Audrey. And as weeks become months, even years, Audrey's loved ones had no choice but to settle into the new normal.
"My sister, she moved in with her biological father, so it was like me and my brother in my house, and my brother was really little," said Katie Herron. "He wasn't even 2 yet when it happened."
"It's definitely impacted her a lot," said Sonsia. "I think it's aged her a lot. She struggled, I would say much more than I have with it. She lost her daughter."
"It's a struggle," said Shirley. "It's a struggle."
But Audrey's family and friends refuse to accept that she can't be found. Each year, they organize fundraisers and other events to help keep her face out there.
It's an emotional subject for obvious reasons. But also, Audrey's friends say, because there's someone who should be joining them in the fight to find her who hasn't.
"We put our first fundraiser on, Jeff didn't go," said Marie Parker.
It's been 15 years since Audrey May Herron drove away from work and disappeared into the night.
Investigators say they suspect foul play, but that they still have very little to prove it.
"Just need that one lead, that one piece of information that points us in the direction we need to go," said New York State Police Sgt. William Fitzmaurice.
And police do still get regular leads, including one as recently as last year.
"Basically there was an indication that her body may be located at this location, along with possibly the vehicle," said NYSP Lt. Peter Kusminsky.
It was a promising tip, and cops investigated it thoroughly.
"We came here with a team of cadaver dogs and we did search the entire property and they picked a few places where we did excavate," said Kusminsky.
Police even went so far as to drain a large pond on the property. But like their other searches, it came up dry. No sign of Audrey or her vehicle.
"I would say there's definitely more than one person that knew about this," said Audrey's daughter Sonsia Court.
And for a lot of people in the community, at least one of those persons was, and still is Audrey's husband Jeff.
"My biggest question is why has not Jeff helped in the search?" said Corrina Dedrick. "On our part we were trying to just get her name out there. Why was he not helping us?"
That may be a good question, but cops say it is not nearly enough to point the finger of guilt at Jeff.
"It is hard for me to understand as to why he doesn't go to things more often, because I want to get my mom's face out there, but I think he sees it as he is protecting his children. And I think that's what he does by not going to these things so much and staying away from the news and the media," said Sonsia.
What about rumors Jeff took a polygraph test which came back inconclusive?
"I can't really comment on that," said Lt. Kusminsky.
Crime Watch Daily did reach out to Jeff Herron for an interview, but at the time he declined.
Do investigators have any persons of interest or suspects on the record?
"No," said Sgt. Fitzmaurice. "I would say that no one's been ruled out in this case."
And with that in mind, we decided to try one more time to get Jeff's side of the story. There was no answer at Jeff's residence.
But just down the road, we caught up with his father, Ron Herron, while he was out doing yard work.
How difficult has this been for Jeff?
"Oh, that changed his life tremendously. Yeah, he's survived through it," Ron told Crime Watch Daily.
A lot of people have pointed the finger at Jeff, thinking he may have had something to do with this.
"Yeah," said Ron Herron. "They're nuts. He hasn't got a bad bone in his body."
As for Jeff not participating in those searches?
"Well, you got that wrong. I mean not searching for his wife, that's totally wrong. But not going to a lot of these functions, that screws them up. For the kids and for him that just brings everything boiling, and he's stayed away on purpose," said Ron Herron.
And he has something to say about some of those other rumors as well.
Did Jeff Herron take a polygraph?
"Oh yeah," said Ron.
Did he pass it?
"Oh yeah," said Ron.
He says there was never a motive for Jeff to hurt his wife in the first place.
"Most problems in marriages come from money. They don't have that problem," said Ron Herron. "That was one of the things that we thought maybe going on, that she was kidnapped and, you know, we were going to get a phone call for ransom."
So then what does Ron Herron think happened to the mother of his grandchildren? Does he believe Audrey is alive?
"No," said Ron. "I don't feel her."
Where do you think the vehicle is?
"There's a good question," said Ron. "The only thing you can come up with with the vehicle after all this time never been found, it was either crushed, shredded, crushed, or her and the vehicle were put into a container someplace and shipped someplace."
Police do stress that until they get the right piece of evidence, nothing is off the table. But now they need the public's help.
"Probably the worst part of the case for me is not finding that car, that would at least give us another jump start into maybe where this case leads," said Sgt. Fitzmaurice. "It's a '94 Jeep Cherokee, black, it's a Grand Cherokee, it was a New York Liberty Plate and it's X233UV."
A fifteen minute drive. A fifteen-year-long mystery. The only certainty being that Audrey May Herron is gone. But today both of her daughters have found a way to keep their mom close, following in her footsteps to become nurses.