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Originally printed on Tuesday, January 29, 1985 ©New Haven Journal-Courier.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sometime after 10 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3, 1984, 19-year-old Joyce Stochmal left her home in Seymour, walking, to meet her boyfriend and get a ride to work at the Silver Hill Kennels in Ansonia, about four miles away. Five days later, police told her family that her body had been found in the water of nearby Lake Zoar. Her older sister Marianne, a member of The Jackson Newspapers staff, has written a deeply personal account of those terrible days almost six months ago. An arrest has not yet been made.

Murder strikes home

By Marianne Stochmal

Staff Reporter

joyce headshot

My sister was murdered.

Nothing could ever happen to cause more pain to me. If there at least had been a way to prepare for it, a way to cushion the blow…

It still seems like a nightmare, as if it really didn’t happen, couldn’t possibly have happened.  Then it starts to sink in again, and the pain flares up more intensely than before.

The only comfort is knowing that the rest of the family feels it as well. Not as I feel it, yet in the same capacity. That sense of loss. That emptiness. That unwholeness. The rest of us are together, yet together, we are alone.

I’m still trying to determine what it is I feel. “Murder” is such a horrifying word. But not nearly as much as when it has ripped into your own life. Personally.

Murder is, after all, a personal thing. It tears right into the heart of your being. It interrupts and disrupts your life. It changes you, makes you someone you never were or ever would’ve been. Separates you from the person you are and makes it so that you can never be that person again.

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You don’t ever truly laugh. You don’t ever truly feel. But you cry. Oh, how you cry. It seems as if the tears will never cease, and your eyes have nothing else to do anyway.

SATURDAY, Aug. 4, 1984

When this whole horrible thing started happening, I felt it alone. This is not precise, when I consider that Joyce’s boyfriend, Dana Gramolini, and Pat and Ed Marin, her bosses from the kennels, also were worried that she was missing. But I say I felt it alone, because all of a sudden this sick feeling started to take root in me, never letting up, even to this day. It only kept growing, taking me over.

I wasn’t worried when Ed called Saturday morning to find out if Joyce was around. My mother wasn’t sure she’d recognize the voice exactly, and so thought nothing of it.

I wasn’t worried when I called the kennels Saturday night to find out if our plans to go out were still in effect, and no one answered the phone.

I left a message on the answering machine, and still I wasn’t worried.

SUNDAY, Aug. 5, 1984

On Sunday, I felt that something was wrong. Dana showed up at our house, minus Joyce. It just didn’t look right. But I never got to talk to him; before I had the chance, he had left.

I called the kennels to talk to Joyce, assuming she was working. It wasn’t unusual for her to spend the entire weekend there, working or baby-sitting or socializing. Pat and Ed were such good friends of ours; it was only natural for her to be there a lot.

I spoke to Pat when I called. The tone of her voice stirred that sick feeling in me again. Joyce had not shown up for work on Saturday morning. Not like Joyce at all, I thought. So did Pat and Ed. And Dana. I pushed the thought of anything bad happening to her right out of my mind. No way. But that left only confusion. Too difficult to sift through, but too obvious to avoid.

My first reaction was to take a walk. Walking always helps me clear my head. Maybe I’d be able to figure out where she night have gone or just how she might be thinking. For all I knew, she could just be angry with Dana. Maybe she had decided to go to a friend’s or somewhere where she could cool off.

The area around where we live is so “country.” We live up the hill from the Housatonic River, and down the hill from a reservoir, with an area we call “the falls” in the woods behind our house and a brook down the road and across the street. I’ve always said that I love where we live and would never want to live anywhere else, because I think it’s perfect. So much of nature all around to grow up in and enjoy. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t conceive of anything shocking happening here.

I walked all the way down to the river first. When I think about it, this was a symbolic action in itself, because whenever I – or Joyce and I – took a walk, it was always up to the reservoir. Just to sit on the bridges, talk or sit and stare. But that feeling inside made me go down the hill first. Looking for something. For her, even. I didn’t even know. It was just a reflex action.

I stared out at the water for a while, getting more upset, as I thought about some of the horrible things that could have happened to her. I refused to believe any of it, but the fear that I felt, just thinking about it, was too real.

After that, I started walking back home, but decided to keep going past the road leading to our house and continue up to the “res.” What the hell, maybe she was there, just sitting, thinking – and waiting for me to come and talk to her. Just maybe. I prayed all the way up that hill.

Once the stone bridges were in sight, and Joyce wasn’t, I stopped praying. Maybe out of shock. Maybe just because I saw it was no use.

I went over to “my” bridge and sat down on it, staring at the low banks of the res. I kept asking myself over and over, “ Where are you, Jerse, where are you?” and I didn’t get a single answer. But I didn’t give up. I kept thinking positive thoughts, just because, somewhere along the line, somebody had told me that it works. Then I went home.

Home. To an empty room. Mine and Joyce’s. I was upset, but I didn’t know what to do. I finally decided to alert my parents to what I knew – that Joyce had never made it to the kennels Friday night.

Their reaction was initially one of anger. Understandable. They assumed she was pulling some kind of stubborn stunt.

MONDAY, Aug. 6, 1984.

The anger turned to fear Monday morning. My mom came into my room to look for Joyce, hoping she had come in during the night. Seeing the empty bed, mom decided to call the Seymour police. The next thing I knew she was on her way downtown to file a missing person report. I was frantic.

Again, I felt compelled to take another walk, in search of anything. I was hoping I could find some clue, but I was also scared to death of finding her in a state I know I couldn’t have borne.

When I got back home again, I did not know what to do. Dana had taken off from work to look for her, to no avail. Pat and Ed went looking after they closed the kennel for the day. Nothing. All along I kept “talking” to Joyce, telling her to give me some idea of where she was. And I kept saying to her, “I know you’re all right, I know you’re somewhere, I just have to find you. You just have to help me find you.” I couldn’t imagine her any way but alive. It was inconceivable to me that she could be anything else.

One by one, everyone came home from work and asked if there had been any word. My brother Paul called the Seymour cops again to see what they’d been doing, what progress they’d made.

When he hung up, he asked me for a recent photograph of Joyce, so he could bring it down to the station. I remember mom saying that the police had told her earlier they hadn’t heard anything yet – and that was a good sign she was still alive. I remember thinking the exact opposite. If she were alive, she’d call me.

I ran up to our room and checked through every photo album I have, looking for a recent picture. The best I could find in such a hurry was a picture I had taken of Joyce at Bungay Field last summer when we’d gone to a softball game. It was one of three I’d taken – she wouldn’t look at me the first time I snapped it, so I got a nice picture of the back of her head. Then she turned and made a goofy face. Finally, she let me take it. It’s one of my favorite pictures of her.

bungay dodge dart

Paulie brought the photo down to the station. The rest of us went about our regular duties, waiting for some word. I kept expecting the phone to ring, with Joyce on the other end, saying, “Mare, come pick me up.” Just as she’d done so many times. I guess that was wishful thinking.

TUESDAY, Aug. 7,1984.

Tuesday was even worse. By this time my father was too upset to go to work. I couldn’t stand to be around anyone – seeing that kind of pain in someone you love is unbearable – so I went outside and sat on our front steps. And waited. And cried. Even though we didn’t know anything at this point, I cried. I thought about so much – so many good times and so many plans we had made. It wasn’t possible to me that we weren’t going to have the chance to fulfill those dreams.

I didn’t want to leave the yard, just in case. I felt helpless. I felt as if Joyce needed me, even then, and I wanted to be ready. Then I saw my father starting to walk down the hill. I ran after him to see where he was going. We decided to go together, to walk the route Joyce had taken, to see if we could find anything.

We picked up every scrap of paper, looked through the weeds and brush – and found nothing familiar. We walked all the way to the Texaco station, about three miles from our house and not far from the kennels. We finally decided to call mom to pick us up. The walk back would’ve been too difficult, not because of the distance but because of the load we were bearing.

One thing I remember clearly, from the beginning when we first had reason to be afraid, is my father saying, so many times, in such a worried-out-of-his-mind tone, “Where is she?” and then, as if he were pleading to her, “Joyce. Where are you?”

I can still hear that in my mind, and it still hurts to hear him say it.

I’d lost my appetite from the beginning, and by Tuesday afternoon I’d gone to our room and was just crying on our bed (Joyce and I shared everything, our clothes, our room, and the double bed – we weren’t just close sisters, we were best friends.) I was begging for her to be somewhere, when my dad came in. He told me to calm down and come downstairs – there were policemen who wanted to speak to us all. I looked out our bedroom window and saw an unfamiliar car and a town police car.

I tried to compose myself, washed my face and slowly walked downstairs. Seymour police Sgt. Jimmie Steelman and two state troopers – Detective Shaun Byrne and a woman – were in our living room. I can’t remember if they introduced themselves; I imagine they did. They asked me to describe what Joyce was wearing the night she disappeared.

This I was able to do easily because I’d taken my own inventory (anticipating its importance) Monday, I think.

I described her outfit – two different pairs of jeans were possible, since I couldn’t find two of hers – and listed whatever else I thought was a possibility. I told them she’d had on a light green tube top, with a white crinkle blouse over it. To my embarrassment, Detective Byrne asked me to put on a tube top, so they could see how it was worn. Wanting to be of as much help as I could, I did so, although I put my bikini top on underneath it. Joyce hardly wore her tube tops that way. She had always been more carefree than I.

I also told the detectives positively that Joyce always wore her rings. I remember she had told me once, joking, that she felt naked without them.

After the detectives had finished asking questions, they dropped the bomb. They told us that a body had been found in Lake Zoar. Detective Byrne said it was that of a young woman in her late teens or early 20s, about 5 feet 6 or so, but that the body was “bloated beyond recognition.”

None of us said a word, except mom. She pointed out Joyce’s high school picture on the mantle and asked Detective Byrne if he thought the body looked like Joyce. He answered that he wouldn’t say so. That didn’t make us feel any better.

The detective told us that the body would have to be identified through dental records and that they wouldn’t know positively until the next day at about noon. But they did want to come back and talk to us again later that night. They left at about 8:30, and came back a couple of hours later.

They questioned all of us individually – first mom, then dad, my oldest brother Charlie, all of us. And Dana. They kept trying to learn the circumstances that led Joyce to walking that night.

It’s so hard to explain it and make people understand. You’d have to know her, know all of us, and know the area in which we live.

We’ve walked the roads around our neighborhood since we were small children. We used to deliver newspapers – sometimes even at night. The thought of this kind of thing never entered our minds. None of us was ever afraid of anything like that. It was an absurd impossibility.

Joyce decided to walk that night by choice. But she hadn’t meant to walk the entire distance to the kennels. I feel I can speak for her in saying that she intended to begin walking up the hill and meet Dana as he was on his way down to pick her up. When we figured out the timing later, it seemed that Dana had been only minutes, maybe seconds, late.

That Tuesday night was the longest night of my life. Probably in all of our lives. I honestly don’t know how the days were passing – we were eating, we weren’t sleeping. It seemed as if we didn’t do anything.

No one went to work Wednesday. Some of our cousins came over and waited with us. Waiting to know for sure if the body was Joyce was pure agony. I cried. I prayed. I talked to her. I talked to God. I reasoned that she had too much to do yet – she hadn’t even gotten her driver’s license. She was going to be a veterinarian. We were going to go cross-country – to Colorado. It wasn’t right. She should have the chance. And I didn’t want the chance without her.

Two state policemen pulled up at about 1 p.m. – but they said nothing. They asked me to go with them to see if a pocketbook they’d found alongside the road could be hers. They described it, and I recognized it without even seeing it – but not as Joyce’s. It was one dad and I had seen on our walk. I went for the ride anyway, just to be sure.

All the time in the car, I was dying to know the results. I was scared to death to ask though, and even more scared to hear if it was Joyce.

They brought me home after I assured them that the purse wasn’t Joyce’s. Then they left again. It was hard to tell how much more waiting we could do. I felt that I was going to burst.

I went to my room and started rummaging through some of her things and found a basket filled with little mementos and personal items that Joyce had apparently put away. I became frozen with fear when, one by one, I found her three rings.

Since the detectives had told us that the body had been found with no jewelry, I had been able to keep a positive attitude. Joyce wore earrings regularly, and Joyce wore her rings. I couldn’t hold in the moans and cries when I found her high school ring last. It seemed like a definite and final sign. That ring had been my last defense against the horrible possibility. I won’t say my last hope, though, because I never gave up hope.

The same two detectives came back late that afternoon. Our whole family, including cousins, was scattered both inside and outside the house. If the previous night ad this day had seemed long, these final few moments were intolerably so. Paulie was standing on the sidewalk to the house, so he was the first the detectives met up with. It bothered me that they didn’t come straight into the house to my parents. My father and I stood at the front door, waiting, but no one dared to ask. And they seemed to waiting for just that, for us to ask. I heard them quietly as how our parents were “holding up.”

What can you say?

Finally, my father said, “It’s Joyce, isn’t it?” And immediately he answered his own question. “It’s Joyce.”

Detective Byrne looked over at us, nodded and said, “Yes. It’s Joyce.”

After that, it seemed we all headed off in our own directions. I heard cries and yells and moans and a loud crash like somebody punching a wall, but it didn’t seem real. It seemed as if it were all coming from a different place. Someplace far away.

I suppose none of us knew what to do. Some of us had already been preparing ourselves for it, all day, believing that it was inevitable. But I had refused to believe that someone with so much to offer, someone with such a fabulous future ahead, would be taken away from all that now. I could not believe that I would be forced to do without her for the rest of my life.

I asked the detectives if there could be some mistake. I asked how they were so sure.

“Dental records” was their proof-positive.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the relatives and friends phoning and coming to visit after the news got out. The disbelief at seeing Joyce’s picture and name splashed all over the newspapers and the television screen was intense. It was good, I suppose, to have so many people around to help us get through it. But after a while, we all seemed to feel that we just wanted to be left to deal with it on our own, together.

It’s taken some time for the numbness to go away. I’m not even sure it’s completely gone. I don’t think it can ever be completely gone.

When I think that, at the base of the whole thing, was Joyce’s sense of responsibility and her consideration for the family and for Dana, it hurts even more. She would be sure she was at work that Saturday morning, for 6 o’clock. By staying overnight at the kennels, she would not have to awaken anyone to drive her so early.

Looking back at the whole ordeal, there are so many “ifs” … if she hadn’t decided to walk that Friday night… if Dana had been able to arrive earlier… if she hadn’t promised to be at work so early.. .It almost seems that what happened was “supposed” to happen and that nothing could have stopped it. It was uncontrollable.

Now all the ifs and maybes mean nothing.

Now my family and I are trying to pick up the pieces. My youngest brother, Joe, in trying to comfort me, has said, “Mare, we’ve gotta stick together. We all have to stick together.” It’s difficult, and it’s still hard to believe. But we’re trying to go forward.

Joyce was no quitter. One thing we’d always tried to do was to get the most out of life. Our time together was brief, but we’re all thankful for the memories. She’s alive, every day, in our hearts and minds. She always will be.