After 25 years, wound of heart still unhealed

For daughters of a vanished woman, uncertainty is a way of life.

June 23, 2005|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

It never goes away for the three daughters of Nancy Snow - the longing for the telephone call that probably will never come, the nightmares about being slain, the guilt over enjoying anything, the chest-tightening panic over sending a child on a school outing for fear he won't return.

What also hasn't gone away is the sisters' desire to find the remains of their mother, who vanished a quarter-century ago from Annapolis, and to know what happened to her.

Snow's disappearance in November 1980 is one of the oldest unsolved and active homicide investigations in Maryland's capital. Her daughters hope a recently energized investigation, in which new information is trickling in - probably because of publicity - and in which prosecutors anticipate starting to call witnesses before a grand jury, will solve the case.

This month, the daughters decided to offer a $1,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of Snow's remains or the conviction of her killer.

In recent weeks, they have broken years of silence to make impassioned public pleas for help. Before that, Justine, the middle daughter, provided a DNA sample for comparison with remains in a national database of unidentified missing persons.

"You don't ever want to give up on someone you love so much," said Justine.

Mostly, she said, they want to bring their mother home. They want to bury her and have a service. They want to honor her memory, especially mark anniversaries of her passing, but they don't know when she died. They want to kneel at a gravesite to tell her they love her, bring flowers, bring their children. But for now, they talk to photos of a woman who is eternally 44 and giving them an effervescent smile.

The sisters, teenagers when they last saw their mother at an August 1980 sleep-over with their godmother, are now themselves mothers and close to the age Nancy Snow was when she disappeared. They do not live in Maryland and do not want their last names, addresses and other specifics published because of safety concerns.

Enduring shadow

They all have her smile, but they grew up with a gnawing emptiness and haunting uncertainties.

"There is this constant, anxious feeling - `Come on, Mom, call me, I'm right here.' It's a constant waiting; it never goes away for me," said Kimberly, the youngest daughter.

Her mother was trying to interest an Annapolis shop in selling the embossed cards Kimberly crafted - encouragement that boosted the teen's confidence.

Now, sending her own children on school trips is withering. "You get this real clenching in your chest, you hold them and you tell them that you love them because you don't know if you are going to see them again," she said.

She worries that her mother's disappearance has cast a pall not only over her view of human nature, but over her children. Still, she hopes that someone will provide a tip that cracks the case.

"Somebody knows something. Somebody heard something," Kimberly said.

David Cordle, chief investigator for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, said that after years pass, people sometimes reveal secrets they hid for decades.

"People change. Relationships change," Cordle said.

A former local talk-show host in Monterey, Calif., Nancy Snow spoke seven languages and had traveled around the world.

Snow and the girls' father were divorced, and the daughters lived on the West Coast with their father. Snow lived in downtown Annapolis, traveling extensively as a Republican political worker.

Chatty letters, postcards and phone calls to the girls from Snow's travels came nearly daily during the hectic weeks leading to the November 1980 election. She would return to Annapolis after the election. She loved them and would see them at Christmas. And what did Justine want for her Sweet 16 birthday?

Then, silence.

No birthday card, no gift, no call came in November from the woman described as a "level-headed socialite" in a news report about her disappearance.

"I sat by the phone all day just waiting for her to call. And she didn't," Justine recalled through tears. "She never would have let a birthday go past without a phone call. ... It was tough enough to be away from her, but that is when the realization hit."

Something awful had happened, Justine said.

Unexpected trip

According to newspaper clippings at the time, Paul T. Collins III, Snow's house-sitter, told the family and police that Snow left to make a boat delivery.

Collins reported that Snow told him she had met a man known as Captain Jay at McGarvey's Saloon, a sailing set hangout near her East Street home, on Nov. 8 or 9. Captain Jay hired her to help sail a ketch from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to the Caribbean, according to Collins.

He said Snow went home, packed a bag and got $1,000. Collins walked down the street with her, and she got into a white van. She left everything except what she was carrying in Collins' care.

Uncharacteristically, Justine said, she sent her family no notes about her travel plans and no contact information.

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