Montgomery Detective Solves 1995 Disappearance

By David Snyder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Hundreds of hours of shoe-leather police work by one detective, with an assist by DNA technology, have solved a 10-year-old missing person case that has culminated in the arrest of a New Jersey man in the slaying of his wife, Montgomery County police said yesterday.

Stephen Alfred Vanderbeek, 51, of Ramsey, N.J., has been charged with first-degree murder, third-degree murder and aggravated assault in the 1995 killing of Cynthia Louise Vanderbeek, 47, police said.

She was reported missing in spring 1995 by her sister, Sandy DiFranco, and mother, Camille Catchpole, of Germantown. Because the missing woman had no fixed address at the time of her disappearance and it was unknown where she was when she disappeared, it was not clear which jurisdiction should investigate the case, said Montgomery Detective Robert Nichols.

So, Nichols said in an interview last night, he decided to take up the case himself. He stayed with it through promotions and moves to other sections of the department, DiFranco said in a telephone interview last night from her home in West Palm Beach, Fla.

"Without him, this case would have never been solved," DiFranco said. "What I learned from this was that when adults go missing, it tends to just go by the wayside. I was lucky because I had somebody who cared."

DiFranco contacted Montgomery police in April 1995 after her sister failed to arrive in Germantown for a visit. Stephen Vanderbeek arrived without his wife, and DiFranco said she became suspicious immediately.

For the next nine years, Nichols pursued the case, but Cynthia Vanderbeek remained missing. A break came in 2004, when Nichols visited the Doe Network, an Internet site devoted to missing-person cases. There he saw an artist's reconstruction of the face of a woman whose body had been found in a wooded area of Fulton County, Pa., in 1995.

"It resembled Cindy, so I contacted Sandy DiFranco, gave her the Web site address and she concurred," Nichols said.

Nichols arranged for a DNA sample from Cynthia Vanderbeek's family to be compared with the unidentified remains.

It was a match.

On Thursday, police arrested Stephen Vanderbeek outside Kinchley's Tavern in Ramsey. He was being held yesterday without bond in the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, N.J., awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania, police said.

Nichols said that the moment he called DiFranco with news of the arrest "was one of the best phone calls I've been able to make in my life."

"There were 10 years worth of frustration and not being able to find what I was looking for," Nichols said. "I got to the point where all I wanted to do was find Cindy and give [her family] some answers. To be able to turn around and get an arrest warrant is icing on the cake."

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