Ethel Louise Atwell, age 47, went missing from Staten Island, New York on October 24, 1978.
Ethel left her Newark, New Jersey home at approximately 5:30am, arriving at her job at the Staten Island Development Center (formerly known as Willowbrook School) at approximately 6:00am. Just after 6:00am, two employees of the center contacted authorities when they reported hearing screams from the parking lot.
Police responded, and located Ethel’s locked car, parked behind building 47, along with a pocketbook, a half set of false teeth, three black coat buttons, and one earing scattered around the car. Ethel’s keys were later located in the woods, about 75 feet from the car.
Police conducted a search using helicopters, dogs, and several ground crews. All the buildings at the center were searched, as well as the wooded areas surrounding the center. Security staff assigned to both entrances stated that no vehicles had left the grounds during that time. The search did produce a pair of panties, but it was not known whether they belonged to Ethel. I think, if they still have them, it might be possible to extract DNA and do a comparison? That could lead to a specific area to search for her remains. But if they were hers, where were the rest of her clothes?
Another employee of the Staten Island Development Center, Shin Lee, had gone missing earlier in 1978, and was later found deceased in a shallow grave on the center grounds.
Over the years, there has been much speculation that Andre Rand was involved in Ethel’s disappearance, as well as the murder of Shin Lee. Andre Rand worked at the center as well, and is now believed to have been involved in the abductions of several children on Staten Island, beginning in 1972. Ethel Atwell and Shin Lee are the only adults that have been considered victims of Rand, and many have argued that Rand was a pedophile and would not have attempted such an act against an adult.
Another theory was presented the day of Ethel’s disappearance, as another employee of the center claimed she had seen a specific patient, whom she feared, in the parking lot shortly before 6:00am, and as a result, she had been frightened and waited in her car for some time. Another employee, however, claimed that this patient had been in bed until 6:50am.
All the reports I have read on this case state that nobody saw anyone near Ethel because it was still dark, and they only heard a woman yelling “I’m not going with you!” and “You’ll hurt me!”, followed by a scream.
There is, however, a sketch in her file, and I think it does resemble Andre Rand.
Andre Rand is serving life in prison following convictions in the cases of Holly Ann Hughes and Jennifer Schweiger. A group called Friends of Jennifer still searches the grounds of the former school for other Rand victims.
If anyone is interested, there are copies of reports and newspaper articles on NamUs, hiding in the “Documents” section.