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1984 missing-teen case haunts Amherst police July 1 anniversary spurs call for help

If Nancy Scamurra is alive today, she's 41 years old, and she spent the last 27 years on the run, in hiding, perhaps, with a new identity.

The disappearance of 14-year-old Nancy Scamurra from her Amherst neighborhood, on July 1, 1984, continues to baffle -- even haunt -- some veteran and retired Amherst detectives.

"My gut tells me she's no longer alive, but we always hold out hope," said Detective Lt. Joseph LaCorte, commander of the Amherst Police Special Victims Unit.

It's one of three cases that sat unsolved for years in Amherst, sticking in the craw of longtime detectives, along with the bike path rape case and the 1991 stabbing death of a Wendy's night manager on Transit Road.

Of those three, only the bike path case has been solved.

So what happened to Nancy Scamurra, who was last seen walking toward a busy street on a summer evening in a suburb known for being safe?

"It's still just a big question mark," Detective Sgt. Michael N. Torrillo said.

As the 27th anniversary of her disappearance nears, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is asking for the public's help and rereleasing an age-progression "photo" showing what she could look like now.

And the Special Victims Unit is opening up the cold case.

"We are actively perusing the whole file, going over old leads and looking at some personal issues that came up during the investigation," LaCorte said. "We're going to go back and reinterview all family members who can be located for any input they may have."

Amherst police have spent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of man-hours trying to find the girl.

Nancy had an argument with one of her siblings late that afternoon or early evening, before she left her Scamridge Curve home and was seen walking toward North Forest Road, detectives said.

The time was about 9:30 p.m. She was never seen again.

Nancy was 5-foot-6 and weighed about 150 pounds, with brown hair, blue eyes, dimples, freckles on her nose, a half-inch scar under her chin and calcium buildup on her right knee.

The story of Nancy Scamurra's disappearance also provides a look at how few tools police had at their disposal in finding a missing child 27 years ago.

There were no Amber Alerts. No Internet. No electronic message boards on area highways. No television crawls alerting the public quickly. No social-media sites. No, or few, state clearinghouses for disseminating information on missing kids.

"Back then, you pretty much had Teletypes that you typed up and sent out, and you hoped someone read them," LaCorte said.

So police relied on their own shoe leather, canvassing door to door and using police dogs to search nearby fields. And the girl's mother put up fliers looking for information.

Back in 1984, it also was much more difficult to get immediate action in a missing-child case. "In the old days, it was not uncommon for police agencies to have a waiting period before they would take a report on a missing person, and it varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction," said Melinda C. Stevens, director of the National Center's Missing Children's Division.

Federal law now requires police to put such information into a national computer base immediately.

Various detectives have slightly different views about what happened to Nancy, but they seem to agree she probably didn't run away on her own.

"A 14-year-old girl from Williamsville didn't just disappear, leave her home and start her life all over again in a different town," retired Assistant Police Chief Timothy M. Green said. "We've never come up with anything that showed she tried to re-establish her identity in any way. I don't see a kid from Williamsville doing that in 1984."

Torrillo feels the same way. "It's not [common] for a kid to run away with no personal items," he said. "So I think it would be more logical that it was someone that she had contact with or someone she knew."

Detectives have said that through their extensive investigation, they have found no evidence or strong hint of abduction by a stranger. Statistics show that the number of cases of kids being abducted by strangers is quite small, detectives noted.

And if Nancy had been killed and her body hidden somewhere, it would have have been more difficult to identify her remains. She disappeared long before the widespread use of DNA, and investigators lacked good dental records.

However, both the National Center and police have put her case into NamUs (the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System).

While the trail clearly has gone cold after 27 years, that doesn't mean the case can't be solved.

Police hope someone -- whether it's an old friend, a neighbor, a family member or someone else she confided in -- still knows something that could help solve the case.

And maybe someone's conscience will prod that person to come forward, after looking into the eyes of an image showing what Nancy Scamurra might look like today.

Stevens noted that such an image is not supposed to be an exact portrait. It uses a science-based technique on how bone structure changes, along with reference photos of parents and siblings.

"These forensic artists can create an image that may trigger recognition in people who may have seen that person," Stevens said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the National Center at (800) THE-LOST (843-5678) or the Amherst Police Special Victims Unit at 689-1393.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com