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34 years after Olean mom disappears, police get anonymous letter

Josephine Despard disappeared Feb. 7, 1984, in Olean. Police received a letter on the anniversary of her disappearance and want to talk to the person who wrote it. (Olean Police Department)

Thirty-four years after an Olean woman went missing, an anonymous, handwritten letter was delivered to the Olean Police Department.

The letter, which arrived on the anniversary of  Josephine Doris Despard's disappearance on Feb. 7, 1984, isn't a confession or a map, said Capt. Robert Blovsky.

But Blovsky, who joined the police department 10 years after Despard disappeared and is now the head of the police department's criminal unit, hopes that whoever wrote the note could help solve a cold case that has haunted Olean for more than three decades.

Blovsky said he believes there's a chance the person may have information that could help investigators finally find her and give her family some peace.

"I think they wanted to know that there was more we should be looking into," Blovksy said. "I wish I could talk to this person. Obviously, this person knows more. I would like to pick their brains."

Blovsky emphasized that the writer of the letter isn't in any trouble. And he said, "it can all be confidential."

Despard was 26 and the mother of a 6-year-old girl, according to the Olean Times Herald, which first reported the news about the letter. She was separated from her husband. Her maiden name was Cottone. On Feb. 7, 1984, Despard "left her mother’s North Clinton Street home at 5 p.m. with a male acquaintance from Franklinville," the Times Herald reported. They were going to swap some stereo equipment but instead went to the Olean Center Mall for coffee, police said. The man told authorities Despard met some friends there and that he last saw her at about 6 p.m. and that he left alone.

Police have not publicly identified the "male acquaintance" but think there's a good chance he was involved in her disappearance.

"He was the last with her. He tried to flee over the Canadian border but got arrested and got sent back. Everything looked suspicious regarding what he did afterward," Blovsky said.

Later that year, the man Despard had met died by suicide. A couple of years later, his mother also died by suicide.

Despard and the man were friends but not "boyfriend/girlfriend," Blovsky said.

Blovsky said there's a box filled with documents about her case at the Olean Police Department.

"It really is the only cold case that I have," he said. "We have a big file on it. It's been passed along. We have other unsolved cases but not of this magnitude."

In all likelihood, what police are looking for is a body, Blovsky said.

"Remains, probably," he said. "I hate to be morbid but that's probably what it is."

But he knows finding her body and learning what happened to her could bring some closure for Despard's family, including Despard's daughter, sisters and other relatives.

Blovsky would not reveal the contents of the letter, but did say it was handwritten and addressed to him and three now-retired investigators. It was postmarked from Buffalo.

He hopes that the writer will call him.

"I would say that obviously, this is bothering you. I would like to help you with this. Get this off your mind and get this off your chest. Let me help the family and get some closure for them."

Blovsky posted the information about the letter on the department's Facebook page in the hopes of reaching the writer, posting his name and office number:  716-376-5673.

"I will meet you anywhere you wish and can keep it confidential," he wrote. "Please contact us."

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