WILKES-BARRE — For the 14th year in a row, family and friends will hold a candlelight vigil tonight for Phylicia Thomas.
They will gather at Nanticoke’s Patriot Square at 6 p.m., and they’ll sing “Wish You Were Here.” Pink Floyd’s 1975 hit was a favorite of Thomas, who has been missing since Feb. 11, 2004.
This year, however, Thomas’ relatives feel they may have the strongest leads yet in the quest for answers in her disappearance — strengthened, they believe, by reports from individuals who came forward to talk with reporters following a recent Times Leader story about the case.
Thomas’ mother, Pauline Bailey, believes her daughter, then 22, was killed while attending a party inside a house trailer and dismembered in a barn on Timber Lane in Hunlock Township. That’s based on what Bailey and her friends were told by some people who attended the party.
It is a theory that has been investigated by State Police, and a presumption that remains open, Trooper Stephen Polishan, a member of the Criminal Investigations Unit, told the Times Leader for a Jan. 20 story.
Reached for this story, Trooper Tom Kelly, spokesman for State Police Troop P in Wyoming, said the agency’s investigation into Thomas’ disappearance remains active, but he could not comment further.
Focus on property
As reported in that Jan. 20 story, Bailey, together with friends Judy Fisher and Kevin Ryan, also believe Thomas’ remains may have been buried in a vegetable garden or burned and disposed of somewhere on a 25-acre site where the trailer once stood.
After the story, several people who had been inside the house trailer months after Thomas’ disappearance reached out to the Times Leader. Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of physical harm, those individuals said they observed that floorboards were missing in the bedroom and kitchen sometime around the spring of 2004. Later, when the trailer was unoccupied, gasoline was poured throughout the trailer, sources told a reporter.
Efforts to locate John Anthony Neary Jr., who resided in the house trailer where witnesses told Bailey the party was held, were unsuccessful in connection with the January story and with this report. Neary is believed to be living in the Scranton area, but his current address could not be verified and a cellphone number for him is no longer in service.
No one has ever been charged in the case. And the only person ever publicly named as a suspect — Steve Martin, who lived less than a half-mile from the trailer and was seen with Thomas the night of the party — committed suicide in 2005.
Focus on the Timber Lane property has continued, however, but with inconclusive results.
The 25-acre site was sold in December 2015. After the sale, the house trailer was razed and debris removed. All that remains at the trailer’s site are tire ruts in the ground and a cinder-block foundation for a well.
Following the sale, the new property owners allowed Bailey to search the area. In 2016, separate searches were conducted on the property using animals from Malvern-based Search and Rescue Dogs of Pennsylvania: one on behalf of Bailey, a second for State Police.
During the first search, cadaver dogs gave indications at certain areas of the property, suggesting they may have detected decomposing human remains. State Police took one of the same dogs back to the site two weeks later and no hits were recorded. The dog’s handler said he couldn’t explain why no hits were recorded on the second search.
Reports about party
Bailey and her friends say they were told by individuals who attended the party that Thomas was taken into a bedroom by four men and raped, then killed.
The party was attended by 17 people, and two or three left when they heard Thomas’ cries for help, Bailey believes, based on witness accounts.
Bailey reported her daughter missing to State Police at about 5:30 p.m. Feb. 13, 2004, about 41 hours after Thomas’ boyfriend, Ed Rudaski, claimed he last saw her walking out a door of a residence they shared on Route 118.
According to previous police accounts, Rudaski told investigators he was awakened by Thomas when she arrived home from work between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on Feb. 11, 2004. Rudaski claimed he told Thomas there was beer outside on his all-terrain vehicle, then fell back to sleep.
Efforts to reach Rudaski have been unsuccessful.
Bailey and Fisher believe Thomas and Rudaski were picked up by Steve Martin, 32, and driven to the party at the house trailer.
In a 2016 interview with Crime Watch Daily, a syndicated television program, Trooper Kelly said Rudaski had been interviewed by troopers “several times,” was being cooperative, and that “everything he’s said to us was checked out and appeared to be true.”
Kelly also told the television interviewer that Thomas went to a party that night, and she was last seen leaving the party with Martin and another male, whom he did not identify. The other male was dropped off, Thomas continued with Martin and “was never to be seen again.”
Probe still open
Martin took his own life at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill on Aug. 10, 2005, where he was serving a sentence on an involuntary manslaughter charge for causing a fatal vehicle crash in Wilkes-Barre in December 2004.
State Police said at the time Martin was a “person of interest” in Thomas’ disappearance.
Bailey, Fisher and Ryan said they have continued their own investigation to find Thomas, as they believe police ended their probe when Martin killed himself.
Kelly reiterated last week that the State Police investigation remains open.
“Until the case is closed, everyone is considered a person of interest,” Kelly wrote in an email to a reporter. “I can’t comment on any specific person while the case is still open.”
Kelly said anyone who has information on the case is encouraged to contact PSP Wyoming at 570-697-2000.