Nothing seemed unusual the day 34-year-old Maria Procopio left QVC, her place of work, in West Chester. It was Friday, Sept. 24, 1999. Procopio told friends she had plans for the weekend. She was spotted shopping in Newtown Square and then she disappeared.
Investigators say they don't believe Procopio planned to leave for a long period of time. She owned a home in South Philadelphia. Police say she had a cat that she never left for long periods without having a friend check on it. But, she vanished without asking her best friend to care for her cat.
Investigators say those weekend plans mentioned by Procopio could have included the man who gave her a gold, one carat, marquise engagement ring. His name was Andrew Thomas, the same man who would kill Plymouth Township Police officer Brad Fox nearly 13 years later.
On October 5, 1999, Procopio's sister, Teresa Camino, called police and reported her missing.
Captain Frank Vanore, a detective at the time in Philadelphia's South Division, was one of the first investigators assigned the missing persons case. Vanore quickly made the decision to alert the media and Procopio's picture appeared on television and in newspapers.
Soon, someone spotted Procopio's car, a red Pontiac Sunfire, in the small town of Bridgeport, Pa., 18 miles from QVC. Procopio had no friends in the area and no reason to be there, according to investigators.
Searches of her car produced few clues about what happened to her. A few belongings were left inside the locked car, including her work identification card.
With not much to go on, police began questioning Thomas, Procopio's fiance. "He did not have any knowledge of Maria's disappearance at that point, he didn't know where she went. He knew he couldn't contact her, that's what he told us," Vanore told NBC10's Deanna Durante during a 2005 interview.
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Despite his denials, police became suspicious of Thomas and they believed Procopio was as well. In the months before she vanished, Pennsylvania State Police say she wrote them a letter turning in Thomas, exposing crimes she told investigators he was committing.
Police say Thomas agreed to take them to a Center City apartment and once inside they made mysterious discoveries. "Clothing at the apartment that was never opened, brand new clothing from a store, he had material to make counterfeit money," said Vanore.
Thomas was charged with counterfeiting and assault on an officer. Police say Thomas head-butted one of the detectives and attempted to escape. Police say they found counterfeit coupons, cash, weapons and videos of Thomas and Procopio on a Pocono firing range. Investigators searched that range but found no trace of Procopio.
Thomas was behind bars in a federal detention center and continued to talk to investigators. Vanore says he continually led them to different things including a wooded area along the river in Whitemarsh Township, Montgomery County. "He told us to bring shovels and he drew a map and said dig right here, we didn't know why he was doing that so we went to that area, at 4 o'clock in the morning and dug and we found eight semi-automatic weapons, some of them assault rifles. We were never able to find Maria in this area. Nothing with Mr. Thomas led us to Maria," said Vanore.
During the investigation officers uncovered more information about Thomas. They say Andrew Thomas wasn't the name he always used. "I think he had forty different names and social security numbers that at some point in his lifetime he used," said Vanore.
Federal court documents identified Thomas as John Francis and those documents obtained by NBC10 showed Thomas plead guilty to fraud and counterfeiting. Thomas spent 18 months in prison. His attorney would not allow Thomas or any of his family members to comment about Procopio's disappearance. A lawyer who represented Thomas during his federal court appearance said Thomas had nothing to do with it.
Procopio's sister eventually had her declared dead, but her remains haven't been found.