JAMESTOWN - Yolanda A. Bindics, a mother of four young girls, will turn 26 on Wednesday - if she's still alive.
|Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News|
Imre and Patricia Bindics display a photo of their daughter, Yolanda, whose disappearance after leaving work on the night of Aug. 10 has turned into a heart-rending mystery for a Southern Tier city with a small-town feel.
|Yolanda A. Bindics with her newborn daughter, Allison, in a photo taken two years ago.|
One of her 10 brothers and sisters, Margaret Ostrom, knows how she will mark the occasion.
"This year, on her birthday, I'm going to have a star named after Yolanda," she said. "I want to do something meaningful, something that will be out there forever. If she comes home, I'll give her the certificate. If not, I'll put it in the scrapbook I made for her when we were little."
There's not much more that the Bindics family can do for her. She has been missing for more than six weeks, since she was last seen leaving work here on the night of Aug. 10.
The disappearance of Yolanda Bindics has become a heartache for her family, a tragedy for a Southern Tier community with a small-town feel and a complex mystery for Jamestown's six police detectives.
The disappearance of a young mother seems to poke a bigger dent in a community's psyche in a city the size of Jamestown, a once-thriving industrial community whose population has dropped to 31,730.
The community pain extends far outside Jamestown's city limits. "Missing" posters, some of them copied from handwritten posters, are posted as far away as Mayville to the west and Gerry to the north.
"In a smaller town, you think you know everybody and you feel safe," said the Rev. Norman Burdick from Mayville, who was visiting Jamestown with his wife, Dorothy. "This personally puts me a little bit on edge; that it's not as safe as you think."
A bigger city such as Buffalo has distinctive geographical pockets and neighborhoods. In a smaller community such as Jamestown, residents can't dismiss such a tragedy by saying, "It happened over there," Burdick added.
"We feel very safe here in Jamestown, much safer than being in a bigger city," said Ruth Swanson, a resident of the city. "So this scares you a lot."
You can't interview many people in Jamestown about the Bindics case without hearing about two eerily similar tragedies, involving Lori Ceci Bova and Kathy A. Wilson.
Bova, then 26, remains missing, seven years after she was last seen walking away from her apartment in Lakewood, an upscale village just outside Jamestown.
Wilson, 34, of Jamestown, took a lunch break from her job in May 1988 and never was heard from again; her body was found 16 months later in a wooded area in Warren, Pa. The man accused of kidnapping and murdering her was later acquitted.
Personal items found
But for now, the focus is squarely on Bindics and what happened to her on the night of Aug. 10.
About 8:20 that evening, she walked out of the Family Dollar store on Fluvanna Avenue where she worked, got to her car and called her brother Frank, who was watching her children. She planned to cash a check, pick up some milk and be home in an hour.
She hasn't been seen or heard from since.
The next day, her car was found in the Arby's parking lot on Fluvanna, one-third of a mile away. A month later, her purse, wallet and keys were found in catch basins in the city's storm-sewer system downtown.
With the help of a police helicopter, trained dogs and divers, police searched the Chadakoin River, a gravel pit, a wooded area, a city dump, the Chautauqua Gorge and the city's storm sewers. But all to no avail.
Because those searches didn't uncover a body, Bindics' family still retains hope that she could be alive.
"I don't like people getting the idea she's really gone," said her mother, Patricia Bindics. "I pray that we find Yolanda alive. If she's not, I hope God will let us find her, so we can have some closure. At least if they find her dead, maybe we can find out what happened to her. I would like to know what she went through."
If her daughter is dead, Patricia Bindics also believes that she deserves a proper funeral and Christian burial.
"She deserves the dignity to rest in peace," she said.
Yolanda's father, Imre "Jim" Bindics, can't discuss his daughter's fate without becoming highly agitated.
"My beautiful young daughter," he said, his voice rising, as he fielded questions in English but replied in his native Hungarian, with his wife translating. "A crazy punk took her away. I can't do anything about it. I want to kill anybody who took her or harmed her. If I get hold of them once, they won't last very long."
Several family members, in separate interviews, expressed concerns about three of Bindics' former boyfriends and acquaintances. She had been physically abused by one and spent some time in a safe house for battered women with children. And she was scared of at least one former boyfriend, they said.
"At this point, there's no evidence of any criminal act, so there's nobody who is a suspect per se," said Capt. Lee C. Davies of the Jamestown police. "We haven't ruled out anybody. We're still interested in anyone who was associated with her."
Does Davies believe that Yolanda Bindics could be alive?
"There's always a chance, but it's definitely concerning," Davies replied. "We haven't found any evidence that there was any wrongdoing, but it's certainly concerning, the manner in which she disappeared, the fact that her personal items were located later and (because) she made no attempt that we're aware of to contact any family member."
Officer placed on leave
The search, which has included help from the FBI, the New York State Police and the Sheriff's Departments of Chautauqua and Erie counties, has exhausted the resources of the Jamestown police.
"It's certainly, in scope, the largest investigation we've had in the 15 years since I've been here," Davies said.
The investigation took a curious twist when Jamestown put one of its own officers, Michael Watson, on administrative leave Aug. 14, because he had some kind of relationship with Bindics. No internal charges have been filed against the officer, who remains on leave, Davies said.
On one point, everyone - from Bindics' grieving family to veteran police officials - seems to agree: Bindics was not the kind of woman who would flee to get away from her troubles.
Family members cite four main reasons: her daughters, Katelyn, 8; Courtney, 5; Allison, 2; and Emily, 18 months.
"Those children were her life," her mother said. "They meant the world to her."
The four children have four different fathers. The Bindics family - while grateful for the publicity that has extended to Buffalo, Erie, Pa., Fox News and "America's Most Wanted" Web site - rails at the perception that Yolanda Bindics lacked a moral compass.
Instead, they portrayed her more as a woman who made some mistakes, had quite a few boyfriends but had romantic relationships with all four of the fathers at different times.
Like any mother, Patricia Bindics has a soft spot for the youngest of her 11 children. She prayed that she would settle down. But she clings to several memories of her daughter, such as the time they drove to Buffalo within the last year, when Yolanda told her she was satisfied with her life and very happy with her four children.
"I prayed real hard for her in church about a year ago, and then this happened," Patricia Bindics said. "I'm getting so I'm afraid to pray."
As the ordeal has stretched from hours to days to weeks, Patricia Bindics has gone through many emotions. On the second day, she cried a lot, thinking about all the things Yolanda would miss seeing with her own children.
But now there is another development that makes Patricia Bindics even sadder. Two of Yolanda's children are living with their fathers, and a third girl is with her father's family; only the youngest, Emily, is living with the Bindics family, with Yolanda's sister Christine.
So all four children are living apart.
"These girls need to be kept together," said Ostrom, one of Yolanda's sisters. "They need each other, to get through this."
As Patricia Bindics said of her missing daughter, "Maybe it's a good thing she doesn't know that."