When I started looking into some of my father’s old police cases, I didn’t expect to get pulled in so fully, the same way I think he did. He died carrying a picture in his wallet of a teenage girl named Janette Reynolds. Hers started as a missing persons case assigned to him when he was a Connecticut State Trooper in the summer of 1978.
I had been vaguely aware of her through all my childhood. First as an odd stranger in my father’s wallet. Later as a cautionary tale about hitchhiking and of the brutal evils that exist on the edges of normal life. And after my father, Donald Barry, died in 1998 — at a time when I was forging into journalism — I wrestled with who I was as I tried reconciling my relationship with him. He was, after all, mysterious and quite often quiet. And I’d spent the early parts of my life honestly afraid of him. So there I was — inquisitive and with a penchant for investigation — diving into old cases of his.
I had done a lion's share of investigation in 2002. By then I was a full-blown newspaper reporter. With the drive to find answers and the know-how to dig through information. So there I was, re-investigating the Janette Reynolds case. His old case. To connect closer to him, and maybe try bringing some resolution to her still-unsolved murder.
I spoke with old troopers and detectives who knew about the case. I pieced together leads from reams of old notes. Two suspects emerged. One was Connecticut serial killer Michael Ross. And I was pulled in. I visited Ross’s old high school in Killingly, Connecticut, and even wrote to him in prison. He never responded. But I tried.
Another suspect was believed to be a serial rapist. My father had a name, a car, and even a victim who survived an attack that occurred in the same timeframe Janette Reynolds had disappeared from Eastern Connecticut.
I had much of the narration sussed out by 2004, before I left journalism to go into law enforcement myself. And there was the irony — once I switched into a profession where I could criminally investigate the Janette Reynolds disappearance and murder, I came to lack both the time and jurisdiction to investigate her case.
With the bonafides of having been both a police officer in Connecticut and a DEA Special Agent, I reached out to Groton City Police, which had run a parallel investigation from my father once Janette’s body was found in the spring of 1979 under the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in their jurisdiction. But there was no one left in their detective bureau who knew about the case, never mind to consider my query about testing DNA against the two known suspects. So was the fate of this case to fade further into obscurity.
So sat my journalistic findings and narration too — what I would pick at and dabble with from time to time, even up through the COVID lockdowns in 2021. And there it all sat, wilting and dying on the vine.
But as I was crafting and reshaping the recollections of my own police career, I continued to juxtapose them with growing up the son of a state trooper, and my journey to better understand my father. So my findings, my assemblage of insights from his investigation and mine about Janette Reynolds, became part of the narrative of what became my police life memoir, “The Midnight Coffee Club.”
It reveals a tenderness and fallibility of my father, as well as an obsession to solve for unknowns and to try doing right. And it’s proved in more than one way, that those are the same traits I too possess. Still for Janette Reynolds, her case remains not solved. I hope my musings, maybe, help to shine light again on this old, cold case. (JJB)
Jason James Barry’s police life memoir, “The Midnight Coffee Club: A Memoir of Grit, Glimmers, and The Pull of Police Life” is available on Amazon.