11 Investigates revisits tragic disappearance of 2 boys in Tarentum over 40 years ago

TARENTUM, Pa. — On Jan. 14, 1982, two boys disappeared from a quiet town along the Allegheny River.

They were never seen or heard from again.

Today, 42 years later Chief Investigator Rick Earle is reopening the case file with police and talking to relatives about Tarentum’s oldest unsolved missing persons case.

It’s a case that has baffled investigators for years.

And as Earle discovered even police don’t agree what happened on the cold, blustery night years ago.

“Every day I think about them. I think about them on the birthdays, what they’d be like.” said Jeanine Richards while remembering her 11-year-old son, Jon Dabkowski, and his 10-year-old friend, Gabe Minarcin.

It’s been 42 years since she last saw them at her home on First Avenue in Tarentum.

“After Johnny got done eating, they left to go over to Gabe’s house,” said Richards.

Gabe lived on the other side of the street, just a few houses down.  It was an easy walk they had made many times before.

But this time, they never made it.

Concerned Jon hadn’t returned by 8:30 p.m., Jeanine reached out to the Minarcin house.

“I called Gabe’s and they said they weren’t there, and I started calling around,” said Richards.

An hour later, she called police and reported them missing around 9:30 p.m.

Investigators began a frantic search on that cold, blustery night.

They found tracks leading to the partially frozen Allegheny River.

“Some tracks led out onto the ice but they all came back,” said Tarentum Police Lt. Mark Glogowski, who has poured over the case file for years.

A neighbor said she saw kids walking on the ice.

For days, crews combed the banks as divers searched the frozen Allegheny.

“It was so cold so I walked over to the Minarcin house and we just sat there and waited.  That’s all we could do, just waiting for them to bring up a body but nothing ever come up. Nothing, no gloves, no hats no coats, no boots,” said Richards.

Days turned to weeks and then months.

The cold winter gave way to a spring thaw and Investigators suspected the bodies would eventually come to the surface.

But that never happened.

“It’s just like they vanished. They literally...it’s like they vanished,” said Lt. Glogowski.

Today, 42 years later, investigators have their theories, but even they don’t agree.

“My guts telling me they are in the river. His guts telling him they’re not,” said Lt. Glogowski.

“I don’t believe they ended up in the river. Everybody we have go in the water, come up, as long as I’ve been here,” said Tarentum Police Chief Willaim Vakulick, who’s been with the department for 30 years.

Like Lt. Glogowski, Chief Vakulick has read through the case file many times.

“I’ll probably never know,” said Richards, who moved away several years ago but still has two daughters who live in Tarentum.

She said her son knew about the dangers of the frozen river and would often comment when he saw people walking on the ice.

“He’s the one that told me. Why would anyone walk out on that ice,” said Richards.

Nearly two decades nearly two decades after they vanished, police got a potential break in the case in 1998.

The chief came to Richards’s home to tell her about it.

“He said we think we found Jon,” said Richards.

It wasn’t Jon but a man who had stolen his identity, but Richards said his signature looked remarkably like Jon’s.

She knew it wasn’t Jon when she saw the picture police showed her.

“It’s like time stopped for them in 1982,” said Glogowski.

Since their disappearance, the boys’ pictures have circulated nationwide, even on grocery store bags.

And there are age progression photos from the Center for Missing and Exploited Children through the years.

Jon would be 53 and Gabe would be 52.

“As policemen it’s haunting, but as policemen who are both parents, it’s just terrible to think about what these families have endured over the years,” said Glogowski.

“For a long time, years, I used to put a key under the mat, just in case,” said Richards.

While she has stopped doing that, she still hasn’t given up hope.

“Unless you can give me something definite, there’s always hope nothing but hope,” said Richards.

Within the last decade, police updated DNA samples with Jon’s family.

They also were able to track down the Minarcin family to a remote area in California, but investigators said they declined to participate in the DNA update.

Minarcin’s family reportedly moved to California years ago.

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