After Current Story, Atlantic Highlands’ Jane Doe Is Identified; Many Still Seek Closure. Can You Help?

After Current Story, Atlantic Highlands Jane Doe Is Identified; Many Still Seek Closure. Can You Help?

Drew Eldridge, Staff Writer

“How can you stop mourning the missing?” — Florence Engel Randall

About 600,000 people go missing in the U.S. every year. If these people are not found within the first 24 hours, the probability of being found decreases 50 percent. Once a week passes, that number turns into less than 10 percent.

After a month, it becomes less than 5 percent and after two months, the probability of being found alive is less than 3 percent.

For Nancy Carol Fitzgerald’s family, the probability of finding their lost sister was less than two percent. In 1971, Nancy Carol Fitzgerald of Bloomfield, N.J. was hospitalized for a barbiturate overdose. Upon regaining her health and returning home, her room was searched by police. There they found more drugs, and Nancy was given the option to turn in the man who sold her the depressants. She complied, and the man was arrested.

Life returned to normal in the Fitzgerald household. On April 3, 1972, Nancy vanished. Nancy’s sister, Kathleen Fitzgerald (now Kathleen Unterberger) launched a search effort. Not one person had seen or heard from Nancy since her disappearance.

A year passed, and the phone rang in the Fitzgerald household. Nancy’s mother answered and heard these exact words, “Mom, I’ve made a big mistake. Come get me, come get me, help,” and the call ended.

Shocked and horrified, both Kathleen and her mother went to the police with the information. The investigation returned no leads.

As is the typical prognosis in missing persons cases, the case eventually went cold.

Kathleen still searched tirelessly for her sister. She went to several states and asked around on foot for any potential leads. This search brought up several rumors, but no concrete information.

Decades passed. It wasn’t until 2022 that the Fitzgerald family would finally receive some of the closure they needed.

In 2020, I wrote an article for The Current asking for the public’s help in identifying an unidentified body found in 1988 in my hometown of Atlantic Highlands. A year after this, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office began to test the DNA they had on file for the body and began asking for possible DNA matches to send in samples.

More than 28 women gave DNA samples, and all were ruled out. Then, two months ago Kathleen Unterberger supplied her own sample and an almost 100 percent familial match was identified between Kathleen and the sample taken from the body.

It was then that investigators identified the body of “Jane Doe” as Nancy Carol Fitzgerald. This ended the search for her identity, and began an entirely new investigation into Nancy’s disappearance. Several questions remain.

What was Nancy doing in Atlantic Highlands? What was her cause of death? Where was she before she ended up in Atlantic Highlands? Was she responsible for the mysterious phone call?

To sit and speculate over how and why Nancy passed would be harmful to the investigation as a whole. There were several active serial killers within New Jersey during the timeframe of Nancy’s disappearance, one of whom was active in Atlantic Highlands.

There were also several people in Nancy’s life who didn’t have the best intentions. There are a plethora of leads to explore. The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office considers the investigation to still be open.

There are currently six open missing persons cases within Monmouth County. There are 19 unidentified deceased persons. Anyone with information regarding any of these cases should contact the MCPO (Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office) or New Jersey State Police.

You may consider Nancy Carol Fitzgerald’s case “closed,” but the nightmare for Kathleen Fitzgerald has only just begun. A missing person’s case is a tragedy that never ends.

Photo: The artist’s conception used by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that was circulated in a search to identify Atlantic Highlands Jane Doe. DNA evidence has now shown that person to be Nancy Crarol Fitzgerald of Bloomfield.