‘Out in the cold’: Living with a sister’s unsolved murder for ten years

Officially the murder investigation of Allison Jackson Foy is still open, but for Lisa Valentino it feels like a cold case -- one that has changed her life in unexpected ways.

From left: Allison Jackson Foy and Lisa Valentino in 2005, a year before Foy went missing. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy Lisa Valentino)From left: Allison Jackson Foy and Lisa Valentino in 2005, a year before Foy went missing. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy Lisa Valentino)
From left: Allison Jackson Foy and Lisa Valentino in 2005, a year before Foy went missing. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy Lisa Valentino)

WILMINGTON — In July 0f 2006, Allison Foy went missing and, though her body was found two years later, the investigation seems to have hit a dead end.

Ten years after Foy’s body was recovered, twelve years after she went missing, the investigation is still technically active, according to the Wilmington Police Department. But for Lisa Valentino, Foy’s sister and the most consistent advocate for keeping her investigation going, it feels like a cold case.

A rocky start

Valentino has been vocal about how the Wilmington Police Department initially handled her case. Valentino and her father were initially contacted about Foy as part of a fraud investigation, Valentino said, and when the family flew down to meet with law enforcement, Foy’s disappearance wasn’t being treated as a missing person.


Valentino didn’t believe her sister, a mother of two, would suddenly drop out of contact with her family. But law enforcement officers told her otherwise, Valentino said.

“We heard, ‘They’re gonna find her, they’re gonna find her with needles in her arm,’ and as we knew that wasn’t the case at all. And we found out. She was taken, she was abducted, and she was murdered.”

-Lisa Valentino

“Years ago, I had tons of problems with WPD, I feel like that’s well known. I felt like they didn’t really investigate, they didn’t really look for Allison – they kept telling me, ‘this is her MO, this is what she does, she’ll turn up,” Valentino said.

According to Valentino, she was repeatedly told there had been sightings of her sister; some law “ enforcement officers, Valentino said, suggested Foy’s disappearance was drug-related.

“We heard, ‘They’re gonna find her, they’re gonna find her with needles in her arm,’ and as we knew that wasn’t the case at all. And we found out. She was taken, she was abducted, and she was murdered,” Valentino said.

Valentino described the time between Foy’s disappearance and the recovery of her body in April of 2008 as “a constant and uphill battle.” That started to change, Valentino said, when Foy’s disappearance became a murder investigation, handled by WPD Detective Lee Odham.

‘For me, it’s been forever’

Allison Foy (top left), Lisa Valentino (right), and their children. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy Lisa Valentino)
Allison Foy (top left), Lisa Valentino (right), and their children. (Port City Daily photo | Courtesy Lisa Valentino)

Despite living hundreds of miles away in New Jersey, Valentino made multiple trips to Wilmington every year, meeting with the District Attorney’s office, WPD, and the annual meeting of the North Carolina chapter of the CUE Center for Missing Persons.

Over the years, Valentino said she’s developed a good relationship with the police department, particularly with Odham but also Chief Ralph Evangelous.

“I think they think I’m pushy, but I have to be. It’s unfair to judge, maybe, because for them it’s one case, and they’ve been on it a few months, a year or two, for me, it’s been forever, you know,” Valentino said, adding the Evangelous has remained an ally.

“(Odham) and I had a good working relationship. He shared pretty much everything he could – he shared his feelings on the case, there were some things I’m sure he couldn’t reveal, but if I called him, day or night, he would get us answers,” Valentino said.

Odham eventually left the case when he was promoted, and Valentino said newer officers she works with may be put off by her steady stream of questions and requests.

“I think they think I’m pushy, but I have to be. It’s unfair to judge, maybe, because for them it’s one case, and they’ve been on it a few months, a year or two, for me, it’s been forever, you know,” Valentino said, adding the Evangelous has remained an ally.

“Ralph has always been very good for me. As difficult as things were in the beginning, anytime our family needed something and I went right to him, he helped us. And he told me ‘keep doing what you’re doing, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.’ He told me, ‘if it was my family I’d do exactly the same thing,” Valentino said.

Valentino’s most recent request, a device known as the M-Vac, capable of returning DNA results from evidence where other analytical methods can’t. In late July, WPD funding M-Vac testing of Foy’s clothing and, according to WPD Spokesperson Linda Rawley, the department plans on purchasing its own M-Vac system in the fall.

“I know we had a rocky start, but the Wilmington Police Department has done everything we’ve asked, they’ve done everything they can – to me, this thing rests entirely with the District Attorney, with Ben David,” Valentino said.

‘Our day in court’

As of 2016, the WPD had one suspect –– Timothy Iannone, a former cab driver with a long felony record who is currently in prison, due for release in December. Rawley would not comment on the current status of the investigation, but Valentino believes WPD would like to make an arrest, but can’t

“I think they would like to make an arrest, but I think their hands are tied, basically, because (District Attorney) Ben David doesn’t want to prosecute because he doesn’t feel he has enough to get a conviction,” Valentino said.

Valentino has been outspoken in her criticism of Ben David, and claims that early in the investigation David promised to convene a grand jury to indict Iannone.

“A couple of years after Allison was found, my father – who has since passed – and I had a meeting with Ben David. And in that meeting, (Ben David) said to my father, “I know you’re unhappy with how things have been handled, I know you think an arrest should be made, just give us a little more time,’ he said, ‘and if you’re not happy with how things go, I’ll convene the grand jury,’” Valentino said.

Valentino said David has since recanted, claiming he did not promise to indict Iannone. Asked for comment, David said, “Ms. Valentino and I want the same thing: Justice for Allison Jackson Foy. We both share the hope that her sister’s killer will one day be held accountable for this heinous crime.”

In 2016, when a new witness came forward both Oldham and Valentino hoped David would press charges, but no grand jury was ever convened.

“I thought, this will be thing that does it – there’s so much circumstantial evidence,” Valentino said. “I don’t understand why he wouldn’t convene the grand jury — why doesn’t he think he can get a conviction? He was able to get a conviction for Shannon Rippy, with no body – and we have so much more evidence,” Valentino said, referring to David’s successful prosecution of James Opleton Bradley for the death of Shannon Rippy Van Newkirk, despite her body never being found — an exceedingly difficult case.

Valentino lamented the David appears to have effectively prevented WPD from making an arrest.

“I thought it was up to law enforcement to make an arrest and for the prosecutor to try and get a conviction, but I guess what happens is the DA tells law enforcement ‘we don’t think we can get a conviction’ so don’t arrest them,” Valentino said.

Asked if she could be wrong about Iannone, Valentino said she just wants a jury to hear the case.

“I certainly don’t want the wrong person to go to jail, to prison, but convene the (grand jury) and let it be decided, shouldn’t we at least try? — that’s what we want, that’s what my family wants, our day in court,” Valentino said.

‘When this world touches you’

Losing her sister changes Valentino and her family, in ways no one could have predicted.

When Foy first went missing, Valentino and her family flew to Wilmington. A hotel clerk asked about their situation and put them in touch with Monica Caison, who founded the CUE Center for Missing Persons.

“We were in the worst parts of town, putting up flyers, places we probably never should have been,” Valentino said. “When we contacted Monica she was there with us in the hotel the next morning.”

Caison met with Valentino’s family and has remained in touch ever since – after Foy’s body was found, Valentino became a volunteer.

“One of the amazing things about CUE, when you walk through the doors into one of those gatherings, it’s the first time on the horrible journey where you don’t have to explain yourself, because people just get it,” Valentino said.

Currently the New Jersey State Outreach Coordinator, Valentino said she’s been in touch with the family of a missing person at least once or twice a week for the last decade, in addition to the work she’s consistently done on Foy’s case.

“When a family goes through something like this – once you’re touched by this world, it’s kind of hard not to want to give something back,” Valentino said.

Valentino has tried to share what she’s learned over the last twelve years.

“Hope is the biggest thing, and you gotta stay strong, and the biggest and most important thing is you have to be your own advocate — if you’re not pushing for your loved one, no one else really will, you gotta stay on top of law enforcement,” Valentino said. “They don’t do it unless you keep on them.”

The ‘other tragedy’

Though Valentino and her family still grieve for Foy, in some ways their situation is less difficult than that of those Valentino meets through CUE.

“I’m in a much better place than some of these people. Allison was recovered, at least we know what happened. There are people who’ve been missing for 10, 20, 30 years — and the not knowing is the hardest part,” Valentino said.

“that’s the other tragedy of these cases – families sometimes fall apart.”

-Lisa Valentino

One facet of that “hardest part” that doesn’t get discussed much, is what happens to the families of missing people. The stress, the uncertainty, and the uncomfortable reality of being faced with the private details of a loved one can add up.

“It can tear families apart, I’ve seen it tear families up,” Valentino said. “There are disagreements about how things should be done and then there’s — well, you don’t even want to think about it but there’s questions, you have to deal with it, how a family member became missing, what they were doing.”

Valentino saw the toll on her own family: her father, who passed away two and half years ago, and an older brother and older sister.

“At a certain point you have to pick one person to be the spokesperson for the family — that was my father and it’s me now. My brother and sister, we have a good relationship, but they did have to step away a little bit,” Valentino said.

“We’re lucky,” Valentino said. “Because that’s the other tragedy of these cases – families sometimes fall apart.”


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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