'Vanished Into Thin Air': NJ Woman Still Sought 15 Years After Jersey Shore Disappearance
'Vanished Into Thin Air': NJ Woman Still Sought 15 Years After Jersey Shore Disappearance

'Vanished Into Thin Air': NJ Woman Still Sought 15 Years After Jersey Shore Disappearance

BERKELEY TOWNSHIP, NJ — On June 25, 2009, Julia Madsen told her husband, Ed, she was going out for a walk on the beach. She kissed him as he watched the New York Yankees game, and headed out the door of the little yellow brick beach house on a dead end street in South Seaside Park.

She was never seen by her family again.

Fifteen years later, Julia’s family and law enforcement officials are still searching for her, and for answers as to what happened after she left the house about 7 p.m. that warm Thursday evening.

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“She just vanished into thin air,” Berkeley Township Police Detective Joseph Santoro said Tuesday at a gathering of family and law enforcement aiming to highlight the cold case. Santoro has worked on it since its inception, when Ed Madsen called police about 8:40 p.m. on June 25, 2009, to report Julia missing.

“This is a case no one’s forgetting,” New Jersey State Police Capt. Justin Blackwell, head of the state police criminal investigations unit. Blackwell also has been involved with the investigation since the beginning.

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Julia Madsen, who was 72 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen wearing a pink shirt, white capris, sneakers, a gold-and silver bracelet on one wrist and a silver watch on the other. She also was wearing her diamond engagement ring and wedding ring, according to the entry in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons database. She was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, her family said, but had not displayed symptoms that led anyone to believe she needed constant supervision.

The Madsens had just celebrated their 50th anniversary, and the extended family was planning to gather in South Seaside Park for a two-week vacation and extended celebration that weekend when Julia disappeared.

Guy Madsen, Ed and Julia’s son, was up north in Clifton when he was contacted by police and told his mother was missing. As he arrived in Seaside Park after the drive down, he saw the red and blue lights from law enforcement vehicles and helicopters searching for her by air.

It didn’t seem real, he said.

“I thought maybe she ran into a neighbor and was just having a glass of wine,” Madsen, who was flanked by his sister, Eileen Tummino, and his wife, Rita, at a news conference marking the anniversary under a clear, blue sky on a warm day. They were surrounded by members of key law enforcement agencies involved in the initial search, including Berkeley police, New Jersey State Police and the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office.

Lt. Joseph Itri, who leads the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit and its Cold Case Unit, said the search for Julia Madsen was difficult because of the location near the ocean. The initial search and investigation pulled out all the stops, with drones used to search Island Beach State Park and take photos from the air, K-9s searching for her scent, and hundreds of first responders — who happened to be in the area for a training event — searching on foot.

“Almost all missing persons investigations are complicated,” Itri said. There are nearly 11,000 missing persons cases in New Jersey each year. Most are solved quickly, but there are about 1,000 unsolved disappearances in New Jersey at any time, he said.

Julia Madsen’s case helped to spawn new investigative approaches, Blackwell said. The drones were used to take photos of Island Beach State Park — one of the first New Jersey cases where they were used during a search, he said — and the photos were sent to Stanford University for a detailed analysis, for example. They also received assistance from Texas Equusearch, which looks for missing persons.

Despite the intensive searches, “nothing of evidentiary value was ever found,” Santoro said. Tips that came in led to dead ends, and DNA comparisons on bones that have been found at various times never matched.

“I went back through the case file last week and into this week in search of something, anything I may have missed,” Santoro said.

Guy Madsen, Santoro, Itri and Blackwell all expressed hope that news coverage of the anniversary of Julia’s disappearance might jog someone’s memory, and bring closure after all these years.

“Especially because this area not only draws local residents but people from all over, many of whom come at the same time every year,” Santoro said. “We’re hoping someone might remember something after all these years.”

Itri said reminding the public about cold cases also serves to remind those who have committed a crime in connection with a missing person that these people are not forgotten by law enforcement.

“We carry these cases with us,” Blackwell said.

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Any closure will come too late for Ed Madsen, who died in late February at age 88. He was buried a few days later at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington, where the family had set up a headstone and held a memorial service for Julia on the 10th anniversary of her disappearance, in 2019. Read more: 10 Years Later, Family Asks: What Happened To Julia Madsen?

Eileen Tummino said the clear, sunny day of the press conference reminded her of the day her mother went missing.

“How could someone vanish on a day like this?” she said, her voice breaking.

She had spoken to her mother that morning, telling her that she would be down to the shore house soon for vacation, after she finished up some work details.

“All right, toots, I’ll see you when I see you,” Eileen recalled her mother saying. “That was her favorite saying.”

“I always hoped my dad would get closure in his lifetime,” Guy Madsen said, adding they buried his mother’s hairbrush with some of her hair with her husband’s remains, as a way of bringing them back together.

They all are hoping for the ultimate closure of finding her.

“Daddy knows what happened to you now,” Eileen said. “Send us a sign.”

“Mom, I’ll see you when I see you,” Eileen said.

Anyone with information about Julia Madsen’s disappearance or whereabouts can call the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit at 609-882-2000, ext. 2554, or send an email to missingpinformation@njsp.gov, or contact the Berkeley Township Police Department’s tip line at 732-341-1132, ext. 611.

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