'Missing': The terrifying case of Ethel Louise Atwell, who vanished near Willowbrook woods in 1978

Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne returns to the woods with Atwell's family in search of hidden clues

ByKristin Thorne via WABC logo
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
EMBED <>More Videos

For more than four decades, Ethel's family, including her four sons, has been haunted by who abducted her and why? Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne returns to the woods with her family and tries to uncover clues in this terrifying cold case.

STATEN ISLAND (WABC) -- On Oct. 24, 1978, Ethel Louise Atwell of Newark, went to work on Staten Island and never returned home.

It was dark -- around 6 a.m. -- when she arrived at her job as a nurse aide at the Staten Island Developmental Center on the grounds of the former Willowbrook State School.

Workers heard the 46-year-old scream from the parking lot. By the time police arrived, Ethel had disappeared, but they found her purse, buttons from her coat, her dentures and one of her shoes just outside her parked car.

Her keys were found in the woods. Police and volunteers scoured the 300-acre property for days -- her sons looked for her in the woods for months -- but no one found any evidence of Ethel.

In August 1978, only two months before Ethel's disappearance, another nurse was found buried in a shallow grave not far from where Ethel parked her car.

Several children also disappeared from Staten Island in the 1970's and 1980's.

Could Ethel's disappearance be linked to these other cases?

For more than four decades, Ethel's family, including her four sons, has been haunted by the questions of who abducted her and why.

Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne returns to the woods with her family and tries to uncover clues in this terrifying cold case in the latest episode of "Missing."

ALSO VIEW | Earlier episodes of "Missing" with Kristin Thorne

CREDITS

Kristin Thorne | Writer, Producer, Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter

Stephen Cioffi | Photographer, Videographer, Editor

Emily Hartmann | Senior Digital Producer, Videographer, Editor

Rolando Pujol | EP Digital Content, Innovation and Strategy

Yoomi Chong | Creative Director, Design

Joseph Kollar | Graphic Artist

Lori Steinberg | Graphic Artist

Marilu Galvez | President, General Manager

Scott Matthews | News Director

Kim Dillon | Assistant News Director

Peter Kunz | Assistant News Director

Jim Gorham | Vice President, Marketing

Robert Monek | EP Web, OTV Digital Project Manager

Brandon Nelson | Creative Director, Brand

Johanna Trupp | Marketing Producer

Townsend Davis | Attorney

John Del Giorno | Aerial Photographer

Brandon Cook | Media Manager

Omar Rodriguez | Assignment Editor

Sarah Kim | Assignment Editor

Alex George | Desk Assistant

Debra O'Connell | President, Networks Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution

Rachel Schwartz | Director, Content Operations ABC Owned Television Stations

SPECIAL THANKS

St. George Library Center of the New York Public Library

Joshua Zeman | Director

Adrianne Owings | After Hours Productions

Ghost Robot

New York State, Office of People with Developmental Disabilities

WABC Television New York, LLC | 2022