Gone Without A Trace
“Leon Moncer was a complicated young man. In the investigation that ensued following his disappearance, it would become public knowledge that he was a drinker, abusive towards his wife Irene, and had had a tendency to be unfaithful with his romantic partners. Despite all of this, he was a well-liked member of the community with many dedicated friends and many people had very kind words to say about him following his disappearance.
Leon Moncer worked for Hermon Strauss, a business in the Junk recycling industry. Leon also had aspirations of starting his own business and had recently purchased a tow truck of his own in the months leading up to his disappearance. In the Times Leader Article published on February 28, 1982, just ten days after his disappearance, Leon was described by his wife Irene as a helpful and caring man, ‘He’ll do anything for anybody.’ His disappearance is also out of character for Leon, with Irene stating, ‘He’s got a lot of friends. It’s just not like Leon, he’s never done anything like this before.’
In the leadup to his disappearance, Leon’s life was chaotic. He was on the tail end of a failed marriage as he was in the process of finalizing a divorce with his wife Irene. He was working a full-time job and trying to start his own business on the side. He was trying to navigate a new world where he had to learn how to co-parent with Irene while no longer being in a relationship with her and on top of all of this, he was still a young 21-year-old man with lots of growing up to do and was dealing with a number of bad habits, namely drinking and substance abuse.
His wife is quoted as saying he ‘had a tendency to get rowdy’ when drinking, which was further evidenced by the fact that he was recently involved in several bar fights. There was one tussle of particular note that had occurred several months prior as it took place at Tin Pan Alley, the known gathering spot of the notorious local mob in Wheeling. According to his wife Irene, Leon was mostly unfazed by these things. By all accounts, it appears that he and Irene had worked out how to both be present in their daughter’s life even if they were no longer together. According to his daughter, he and Irene got along very well as co-parents. Though they’d been separated long enough for Leon to move on romantically, and he had actually been seeing someone long enough to have proposed. We will refer to his fiance as GG. GG lived in nearby Bethlehem West Virginia.
While a rowdy 21-year-old man getting into a handful of bar fights may seem normal, another event that happened during the week before his disappearance may cast his presence at Tin Pan Alley in a more interesting light. During the week leading up to his disappearance, Leon received a death threat in the mail, compiled from a hodgepodge of newspaper and magazine clippings. It simply read, ‘Leave it alone or you are dead.’ The letter had no stamp on it, so it had been put directly in the mailbox by whoever wrote it. Leon simply shrugged off the death threat. However, it has also been reported by Irene that in the weeks and days leading up to his disappearance Leon had become more guarded, especially with regard to his three-year-old daughter Julie. He suddenly began to forbid anyone from taking pictures of the girl. He was very careful about who he would let hold her and became somewhat overprotective. Could this pattern of violence culminating in a death threat note have something to do with his disappearance?
Leon Moncer was last seen on the night of February 18, 1982. It was his brother, Raymond’s birthday party, and Raymond said, ‘He couldn’t make it because he had a hot date.’ He and GG had been in a bit of a rough patch, as he’d hit her recently, and possibly broken her nose. Her brothers were upset with Leon, and whether or not he had made up with GG yet is unclear. His hot date was likely with a different woman, as no one at the time knew who he was meeting. To this day, who the date was with remains a mystery.
Irene told the Times Leader in an interview ten days later what she knew of Leon’s timeline that night. He’d left from his parents’ house across the street, then stopped by his boss’s house to borrow $20. Then he drove to his friend, Ted’s house in Wheeling. Irene did not know Ted’s last name. Multiple friends placed Leon at Ed’s Lounge in Lloydsville later on that evening, but none made any mention of Leon’s mystery date. The true concern for Leon began the next day, February 19th, when he failed to show up for work. It was payday at Herman Strauss Inc. Leon’s brother Ray said that his brother ‘never missed work unless he was sick.’ Leon’s absence at work was enough for the family to file a report with the Belmont County Sheriff’s Department that very day.
That very night the case began to take a turn toward the bizarre. Irene would later tell the press about a strange phone call Leon’s mother, Shelby, received. She was speaking on the telephone around 9 pm when the operator suddenly interrupted her conversation asking both parties to hang up because of an emergency phone call from Leon Moncer. His mother hung up the phone and sat waiting for a call from her lost son, which never came.
The next day, Irene and Raymond decided to take the search into their own hands. They drove around the Bannock area, as Leon had been known to cruise around the old mining roads. After searching for a while, they spotted Leon’s gray Dodge Aspen parked in a ditch off the side of the road. Irene told WTOV9, ‘My heart like sunk. I mean, I was happy. I was really happy because I figured maybe he was in there sleeping or something like that, but he wasn’t there.’ The car was empty, along a road that branched from 331 near Belmont Technical College. People living in the area told Irene that the car had been sitting in that same location since Thursday night, the day Leon vanished. It was not near Powerline Park, as reported in other articles. The car had empty cans and an empty bottle.
According to Raymond, while they were examining the car, a local resident stopped and told them that the car had been idling, and the lights had been on, and he had turned the lights off and taken the key out before Irene got there, and he’d put the key in the ashtray. The key found in the ashtray however was a spare, and Leon’s usual keys were missing. There was also a flashlight missing from inside the car. Some articles report that the driver’s side door was open, though this is not mentioned in every article, and some articles mention that the inside of the car was muddy. Julie later remarked that the mud by itself was not suspicious, as it was February. In addition to the spare key, Leon’s wallet, his cigs, and coat were all in the vehicle. Some sources reported signs of a struggle, which likely just alluded to his valuables being left behind, and the car being muddy. In 2007, local authorities would say the suspicious nature of the car indicated foul play.
Later in 2007, Sheriff Fred Thompson told the State Journal that it ‘sounds like someone knew he was going to be out there on this road at a certain time, and they had a surprise for him.’ Moncer’s family notified authorities of the discovery right away and tried to turn the car over to them. But according to Irene, they said, ‘Keep it. Get it out of here.’ They had the car towed to Leon’s parent’s house, where it would sit in the front yard for years. In later articles, local authorities mildly criticized this police work, saying that had the car been found today, it would have been thoroughly examined.
On February 28th, Irene told the Times Leader that she hoped Leon just needed time to get his head together because he was under stress due to the divorce, and the pressure of trying to start his own business. She told the paper, ‘I just wish he’d call to ease everyone’s mind.’
While family members conducted searches for Leon following his disappearance, the sources do not mention any large-scale effort on the part of law enforcement. As of the 28th, Irene had visited several drinking establishments in Wheeling for possible clues to Leon’s disappearance. Three people told her they saw Leon on February 20th in a Wheeling bar on Main Street. Irene reported being skeptical as to whether this individual was actually Leon. On March 5th, Leon’s sister Cindy thought she saw Leon walking around town, but later said she wasn’t sure. The investigation on the part of law enforcement largely stopped after this sighting.
Soon after he vanished, Irene received a phone call from a stranger who asked her if she wanted to know where her husband was. She said that she did, and the caller replied, ‘Well his head’s in a garbage bag in the river, his arms and legs are out in the strip pits.’ Any searches or follow-ups to this phone call on the part of law enforcement were not documented if they occurred.
For months after Leon’s disappearance, Irene thought there was someone in a pickup truck following them. If she ever got the plates or turned them over to law enforcement is unclear. To make matters worse, someone started lurking around outside her house. Irene said, ‘This person would stand out in front of our house. He was in blue jeans and a black shirt with a hood on it and he would stand there. I thought it might be him [Leon]. Julie was everything to him. So was that him, wanting to see her, to know what she looked like? I don’t know.’ During this time, they moved about half a mile away from the house they’d lived in when Leon was there, but this mysterious figure knew their new address. However, the move put them just past the jurisdiction of the authorities they’d been working with, and into the St Clairsville Police territory. Irene called the police every time this figure showed up, but St Clairsville was farther away, and police would take about half an hour to get there, so this person was always long gone by the time they showed up. This went on, sporadically, for two years.
There is a theory that perhaps Leon had been a victim of mob activity in Wheeling. The Mob was very active in Wheeling from the 60s through the late 80s. This theory mostly originates from the fact that Leon had some associations with a few shady individuals through his involvement with substances. The mysterious note he received in the mail and his brawl at Tin Pan Alley only add fuel to this theory. But without further information, this remains just that, a theory.
Leon Moncer was declared legally dead on November 16, 1988, on what would have been his 28th birthday. Shelby struggled with that decision but decided it was time for some kind of closure. Irene eventually moved on and remarried, but she always speaks fondly of Leon in interviews and hopes to one day find answers.”