Norine Brown left her home in New Hyde Park, New York around 11:00 pm on Wednesday, December 12, 1990. The 31-year-old wanted to go to a nearby supermarket to buy some ingredients she needed to bake Christmas cookies. She preferred to go to the grocery store late at night to avoid crowds; she waited until her two young children were sound asleep and told her husband, John, that she would be back shortly. Norine grabbed some cash and climbed into her station wagon, leaving her wallet at the house. She never returned and she was never seen again.
Norine’s husband, who was a New York City firefighter, said that he fell asleep on the couch and didn’t realize that his wife failed to come home Wednesday night. When he woke up at 5:00 am Thursday, he saw that Norine never returned. He called Norine’s good friend, Elaine Commando, and asked if Norine had spent the night with her. He claimed they had an argument before she left to go to the grocery store and he thought she might have visited her friend to calm down. Elaine hadn’t heard from her.
Elaine later admitted that she felt slightly uneasy when she got John’s phone call. Norine was a devoted mother who usually remained in constant contact with her loved ones. It was unheard of for her to simply disappear, even for one night. Still, Elaine wasn’t overly worried. “At that point, I thought maybe she stayed at another friend’s house. I wasn’t too concerned.”
Since John didn’t want to leave the kids, he asked Elaine if she would drive to the nearby Pathmark and see if Norine’s car was there. Elaine immediately drove to the grocery store and found the station wagon in the supermarket’s parking lot. There was no sign of Norine.
The discovery of her friend’s car sent Elaine into a panic. Elaine went back to her home and called John to tell him what she had found. He then called the police and reported his wife missing on the day she should have been celebrating her 32nd birthday.
Although those who knew Norine tried to explain their fears to the police, officers insisted that she couldn’t be reported missing until she had been gone for at least 24 hours. The next day, when there was still no sign of the missing mother, police agreed to file a missing person report.
Investigators spoke with employees at the Pathmark and determined that one employee had seen Norine’s car in the parking lot shortly before 11:00 pm while another saw it at 2:00 am. It was unclear if it had been in the parking lot the entire time or if it had left and then returned. None of the employees recalled seeing Norine.
When Norine’s station wagon was found, it was locked and there were some Christmas presents that she had already wrapped in the backseat. The Pathmark, which was in Garden City Park, was less than a mile from the Brown’s home and Norine regularly shopped there late at night. She had never mentioned any concerns for her safety in the parking lot at night.
At the time of her disappearance, Norine had two young children; Alexa, who was five months old, and Anthony, who was 18 months old. No one who knew her believed that she would have willingly walked away from her children, but close friends acknowledged that her marriage was troubled.
Norine and her two children had spent Wednesday with her sister, Susan, and Susan’s new baby. They were starting to get into the holiday spirit; they took the children to have their picture taken with Santa Claus and did some Christmas shopping. Norine dropped her sister off at her house when they finished their shopping and told her that she was going to take her kids straight home. She had been in a good mood at the time and there was no indication that anything was wrong.
Elaine, who found Norine’s car, later admitted that she thought John had something to do with his wife’s disappearance. She pointed out that the parking spot where Norine’s station wagon had been left was some distance from the entrance to the grocery store and likely not one that Norine would have chosen. “I’m not sure why she would park in that spot at 11:00 pm. She probably would have parked closer to the store.”
In the days following Norine’s disappearance, there were several organized searches for her. Her friends distributed missing person flyers throughout Long Island and volunteers combed through the area. Since John was a firefighter, he rallied many of his co-workers to assist in the search. Police canine units attempted to pick up Norine’s trail but came up empty.
Desperate to find Norine, some of her friends decided to speak with a psychic to see if they could come up with any new areas to search. The psychic believed that Norine’s body would be found in a Bronx park, so Elaine and several other friends went there and combed through the park. They found nothing.
Maria Przybylski, one of Norine’s close friends, admitted that those who knew Norine weren’t optimistic about their chances of finding her. “Within a couple of weeks, we knew she had been murdered, because we knew she would never leave her children. Her mom was devastated…her family was devastated.”
Unfortunately, investigators were unable to find any clues to her whereabouts and admitted that they had no idea what had happened to her. John insisted he was innocent of any wrongdoing; detectives found no concrete evidence of foul play and John was never considered a suspect. A spokesperson for the Nassau County Police Department admitted that John hadn’t gone out of his way to cooperate with them, and “did not grant permission to search any of the family properties and there was insufficient probable cause to obtain a warrant.”
He told detectives that he believed Norine had been killed after a dispute in the Pathmark parking lot. “I think she was murdered. That’s what I think, and we just haven’t ever found her. There was a report that a lady seen an argument there.” Investigators followed up on this report but were unable to confirm it. “At the time of the investigation, no other witnesses came forward to support this report, so it could not be verified nor could it be ruled out.”
Aware that some people suspected him of doing something to his wife, John hired a lawyer and rarely spoke about the case publicly. He had Norine declared legally dead and cut off all ties with her family, denying them visitation with the couple’s children. He later went on to get remarried and have two more children with his new wife.
The news media never paid much attention to Norine’s case and it went cold almost immediately. Decades went by and her fate remained a mystery. In 2017, some of her old high school classmates started talking about her at their 40th reunion, and it upset them that she had never been found. Maria noted, “We said we have to reopen the case. Even if we don’t find out what happened to her, just to find her and put her to rest and bring her home — that is what we want for her.”
In 2019, Norine’s friends received a tip that her body might have been disposed of in an old well located in the backyard of the apartment building where Norine and John had lived. They passed the information along to detectives, who confirmed that the well had been sealed off years earlier. A spokesperson for the Nassau County Police Department said that the well was considered a place of interest and they would be looking into it; it’s unclear if it was ever searched.
John Brown continued to maintain his innocence and told reporters that detectives were welcome to ask him any questions they wanted. “I’m not stopping them from doing anything, I’ve never stopped them from anything…other than when they started getting crazy with me and my lawyer got involved.”
As of June 2023, Norine’s missing person case is still open. None of her loved ones believe that she is still alive, but they hope to find out what happened to her and would like to be able to give her a proper burial. Her friend Maria noted, “We owe it to Norine to keep trying. We are just hoping that someone has heard something that could lead us to what happened to her.”
Norine Higuchi Brown was just 31 years old when she vanished from New Hyde Park, New York in December 1990. She was a devoted mother of two young children who had spent the day before she went missing getting ready for Christmas. Norine has brown eyes and brown hair, and at the time of her disappearance, she was 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing red pants, a dark wool coat, and white sneakers. If you have any information about Norine’s disappearance, please contact the Nassau County Police Department at 516–573–8800.