Lisa Thomas arrived home from school around 2:15 pm on Monday, October 6, 1974. The 15-year-old spent some time helping her mother, Barbara, hang some new kitchen curtains in their Nanuet, New York home, but her mind kept wandering to a blouse she had seen at a nearby Bamberger’s department store a few days earlier. Around 3:30 pm, Lisa decided that she wanted to go buy the blouse. She asked her mother if she wanted to make the one-block walk to the Nanuet Mall with her, but Barbara was busy cooking dinner and said she didn’t have time. Undeterred, Lisa decided to go by herself.
After grabbing her purse and promising her mother that she would be home in time for dinner, Lisa left her house and headed off in the direction of the mall. To get there, Lisa took her normal shortcut through a wooded area that backed up to the Nanuet Mall. It was a route that Lisa had taken countless times before, but on this day, something went wrong.
Barbara started to grow concerned when her daughter hadn’t returned home by the time dinner was on the table. Lisa was usually a very conscientious teenager who would call home if she were going to be late, but it was possible that she had run into some friends at the shopping mall and lost track of time.
Lisa’s father, Stanley, knew that it was unlike Lisa to stay out later than promised. After dinner, he decided to go to the Nanuet Mall to look for her but was unable to find her. He returned home, where he and Barbara waited anxiously for the sound of Lisa coming in the front door. As the night wore on without any word from the teenager, Stanley feared the worst. Around 10:30 pm, he called the Clarkstown Police Department and reported Lisa missing.
Since the Nanuet Mall was already closed for the night by the time Stanley called the police, there was little they could do to determine if Lisa had arrived at the mall or not. They appeared unconcerned; they seemed to believe that the teenager had simply gone off with some friends and would return home shortly.
Stanley and Barbara, along with Lisa’s two younger siblings, spent a sleepless night waiting for Lisa to call or come home. By the time the sun came up, they knew that something was terribly wrong. Stanley, a construction contractor, took the day off from work so he could help search for his missing daughter.
Several police officers joined Stanley in his search. They initially came up empty when they searched along the wooded shortcut Lisa normally used to get to the mall, but as they expanded their search further into the woods, they made a horrifying discovery. About 75 yards away from the Nanuet Mall parking lot, hidden by some tall grass and trees, they stumbled across Lisa’s body.
A distraught Stanley was quickly removed from the scene as police cordoned off the area around Lisa’s body. Investigators noted that the teenager had been blindfolded with a red handkerchief that she normally kept tied around her black purse, which was found several yards away from her body. She was fully clothed, though her white sweater appeared to be knotted around her neck.
Detectives found nothing to indicate that Lisa had been dragged to the area where her body lay; they believed she had either been forced to walk there or had been carried. Her white shoes, which were located close to her body, were clean and dirt-free, but her red socks were dirty. They theorized that she might have been lifted right out of her shoes at some point; scuff marks near her feet indicated that she had struggled desperately for her life.
There was very little blood found at the crime scene and detectives initially believed that Lisa had been strangled. The medical examiner determined that this was not the case; Lisa had been bludgeoned to de*ath. She had been struck several times with a hard object on the bridge of her nose, the top of her head, and behind her left ear; the blows had been forceful enough to fracture her skull in several places. The injuries had caused massive internal bleeding; Lisa’s stomach and lungs were filled with blood.
The medical examiner found no signs of se*xual ass*ault, leaving detectives struggling to determine the motive behind the brutal attack. Although robbery was a possibility — Lisa had been carrying around $15 in cash when she left the house and only $1.35 was recovered with her body — investigators were skeptical that a robbery would have ended with such a horrific mu*rder. Lisa’s friends and family all believed that she would have willingly handed over her money without a fight if someone had attempted to rob her.
The medical examiner estimated that Lisa had likely been de*ad since between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm the previous evening. Detectives found nothing to indicate that Lisa had made it to the mall, meaning she had most likely been attacked shortly after she left her house. They canvassed the Nanuet Mall looking for anyone who might have seen or heard anything unusual around the time of the mu*rder but came up empty. Most of the shoppers they spoke with seemed horrified to learn of Lisa’s de*ath; many female teenagers vowed to stop using the woods as a shortcut, fearful they might be attacked next.
As people in the community learned of Lisa’s mu*rder, they rallied around her grieving family. Anxious to offer any kind of support they could, a steady stream of local residents left food, flowers, and cards on the Thomas’s front steps. The family was grateful for their kindness, noting that many of them drove off before they could even be thanked.
Detectives began the arduous process of interviewing all of Lisa’s family, friends, classmates, and neighbors. Everyone appeared to be completely shocked by her de*ath. Lisa, who had recently started her sophomore year at Nanuet High School, was a popular student and a star athlete on the soccer team. Classmates described her as being very friendly and nice to everyone.
About two weeks before she was ki*lled, Lisa had started dating 17-year-old Gary Cohen. They had planned to go on a date to a football game that weekend, and he was stunned by her mu*rder. He told reporters that Lisa was a warm and friendly girl with absolutely no enemies. Her classmates agreed, saying Lisa was one of the prettiest and most popular girls at Nanuet High School. They couldn’t think of anyone who would want to hurt her.
The fact that Lisa was so popular complicated the investigation. Investigators noted that there were dozens of people who were close with Lisa and all of them needed to be interviewed. Identifying Lisa’s kil*ler was the top priority for police, and more than two dozen detectives from the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department and the Clarkstown Police Department were assigned to work on the case.
On Friday, detectives announced that they suspected three local teenagers were responsible for Lisa’s de*ath. Since all three of the suspects were minors, their names were not released to the public, but investigators noted that the three males had been seen in or around the wooded area around the time that Lisa was believed to have been mur*dered.
It was rumored that the mu*rder may have been related to a burglary that took place at the Thomas home less than two weeks earlier. Barbara Thomas had called the police on September 24th and reported that their home had been burglarized; the only items that had been stolen were three guns. Police recovered all three of the stolen weapons less than an hour later; they had been stolen by an underage male neighbor who went to school with Lisa. Detectives suspected the teenage burglar was involved in Lisa’s mur*der.
Lisa’s funeral was held on Friday at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church; Nanuet High School arranged to have buses drive students from the school to the church so all of Lisa’s classmates could attend her funeral. More than 1,000 people showed up at the mass. Most of them had already been interviewed by detectives, and all of them appeared to still be in shock at the loss of such a vibrant teenager.
By the end of the week, investigators had already spoken with more than 800 people about the mur*der. Rockland County District Attorney Robert Meehan told reporters that Lisa’s m*urder was the worst he had seen in his time as DA and detectives were working around the clock to find the person or persons responsible. Despite their efforts, the DA admitted that he didn’t believe they were close to making an arrest, commenting that “we centered our interrogation on some people, but that didn’t work out.” He refused to comment further.
A week after Lisa had been ki*lled, detectives noted that they still weren’t certain what the motive behind the crime had been. Although Lisa hadn’t been se*xually as*saulted, they couldn’t rule out the possibility that it had been the k*iller’s original intent but he had been interrupted. They also weren’t sure exactly what type of weapon had been used to k*ill Lisa. They found a sock filled with rocks near the crime scene that they believed might have been the weapon, but after submitting it for forensic testing determined that it was unrelated.
Ten days after Lisa’s de*ath, DA Meehan announced that the teenager who had been arrested for burglarizing the Thomas home had passed a polygraph examination about Lisa’s m*urder and was no longer considered a suspect. Detectives were forced to start over from the beginning.
Hoping to solicit new information about the case, the Clarkstown Police Department added a phone line to be used solely for tips about Lisa’s case. They encouraged people to call if they believed they knew anything that could be of use to investigators. Although some tips were called in, no new leads were developed.
Investigators believed that Lisa was most likely ki*lled by someone she knew. Although they tossed around the idea that the crime might have been committed by someone who was just passing through Nanuet, they didn’t believe that a stranger would have been familiar with the wooded shortcut and was unlikely to have found it accidentally.
Detectives considered the possibility that Lisa’s de*ath might have been unintended, the result of a physical attack that went too far. Lisa’s younger sister told Barbara that Lisa had mentioned being threatened by someone she knew, and some of Lisa’s friends noted that she had seemed to be afraid that someone had been following her.
Although the teenage burglar had been cleared by passing a lie detector test, there were still many rumors that he and some of his friends were the k*illers. Investigators admitted it was possible that they had taken Lisa into the woods with the intention of scaring her or even beating her up, but the resulting confrontation got out of hand and ended in mur*der. With no physical evidence linking anyone to the crime, all detectives could do was speculate.
The wooded area where Lisa’s body was found was known to locals as a place where people would go to use drugs. Although Lisa had no involvement with drugs, detectives thought it was possible that she had seen or heard something there that she shouldn’t have and it resulted in her de*ath. They conducted numerous interviews with people known to frequent the area but were unable to find any evidence substantiating this theory.
In February 1975, Lisa’s family announced that they were offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for mur*dering Lisa. Stanley and Barbara were convinced that there were people in the area who knew exactly what happened to their daughter and were hopeful that the prospect of a financial reward would be enough to coax them to come forward. Unfortunately, no new information was received.
Although detectives continued to work on the case, as months went by it was clear that the investigation had stalled. A year after the m*urder there had still been no arrests; investigators claimed that they had several persons of interest but lacked any physical evidence connecting them to the crime. Stanley and Barbara were frustrated by the lack of progress and felt that detectives were no longer actively working the case. Hoping to turn up new evidence, the family began investigating on their own.
Through the course of their investigation, Stanley and Barbara came to believe their daughter had been ki*lled by three local teenagers. Although detectives pointed out that there was no evidence to back up this claim, Barbara remained convinced that Lisa got into an argument with a male that she knew, eventually growing angry enough to slap him across the face. This escalated their fight to the next level, and Barbara claimed a second teenager held Lisa from behind while the first teen hit her in the head with a crowbar.
Despite the lack of any real evidence, Barbara’s theory is certainly possible. The injuries that Lisa sustained on her face and head could indeed have come from a crowbar, but without locating the actual mu*rder weapon there is no way to be sure. Barbara believed that an adult — likely a parent of one of the teenagers involved — was responsible for disposing of the crowbar. It’s unclear where she got this information; investigators insist they have no evidence to substantiate her theory.
Over the years, investigators have gone through Lisa’s case file several times. In 2011, they went through more than 100 pieces of evidence and submitted some for advanced forensic testing. They also re-interviewed dozens of people, hoping to find some inconsistency that they missed during the initial investigation, but no new leads were developed.
Stanley Thomas died in 1987, leaving Barbara to continue the hunt for Lisa’s ki*ller on her own. She did everything she could to keep Lisa’s case fresh in the minds of both the investigators and the public, but died at the age of 81 in July 2020 without seeing her daughter’s kil*ler brought to justice.
Lisa Thomas was 15 years old when she was brutally mur*dered in 1974. She was an intelligent and friendly teenager who wanted to become a nurse but her dreams were stolen by a ki*ller or ki*llers who have never been identified. Although her parents died without ever learning who was responsible for their daughter’s de*ath, her siblings and friends still hope for answers. If you have any information about Lisa’s m*urder, please contact the Clarkstown Police Department at 845–639–5840.