Susan Wolff Cappel was in a good mood when she went to work on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 16, 1982. The 19-year-old was in the process of getting a divorce, and her estranged husband had been granted temporary custody of Damin, their 18-month-old son. Before she left for her 4:00 pm shift in the deli department of the Newcomerstown, Ohio IGA supermarket, she learned that a custody hearing had finally been scheduled. She had been ecstatic to receive this news, as she was certain that she would be granted custody of Damin. She told her mother that she could finally see a light at the end of the tunnel, and she was looking forward to the future.
Susan and Allen Cappel had been high school sweethearts. They got married in February of 1980, while Susan was still a senior in high school; Damin was born later that same year. The couple found an apartment near Bolivar, Ohio, about a half-hour away from Susan’s childhood home in Newcomerstown. Although they appeared to have a great marriage at first, it would only last about 23 months.
Allen, who worked for the Ohio Department of Transportation, had filed for divorce in January of 1982. Susan, who had been a homemaker, was unsure how she was going to support herself; because of this, Allen had been given temporary custody of Damin. He remained in the apartment the couple had shared, leaving Susan to find her own place to live.
Susan had gone to her parents, James and Judy Wolff, and asked them if they knew how she could go about getting welfare from the state. Her parents had been against the idea, and told Susan they were more than willing to provide her with food and shelter until she got back on her feet. Susan had gratefully accepted their offer, and immediately started trying to find a job so she could help with expenses. It didn’t take her long; within weeks, she had a part-time job at IGA. She soon found a second job working two nights a week at a hospital in Canton, Ohio. They were impressed with her work and planned to make her a full-time employee once they finished an expansion project that was in progress.
Susan was working hard to get her life back together, and things were finally starting to improve. The only dark cloud that remained was the fact that Allen currently controlled when Susan was able to see her son. Susan had a planned visitation with Damin two days earlier, but at the last-minute Allen had refused to allow her to see the child. Susan had been both angry and upset, and had called her lawyer to complain about it the following day. He had called her back with the news that, after being delayed twice, a new date had finally been set for the long-awaited custody hearing.
Susan was thrilled at the thought that she might soon be reunited with her son, and she set about redecorating her childhood bedroom so he would have a place to stay. She bought him a new crib and picked out a pale green paint that she thought would look nice on the walls. She planned to spend the next day she had off from work painting.
Allen had retained possession of the only vehicle the couple had owned, so Susan was left without transportation. Her parents had been letting her use one of their cars to get back and forth to work, and Susan climbed into the car Tuesday afternoon to make the short drive to IGA. She pulled into the parking lot with plenty of time to spare before her 4:00 pm shift started, and happily made her way into the supermarket. She arrived at work carrying only her IGA vest; she had forgotten to grab her purse and wallet before she left the house, but wasn’t too concerned. She was only scheduled to work for five hours, and she didn’t expect to need anything from her purse while she was there.
Susan’s shift in the deli department that night was completely routine and uneventful. Her father had stopped in around 6:00 pm to pick up some items for dinner, and he noted that Susan was still in a good mood at that time. She mentioned that she planned to go right home after her shift was over at 9:00 pm, and he told her that he would see her then.
The rest of the evening passed by quickly, and Susan punched out right at 9:00 pm. One of her co-workers left around the same time, and as she stepped out into the parking lot she saw Susan making her way towards her car. Before she got there, another car pulled up in front of her, and Susan spoke briefly to the driver. She then walked around and got into the passenger seat of the car, which then drove out of the parking lot.
When Susan hadn’t returned to her parents’ house by 9:30 pm, they assumed that she had been asked to work late. As more time passed, they wondered if perhaps the teenager had decided to go out with some friends. Although she would normally call if she were going to be late, her parents knew that she had been under a great deal of stress because of the divorce; it was possible she had simply forgot to phone them. By midnight, they were growing increasingly concerned. They didn’t want to overreact — Susan was an adult, and free to go out for the night if she wanted — but they couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
James and Judy spent a sleepless night waiting to hear the sound of Susan pulling into the driveway, but the street was silent. By morning, they were in a state of panic; they called the police at 9:21 am and reported their daughter missing. The Newcomerstown Police saw no need to immediately look into Susan’s disappearance. Instead, they assured her parents that she had most likely decided that she needed to get away from everything for a while. After all, she had been under a lot of stress recently.
Susan’s parents acknowledged that Susan had been going through a lot, but were adamant that she would not disappear voluntarily. She had been looking forward to the upcoming custody hearing, and the divorce finally seemed to be winding down. She never would have left without letting someone know where she was going to be just in case something happened to her son.
James drove to the IGA where he had last seen his daughter, and was disturbed to find her car still parked in the parking lot, in the same spot where it had been when he stopped by the market the previous night. After alerting Newcomerstown Police that he had located her car, they gave him permission to drive it home.
After speaking with some of the employees at IGA, Susan’s parents learned that one of their daughter’s co-worker’s had seen her getting into an unknown car after her shift was over. The co-worker hadn’t thought much of it at the time, and was unable to provide any details about the driver of the car. She described the car as an older, light blue car that had a good deal of rust on it.
Once they heard about the blue car, James and Judy immediately suspected that Susan’s estranged husband was somehow involved in her disappearance. He had a friend named Rick who owned an older model Plymouth Satellite that was blue in color, and they wondered if this was the car Susan’s co-worker had seen.
After learning that Susan had left behind her purse, identification, two uncashed paychecks, and all other personal belongings, police started to take a serious look at her disappearance. Although they still weren’t convinced that foul play was involved, they did open an investigation and started to question Susan’s family, friends, and co-workers.
James and Judy told police their hunch that Allen and his friend might have been involved, and detectives interviewed Allen. He adamantly denied that he had anything at all to do with Susan’s disappearance, and scoffed at the thought that he had enlisted his friend Rick to do anything. Allen told investigators that he believed Susan had gone off on her own and would return at some point when she was ready.
Unfortunately, two weeks after Susan went missing, Rick and his cousin were ki*lled in a car accident while Rick was driving the Plymouth. Detectives were never able to question them, and they were never able to confirm if the car Susan got into was a Plymouth Satellite. Her co-worker underwent hypnosis to see if she could recall any other details about the car, but she was unable to remember anything useful.
James and Judy continued searching for their daughter, but the official investigation into Susan’s disappearance was relatively superficial. Since they still thought there was a chance that Susan had left voluntarily, they never conducted any physical searches for her and did little other than interview those people who knew her. There were several reported sightings of Susan during the first couple years after she went missing, and this seemed to confirm law enforcement’s suspicions that she was still alive.
About a month after Susan’s disappearance, the younger sister of one of her friends claimed that she saw Susan sitting in a blue car with Allen Cappel. She told police that Susan had permed her hair; prior to her disappearance, she had always worn her hair long and feathered in the front. Since the girl who reported seeing Susan was quite familiar with her, police believed it was a credible sighting. Allen, however, denied seeing or hearing from Susan after she went missing.
A year after her disappearance, a Greyhound bus driver reported seeing Susan on a bus in Ohio. According to him, she had purchased a ticket to travel from Reno, Nevada to Newcomerstown, Ohio and was carrying only a small bag. She had asked him if she could be let off the bus at a gas station in Newcomerstown, but the driver told her that passengers were only allowed to be let off the bus once it reached the Greyhound station.
The woman got off the bus at the station, but as soon as she left the bus, she started running towards the gas station. The driver saw a missing poster for Susan at the station and called police to report that he believed she had just been on his bus. Police responded immediately and conducted an extensive search of the area, but found no sign of Susan. It is unknown if the woman on the bus was actually Susan or if the sighting was a case of mistaken identity.
In an effort to keep the case in the public eye, James and Judy designed “Missing Mother” flyers with several pictures of Susan on them, and they distributed them throughout the area. They also offered a $500 reward for any information about Susan’s whereabouts, but no one seemed to know where the teenager might be. When the flyers failed to help locate their daughter, James and Judy hired a private investigator. They were also interviewed on several local television news programs, and they appealed to the public for help in finding out what happened to Susan. Despite an exhaustive search that took them from New Jersey to California, they were unable to find any clues pertaining to Susan’s fate.
The Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Office is the lead agency in charge of Susan’s case, and they have investigated all tips and leads that have come in over the years, but admit that they still have no idea what happened to Susan. The fact that so much time has passed without any contact from her leads them to believe that foul play likely took place, but they still have no evidence to support this theory.
Damin was forced to grow up without his mother; James and Judy attempted to sue Allen for custody of the child shortly after Susan’s disappearance and later launched an active campaign to increase grandparent’s rights in the state of Ohio.
Allen was granted a divorce in 1983 after Susan had been missing for one year; he got remarried five months later. He always maintained that he had nothing to do with Susan’s disappearance, and detectives never found any evidence to substantiate the theory that he was involved. He was k*illed in a car accident in 2003.
James and Judy had Susan declared d*ead on February 3, 2015, nearly 33 years after she went to work and never returned home. Although they believe she was likely k*illed shortly after she left work that Tuesday night in 1982, they had never felt ready to have a formal declaration of de*ath. They finally did so only because they wanted to hold a formal memorial service and erect a tombstone for her. The declaration didn’t bring them any closure, and they still hope to learn what happened to their daughter.
Susan Wolff Cappel was 19 years old when she went missing in 1982. She has brown eyes and brown hair, and at the time of her disappearance she was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 107 pounds. She was last seen wearing a white and brown striped turtleneck sweater, brown corduroy jeans, a red IGA smock, and reddish-brown oxfords. Her upper left front tooth was discolored and she has a scar on the upper right side of her lip. She had previously fractured her nose in a car accident. If you have any information about Susan, please contact the Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Office at 330–339–2000 or the Newcomerstown Police Department at 740–498–6161.