Who Killed Barbara Jean Monaco?

by Kerry Dougherty

I was alone in the newsroom on that August day in 1985. It was lunchtime and the editor’s phone was ringing incessantly.

“Dougherty. Virginian-Pilot, Ledger-Star,” I said, reciting the five-word greeting I always used because I thought it made me sound like a hard-nosed reporter.

“Hello,” began a polite woman on the other end of the phone. “My name is Pauline Monaco. I was wondering if the newspaper would consider writing another story about my daughter, Barbara Jean. She disappeared in Virginia Beach seven years ago. Your newspaper wrote a lot about her at the time.”

I’d arrived at The Pilot just the summer before that fateful call. I’d never heard of this Monaco girl. I promised her mom I’d dig out the files and get back to her.

Within a few hours of poring over yellowed clips and staring at the face of a cute teenager I had a new goal: I wanted to find out who killed this 18-year-old from Connecticut.

Here’s what we know about the case: Barbara Jean, her older sister and a friend drove to Virginia Beach from Derby, CT and checked into the old Aloha Motel on 15th Street on August 20th.

They did what young people always do in a beach resort: They hit the sand during the day, they hit the clubs at night.

On August 23rd Barbara Jean had a late-night (actually early morning) date with a bartender at Peabody’s on 21st Street. Yep, that place was just as popular in 1978 as it is today.

She set out on foot alone from the Aloha to walk the six blocks to the club.

Along the way she vanished.

Of course people don’t just disappear. Witnesses saw her get into a station wagon that already held four or five men. Police believe these were local guys she’d met earlier in the week. They drove her to a cottage next to a pond near Oceana NAS where she was gang-raped and murdered.

Since the start of the investigation the police have had a handful of local guys on their radar. The cops believe they were with her on the night she died. They were deceptive on lie detector tests in 1978. They’ve kept silent for 42 years.


Ten months after Barbara Jean’s disappearance an informant came forward with details about the murder, but the prosecutor refused to grant him immunity in exchange for his testimony.

That was a critical mistake. The case went cold after that.

Back in 2001, one of the men who was in the car that picked up Barbara Jean talked to the cold case detectives. Jimbo Moore, admitted he was with her on the night before she died and gave the police details about her clothing that they’d never released to the public. He promised to come back and tell the detectives everything he knew.

Instead, he went home and ran a hose from the exhaust pipe on his truck to the cab. He died on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of Barbara Jean’s death.

Another man considered part of the Monaco case died of cancer recently.

The others are still out there.

Virginia Beach detectives haven’t given up. They’ve made a compelling video about the Monaco case that will debut Sunday. You’ll be able to find it on the Virginia Beach Police Department’s Cold Case Facebook page. Or you can check back here. We’ll have a link once it’s live.

Barbara Jean Monaco would be 60 if she were alive today. Older than her parents when she was killed. Her father died several years ago. Her mom is 89. Pauline Monaco already has her marker in the cemetery. It says she was “The mother of Barbara Jean Monaco.”

Others remember her, too.

On Monday, a friend breathlessly phoned to tell me to get to the intersection of Laskin and First Colonial Road.

“There’s a guy with a sign asking who killed Barbara Jean!”

I was headed in a different direction but I made a U-turn, sped to that corner and parked in the Walgreen’s lot.

“Hi. I’m Kerry Dougherty, mind if I ask you a few questions,” I said, as I approached, flipping open a notebook.

“I wondered when you’d come,” he replied coolly.

The man with the homemade sign said he’d read my stories in the newspaper for years and was outraged that someone got away with murder in his hometown. He said he’d been at that busy intersection with that same sign every August for years.

No, he never got any new information. Nope, no one else had ever even stopped to talk to him. No, he didn’t want his name made public.

“I figure someone driving by might know what happened to her,” he said. “Maybe they’ll finally talk to the police.”

Someone knows who killed Barbara Jean Monaco. There is no statute of limitations on murder.

If you have information about her slaying you know what you should do.

Now do it.

This column is republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.

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8 responses to “Who Killed Barbara Jean Monaco?

  1. Cold cases like this are always tough. I hope they can catch a break.

    • Watching one of those cable rerun detective shows and they actually used DNA from a late 60s early 70s murder. The lead detective had the lab tech cut a saliva or blood stain from the victims shirt and bag it. And there it sat. This was long before DNA evidence. In the early 2000s, they ran it and got a match and confession.

      When they interviewed the long-retired detective, he said he just had a hunch that someday, the techies might be able to use it.

      You have to wonder how many really old evidence boxes are just waiting.

      • No DNA evidence in this case. They never found the body.

        • Sadly. Seems every locality has its unsolved. Except Bardstown, KY. Don’t speand the night there. In fact, check your gas and keep on going. Something is wrong with that place.

          • Did you listen to that podcast, NN? My best friend from college has been an ER room doc there for many years.

            It’s actually a very nice small town, where “My Old Kentucky Home” is located.

          • I watched the 6-episode show. Yeah, it really looks like a nice little town, including the Foster inspiration. But damn man, 4 known unsolved murders with, what, two possible others? In a town of 13,000, that’s some weird stuff. Little Chicago. No, that’s Phoebus. Make that Little Baltimore.

      • In the 70’s and 80’s, a Virginia forensic technician, Mary Jane Bowen, saved serological samples that ordinarily would have been discarded. Years after her retirement and after more sophisticated DNA testing had been developed, those samples were found in the Dept. of Forensic Science files. When testing of a few of them resulted in the discovery that several people had been mistakenly convicted, Governor Warner ordered the testing of all the samples against the evidence of people who had been convicted. It was a long and expensive process, but it resulted in more innocent people being freed and several actual killers being identified and convicted.

  2. I’ve read the cold case books, I’ve watched the cold case shows. Absent clear DNA evidence or a clearly rational confession I would have a hard time being on a jury and handing down a guilty verdict on a 30 – 40 year old case. It seems to me that reasonable doubt rises over time as witnesses die, memories fade, evidence is lost, etc. The victims and their families deserve justice but the accused deserve justice too.

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