The search for 18-year-old Heidi Allen was frantic.
Within 36 hours of her mysterious disappearance from the D&W convenience store in New Haven on April 3, 1994, a command center was established at the nearby fire station.
“People started searching right then. People were out on the roads looking. I remember that,” said Lisa Buske, Allen’s sister.
Strangers were among those taking part in the search. That’s where things changed for Richard Thibodeau.
"That’s when it all started right there. At the search,” Thibodeau said. “Me, my brother, Theresa, my brother’s wife. Bunch of us were in the van. We went to search Albright Road.”
Thibodeau — one of the last people to see Allen — and his brother Gary were both involved in the search and then the investigation.
"They were sort of trying to accuse me of kidnapping this girl,” Thibodeau said.
Thibodeau was even asked to take a polygraph test.
"They tried to say I did this and that,” Thibodeau said. “I said you guys are crazy. I didn't do nothing like that.”
Buske has her doubts.
"In most criminal cases, the criminals return to the scene of the crime because they get off on it,” she said. “So it wouldn't surprise me that they came back. Because that's what criminals do, they get off on the pain.”
The search would continue over the next several hours — and then days — leading them to a van at Thibodeau’s home. Twenty-five years later, it’s still parked there but on Easter morning 1994, it was parked at the convenience store where Heidi Allen worked.
“The significance for the van for myself is, that there was an absence of physical evidence in the van which made me think, number one, the vehicle was wiped clean,” said current Oswego County District Attorney Gregory Oakes. “It doesn’t mean that she wasn’t in that van. It just means that it wasn’t there.”
It wouldn’t be long before Thibodeau went from being a searcher to a suspect.
"I was heading to work and they pulled us over. They had their guns drawn, everything,” he said. “I thought it was Al Capone. I said you guys are idiots.”
His brother, Gary, was next on their list.
"Somehow they got ahold of my brother. They found that he had dirt on him so they arrested him,” Thibodeau said.
"There were statements [Gary] made to inmates while he was incarcerated in Massachusetts that seem to indicate that he knew what happened to Heidi Allen and he was responsible for it,” DA Oakes said.
That’s something Richard continues to disbelieve.
"My brother supposedly said something to these guys, which I know he didn't. They offered them a deal,” he said.
Both men would eventually stand trial in 1995 for Allen’s disappearance.
The two brothers had two different trials, two different juries and two different verdicts — even with the same evidence.
“When he was found guilty, how? I don’t know,” Thibodeau said.
Richard was acquitted. Gary was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
“This is a difficult case because there is no direct evidence, no DNA, no fingerprints that clearly established that Gary Thibodeau did this. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that puts him at the scene of the crime,” DA Oakes said.