Months after a motorcyclist disappears, his bones are found 500 miles away.

Tom Roche

Missing Persons flyer

CASE DETAILS

Tom Roche

Tom Roche and Barbara Rondeau of Burbank, California, loved nothing more than to hit the road on their Harley-Davidson. Barbara says that after 15 years together, cycling was a passion that they shared:

“We’ve known each other since ’76.  And all our extra time was spent riding.  Tom’s my father, lover, teacher, guide, he’s…  Tom’s my life.”

In the fall of 1991, Tom accepted a well-paid management position with a company that plated aircraft parts.  Three days before Tom was to start his new job, he drove Barbara to work, and then they made plans to meet for lunch.

But Tom never showed up for lunch. When Barbara got home, she still had not heard from him. She was surprised to find the front door was unlocked.  The newspaper was still unopened – strange, since Tom always read the sports page in the morning.

A motorcycle battery that Tom had planned to install that day was still on the counter.  The answering machine was off, which meant that Tom had planned to be at home most of the day.

Did the killer write it, or was it a hoax?

Barbara went to bed that night anxious and upset:

“I didn’t sleep at all that night.  Just trying to figure out where Tom was and why he hadn’t called to let me know where he might be.”

According to Det. Carl Costanzo of the Burbank Police Department, it seemed like a typical missing person’s case:

“There’s a lot of different circumstances for different types of missing persons.  They could take off because of family problems.  They could take off because of money problems.  They could take off for a number of different reasons.  We really don’t know the reason until we get into talking with the family or friends.”

Neighbors were questioned, but no one had seen Tom that morning.  Police didn’t know whether Tom had left on his own or if he was a victim of foul play.  Barbara posted flyers at his usual hangouts, but no one came forward with any information.

Days passed with no word. Then a letter arrived.  It was addressed to “the family of Tom Roche.”  It contained Tom’s driver’s license and the earring he had been wearing the day he disappeared.

The letter also contained this bizarre confession:

“You don’t know me and hopefully never will, but I am the one who killed Tom Roche.” 

The closing words:

“I am very sorry for what I have done and I know in time that the guilt will leave me.  So will your pain.”

Tom’s boot was discovered with other items

Was the letter a hoax?  Tom’s family couldn’t think of a single person who would want to harm him, and they simply could not accept that he was dead.

Authorities once again reviewed the day he disappeared.  On that day, Tom made two deposits at his bank at approximately 8:20 A.M. But he did not withdraw any money, indicating he had no plans to leave town.

Tom was next seen by a neighbor talking with an unidentified white male at about
9:30 A.M.  If the letter was not a hoax, Det. Carl Costanzo believed this man may have been Tom’s killer:

“We contacted one witness who told us that she had seen Thomas that morning with another subject standing by a pick-up truck, looking into the bed of the pick-up truck.  She said that they were not arguing.  It looked like they were just carrying on a normal conversation and there was nothing suspicious about that.  And I believe that was the last time Thomas was seen.”

However, a statement from one eyewitness suggested the letter might be a hoax after all. An employee at a motorcycle parts store was convinced Tom came in one day after his family received the letter saying that Tom was killed.

The employee who talked to Tom, Andy Marsala, said Tom was not his usual self:

“He acted a little strange in the sense that he didn’t joke around with me.  I mean, we would always joke around about what kind of motorcycle he rode and about it leaking oil and stuff, you know, so I mean, I knew Tom well enough to know Saturday, that it was Tom that came in.”

Authorities believe Andy Marsala did see Tom Roche, but suspect that he is mistaken about the date.  With no new leads, the case became inactive.

On January 11, 1992, four months after Tom vanished, authorities in Placer County, California, 500 miles north of Burbank, were called to investigate weathered bone fragments and personal effects that were found on a remote hillside.  Motorcycle emblems on the clothing linked the items to Tom Roche.

A duffel bag, flashlight, hunting knife, two pairs of prescription eyeglasses, an empty prescription medicine bottle and several shirts were also found, suggesting that Tom had packed for a trip.

Barbara Rondeau recognized all the shirts and a pair of eyeglasses as Tom’s:

“I do feel that what they found is Tom.  But there’s that hope that he is still out there somewhere and that in fact I will find him.”

Update:

DNA tests have confirmed that the remains found in Placer County are those of Tom Roche and that he died of a gunshot wound.  The exact circumstances of his death, as well as the identity of the letter writer, are still a mystery.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season five with Robert Stack and in season one with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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28 Comments

  1. Pepito Escobar

    If you want to commit suicide, why make a bank deposit the same day???

    Reply

  2. thinkingoutloud

    why were police so quick to overlook the fact that Tom and this male had a convo the day he disappeared?
    maybe tom was looking at this truck, he just got a better paying job so maybe he was treating his family. So the male arranged this meeting so Tom could check out the car. Maybe after that, they planned to do some riding around or some sort of small trip (why his bag was filled with belongings) afterwards and the man really did lure him in and kill him for whatever reason.

    could it this person be is jealous of Tom’s new position?

    Reply

  3. Chanita

    I Think He Had Committed Suicide

    Reply

  4. Anonymous

    Blue, I’d love to know your opinion or just a hint. Tammy2

    Reply

  5. Anonymous

    Wow…thank u so much for posting that article..u just solved alot of questions on this thread…it should be at the top of the page. I believe it was a serial killer who liked to kill.

    Reply

    • So Sad

      Hi Anon. Thank you very much for your comment. What happened was i watched a re-run of this story on the T.V. and decided to see what was on the internet about it. My opinion is that the killer always had this underlying uncontrolable need to kill again as he enjoyed doing it so much in another country. Still wanting to kill he befriended Tom with the intention of wiping him out in a similar way as he had always done. However, what the killer did not expect was that he actually must of made a true friend in Tom, and when he finally ‘cleanly’ murdered him, he must of realised afterwards that he had actually killed a good man, a friend – HIS FRIEND. He DID NOT get the same feeling as before because he must of liked him allot as he got to know him personally. I expect he must still miss him, even now ………..
      And now he has no friend as good as him and probably never will. Sad but true 🙁

      Reply

  6. So sad

    If you go here – http://articles.latimes.com/1992-07-19/local/me-4840_1_man-disappears it gives you more details on the crime and what was witten on the letter. The murderer apparantly served in Nam’ and loved it, saying that it was the ‘happiest times of his life’. He loved the thrill of killing and could not get used to normal life after leaving. He still wanted to kill, but did not want to get caught so he figured L.A. would be perfect. He lured Tom after befriending him 500 miles North and shot him ‘quickly and efficiently’. So very sad and a total waste. I am glad the person feels guilt and i hope he always does for the rest of his life.

    Reply

  7. Mr. C

    Tom Roche hired me at my first job following my layoff from Lockheed Burbank (1991-92) working the NDT Department at A-H- Plating (sister station to Sunvair landing gear of Sun Valley) I remember he said he was impressed at my experience & “longevity” with Lockheed. I always kidded him about his long hair…that he needed to cut it. He was a super good boss and we that were working there knew his girlfriend and we were all there when his wife came in very upset and crying, saying he was missing. We were all very surprised at his disappearance. Joaquin, Alex, Paco and I in the NDT Inspection department. Woody Robinson was president at the time. Woody moved on to Crown Chrome Plating and Bill Simmonds took Tom’s QA Mgr job at A-H. As I remember, there was some rumor about faking his death to collect insurance. To my knowledge, none of us were questioned about Tom.
    Interesting to come across this site after all these years (now is 2016)

    Hey…any of you A-H Plating guys out there ? , I would love to re-connect !

    Reply

  8. Schnucki

    Can anyone tell me where Tom was lad to rest? I have looked online a lot but to no avail. If anyone can tell me I’d appreciate it,

    Reply

  9. Hayasi

    Interesting. I think the unidentified male he was seen with is a key factor; He was probably the one that caused Tom to suddenly leave without warning. Since Tom was supposedly having a “normal conversation” with the guy, it’s very likely they’ve had contact before. If the eyewitness account is correct, and Tom did show up at the motorcycle parts store after the letter was received, it might not be too far off to assume that Tom was the one who wrote the letter, probably to throw off the investigation. Whatever the case, my theory is that Tom knew what he was getting into, and he was still alive even after the letter was sent, but eventually was killed by the murderer. The question is Tom’s motivation for leaving, if authorities had figured that out, there would probably be more information leading to the murderer.

    Reply

  10. B. Lincoln

    Apparently killed by a drifter??? Please explain.

    Reply

  11. Tammy Thomas

    I miss Robert Stack too. He was the best. Was Tom’s bike ever found? Puzzling case.

    Reply

  12. Susan

    Just seen this as a rerun wish that the family had closure it’s been so long!

    Reply

  13. Jen

    I remember watching this when it first aired (boy, I miss Bob Stack ! So eerie but authoritarian) I don’t think there will ever be an answer to this case.

    Reply

  14. Johnny

    This is one of those haunting Unsolved Mysteries. Tom Roche sounded like a great friend and husband. My theory Tom was lured to his death. There were some tough biker gangs out in California. They probably wanted his cycle and killed him for it. Unsolved Mysteries did another recreation of a young man who worked on bikes and rode them. He was tracked down by a biker gang and killed. Sounds similar to this one. The only other scenario he stopped in a rest area for some sleep or to eat and met his death by an opportunistic type criminal.

    Reply

  15. Neil Westin

    This has all the hallmarks of a biker hit. There is the lone wolf rider, there is the mysterious person who makes an appt with him. They go off together, and whether he was alive for the trip or not is questionable. I think that he pissed off the wrong club. They made arrangements to meet him, and get close to him. Maybe by asking him to do repairs on a bike. He goes to their club with the new guy for a drink on a day off and to talk bikes and that’s when they kill him. They took him to a spot that they knew he would be a while being found. No doubt, identified during a club ride. I don’t think it was a woman who was the point of contention. I think that he either ratted on, or insulted someone from the local club. I’d look at the 1% clubs.dM

    Reply

    • Chipmunk

      “Biker hit”?

      He would be hit, without any close contact – so there could be nobody to say, “I saw him with this guy at the gritty bar…”

      Reply

  16. Nick Bucci

    Shows u the crazy world we live in. This is a weird case though. Apparently killed by a drifter. That’s my opinion.

    Reply

  17. Sandmand

    He packed and probably went riding on a motorcycle to the place where he was found dead. If he was on his own motorcycle, then it is pretty obvious who should be suspected. The planning to instal a new battery on his motorcycle, new job, and general state of his life do not suggest suicide… but the letter could be a sort of suicide note or at least a proof of death for the family. There is something missing in this story and I don’t know what it is. The girlfriend is not giving the whole story imho, she had to know if he was meeting someone or packing things or acting strangely (having an affair, getting involved with some other person for some other reason) and whatever that information is likely is the key to why he died. She probably did not reveal whatever it was because she wanted the cops to take the missing person case seriously and did not want police to think of him in that way (seeing another woman, drug deal, bank robbery, some family secret, who knows). I think she probably does, but she may not know the WHO.

    Reply

  18. Tammy Thomas

    Does anyone suspect Barbara? It’s obvious that she loved him and misses him.

    Reply

  19. Tammy Thomas

    It makes me crazy to think about this one. He was going to start a new job so it doesn’t seem he would vanish on purpose. If he did leave his life with Barbara, who did he leave with? Presumably the killer.

    Reply

  20. blue

    strange case i have my own opinion on this one.

    Reply

  21. Tammy Thomas

    If you’re planning to be outside installing a battery why would you turn off the answering machine? I’ve never heard of a killer writing a letter admitting to a crime but I’ve heard of letters that were fraudulent or part of a hoax. Just saying.

    Reply

    • hank

      Killers particularly serial killers admit to crimes albeit they do it anon. much like this guy did e.g. BTK Killer, Zodiac Killer, & The New York Zodiac Killer (Copycat) come to mind but I am sure there are many more.

      Reply