People don’t just vanish into thin air, but what if there’s an exception?
28-year-old Brenda Condon went missing in 1991 from Spring Township.
Weeks pass, months, then a year. Now it’s been 28 years. Family and friends still wondering if she’s ever coming back.
“Brenda leaving, running off, there’s no way,” Pamela Condon, Brenda’s Sister-in-Law said.
Or if something else might have happened.
“The unknown is the most difficult part,” Brenda’s son, T said.
“She was a victim of foul play,” Cold Case Detective, Kenneth Mains said.
How would you deal with it?
“I’ve tried to be there, but you can’t replace their mother,” Pamela said.
“It’s changed our lives in ways that many people couldn’t imagine unless you’ve been through it yourself,” T said.
“If you were to ask Shawna or T. Condon what they wanted more than anything in this world, they would ask you what happened to their mother,” WTAJ’s John Clay said.
“The last time I would’ve saw my mom would’ve been the two weeks previous for visitation,” T said.
After her divorce, Brenda had moved from Clearfield to Williamsport. Her children, age 10 and 12, stayed behind with their father, so they could stay in school with their friends. Brenda’s Son, who wishes to remain anonymous, has fond memories of his parents growing up.
“My mom and dad had a really good relationship even after their separation,” T said. “She could come see us anytime, get us anytime, there were no issues whatsoever.”
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Brenda’s two kids came first, but the distance was too far to visit as much as she wanted to, so she moved in with her boyfriend of two years, Gregg Palazzari, to be closer to her children.
“He had the apartment, or house, in a nice area in State College,” T said.
But she was about to see them for the last time.
“This is where Brenda Condon worked,” Clay said. “The bar was then known as Carl’s Bad Tavern.”
The roads of central PA were rough, icy, and slippery back in winter of 1991. You could feel the sting of the cold from the snowstorm that blew through a few weeks earlier.
Brenda had just gotten a part-time job as a bartender at Carl’s Bad Tavern two weeks prior, and to commute there from State College safely, and on time, for her 6 p.m. shift, she’d have to leave early.
Information gathered about Brenda’s last steps have produced nothing, if not ordinary, behavior. In the hours before she left for work, Greg Palazzari told the Daily Collegian she seemed her normal chipper self.
He said they made plans to celebrate her birthday, which would be in two days, over a fancy dinner before picking up her kids on the second.
“She was last seen alive talking to an unidentified man,” Clay said. “She was supposed to lock up and go home but she never made it.”
Most of the tavern’s patrons were regulars who came in for an after-work drink. But given the location, right off the Zion exit, on an interstate highway, the bar also attracted weary travelers looking for a break from the road.
“So you have some probably unseedy characters that frequent that bar,” Mains said.
People who came in during Brenda’s shift say it was slow that night, being a Tuesday in the dead of winter. All but three people there that night have been accounted for by police.
The first unknown patron was a tall man in his early 40s, wearing a bright blue down jacket, jeans and a side part.
The second, was under six feet and in his late 50s. He was wearing a short dark jacket, work slacks and a plaid brown shirt, with thinning hair on the sides of his head.
And third, a younger man, about average height, in his mid-20s to early 30s, wearing a black leather jacket, white button down shirt and jeans. He had thick dark hair.
People who were at the bar until last call saw Brenda talking to one of these men around 1 a.m., but nothing about the conversation seemed suspicious, and friends say that striking up conversations with strangers wasn’t unusual for her.
Brenda was outgoing, approachable. All the things that make a great bartender, but “she wasn’t gullible, you know,” Pamela said. “Just very friendly.”
Did Brenda become too trusting and find herself alone with someone who took advantage of her hospitality?
Evidence from the scene accounts for Brenda up to the point where she’d shut the lights off and was ready to lock up. Sometime after hitting the light switch, and before killing the music, something happened.
Her keys and purse went with her, yet her car was still in the lot.
And whoever it was seemingly snatched her right out of her black cowboy boots. Boots police say were strategically placed in the men’s bathroom.
Brenda was scheduled to be back at work by 10 the next morning, but a cigarette vendor who came by during that time later recalled seeing no one there while he replaced the machines. Thinking nothing of it, he didn’t say anything.
Brenda’s disappearance wasn’t officially reported until the evening of February 27, a full 17 hours after police believe she went missing.
And it took another three days for police to begin their search.
Brenda was scheduled to pick her kids up for visitation on March 2, a date her family says she wouldn’t have missed for the world. So they waited until then to be sure she was truly missing and endangered.
“Maybe she had decided she needed to clear her head, so they didn’t tell us anything,” T said.
But as Brenda’s children stood outside their father’s house, waiting.
“I remember watching cars down the road just expecting her to come because she always had shown up,” T said.
The reality of the situation grew more dim.
“She didn’t show up,” T said. “Didn’t show up. And finally they pulled us together and said ‘hey we have something we need to tell you.’”
The first week of the investigation was full of hope. Police took dogs, rescue groups, and helicopters, searching every square inch of that area around Carl’s Bad Tavern. But nothing came up.
“There’s nothing for them to go off of,” T said. “There’s just a minuscule amount of evidence.”
The possibilities of finding her alive became dimmer as time went by.
“We can get out of the way right now, she was a victim of foul play,” Mains said.
“Unfortunately given the circumstances, that may be the case,” Corporal Cigich said. “But until we developed the physical evidence to confirm that, we’ll classify it as a missing persons case.”
“With what few clues they had, it sounded very suspicious to me,” Pamela said.
But her family continues to stay positive.
“Without a body of something you always are going to have that little speck of hope that she is out there somewhere,” Pamela said.
“There’s always that twinge of hope because there’s no real evidence to support anything other than she’s not here,” T said.
On the 10th anniversary of Condon’s disappearance in 2001, police held a press conference with the family abut the case, opening up about their lack of leads, the unidentified patrons at the bar, and the choice to put her case on a national database system for missing people.
They also mentioned reluctance of some of Brenda’s acquaintances to cooperate, but didn’t elaborate.
“Up until now, we have a lot of speculation that we haven’t been able to confirm,” Cigich said. “We do have some leads that I’m not at liberty to discuss at this point in time.”
Over the years, theories started to rise about the reputation of Carl’s Bad Tavern, which closed shortly after Brenda disappeared.
“It certainly was a place where shady people could hang out,” T said.
As well as the possibility of Brenda’s ex-husband, Thomas, having something to do with her disappearance.
“My brother was helping me move that day,” Pamela said. “So we were both surprised when we found out she was missing.”
But none of them panned out, and her ex-husband was cleared by police soon after the incident.
In 2014, Greg Palazzari was arrested for harboring a major cocaine operation at this business, Greg’s Sunoco, in State College.
“I’ve asked Greg multiple times if that’s the reason she disappeared, and he couldn’t tell me no,” Nancy Ann Jones, Greg’s former girlfriend said.
Police believe Greg was selling coke for years, and made around $50,000 a month.
“I’d have to say he’s probably somewhat responsible,” Jones said. “Not in a direct line but in a roundabout way. He owed a lot of people a lot of money.”
Given the newfound information, some believe Brenda could’ve been a victim of a bad drug deal, including Nancy Jones, a woman he dated soon after Brenda disappeared. She feels the guilt he had over her disappearance could mean he knew more than he’s willing to tell anyone.
“I used to have to wake him up in the middle of the night because he’d be having nightmares about her missing,” Jones said.
But officials say that’s not always the case.
“It’s not uncommon for people to say they feel guilty or responsible for a loved one’s disappearance,” Mains said.
And police have found no connections to date.
2020 is the first year Brenda’s been missing for longer than she was last seen alive, and it’s going to be hard on everyone.
“She was definitely free-spirited, fun, loving,” T said. “She was always thoughtful, kind, generous, would help anybody. She and I were awfully great friends.”
The holidays just haven’t been the same without Brenda’s well sought after desserts, loving spirit, and thoughtful gifts.
“It’s been a lot of years,” T said. “A lot of trying years.”
“Christmas was always a big holiday with our family,” Pamela said.
And Pamela, one of her best friends, is missing her shopping partner.
“We loved to shop,” Pamela said. “One time when I ran into her at the mall of course, and she got excited to show me this pair of boots she’d just bought. She opened the bag up, and I’d just bought the same boots.”
Brenda left behind two young children who had to grow up in a world of hurt, the agony of the unknown.
“You never forget,” T said. “You never ever forget. But you have to move forward.”
And now their children are going through their childhood never knowing who their grandmother was.
“The kids deserve some resolution,” Pamela said. “Some kind of answer. They’ve been deprived of a lot.”
“You know, if it was your mother you would want to know,” Shawna said. “For her to be here, for her granddaughter, if anyone knows anything, please come forward no matter what it is, and anything will help.”