Sherrie L. Passaro last saw her mother alive in August 1984. Since then: no body, weapon or trace of Mary Badaracco, age 38 when she vanished.
Passaro, who always suspected foul play, welcomed news Friday that state police had made an arrest in connection with Badaracco's disappearance, classified since 1990 as a homicide.
"It's been so long," Passaro said. "There has never been an arrest. We're cautiously optimistic."
State police charged Ernest Dachenhausen, 65, of 4 Hillside Road, Danbury, with interfering with police, a misdemeanor. Police in September excavated the backyard of Dachenhausen's former Newtown residence and found buried cars, Lt. J. Paul Vance confirmed Friday.
Vance did not specify what troopers were searching for or what led them to charge Dachenhausen seven months later. He cited sealed court documents in one of the state oldest cold-case files. For years, police have believed that there are those who know precisely what happened to Mary Badaracco, but have remained silent out of fear.
"We did discover some good information, some good leads," Vance said. "We are continuing the investigation."
Dachenhausen is being held with bail set at $75,000, pending arraignment on Monday in Superior Court in Danbury. Dachenhausen said in September that he knew Badaracco's husband, but had nothing to do with the disappearance.
Danbury police initially believed Mary Badaracco ran away from home as part of an agreement to split up with her husband, Dominic Badaracco, a Danbury businessman. The case was reclassified a homicide in 1990, and Mary Badaracco was declared legally dead in 1991.
Mary Badaracco, a barmaid known as "Mary Poo," was last seen at her home in Sherman. She left behind her car keys, wedding ring and an occasionally abusive relationship with her husband.
Nine months after Mary disappeared, Dominic Badaracco went before a judge and said he and Mary had been planning a divorce. Mary, he said, agreed to leave and give up the home in return for ``approximately $100,000."
Passaro, 45, said she and her sister, Beth Profeta, both of Danbury, have not had any contact with Dominic Badaracco, their stepfather, since the days after their mother's disappearance.
She said Dominic asked her and her sister not to report their mother missing, but they did, anyway, sensing that something wasn't right.
"We knew something bad happened to her," Passaro said. "I know my mother, and there's no way she would just leave. She didn't just drive away and never come back. Nobody believed that. The police obviously don't believe that or they wouldn't be doing what they're doing."
In 1985, an informant in the federal witness protection program said the Hell's Angels had killed Mary Badaracco under a contract ``hit."
In 1990, Dominic's son, Joseph "Joey" Badaracco, went to prison on an arson conviction after hiring two men in 1989 to firebomb a bar owned by a rival of his father. Joey Badaracco was an acknowledged member of the Hell's Angels. Police at the time refused to say whether he was a suspect in his stepmother's disappearance.
Passaro said the recent activity in the case is encouraging.
"We're going on almost 24 years," she said. "The arrest is a huge step for me and my sister. We've been very vocal with the police."