New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has directed the state police to investigate the 50-year-old disappearance of a teen couple that headed to one of the biggest concerts in rock history. Sen. Chuck Schumer has also asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the case.
A recent Rolling Stone investigation exploring what happened to 16-year-old Mitchel Weiser and 15-year-old Bonnie Bickwit — two Brooklyn teens who set out for the 600,000-person Summer Jam concert on July 27, 1973 — prompted the extraordinary developments.
“Sen. Schumer’s office has raised the article with the FBI and asked that they assess how they can best help support state and local authorities on the case,” a spokesperson for Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader and a native Brooklynite, tells Rolling Stone.
The news comes after family and friends of Weiser and Bickwit called for the creation of a multiagency task force following decades of police incompetence, misfeasance, and neglect.
“Gov. Hochul has directed the New York State Police to work with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and all law enforcement agencies previously involved in the investigation into the disappearance of Bonnie Bickwit and Mitchel Weiser,” a spokesperson for Hochul tells Rolling Stone. “We hope that this work will uncover new leads or overlooked information that will help solve this case and give their families and friends the answers they deserve.”
Among the first tangible steps, the New York State Police will collaborate with the county sheriff and the state Division of Criminal Justice Services’ Missing Persons Clearinghouse to conduct “a meticulous review of all case files and present the case to the Clearinghouse’s Cold Case panel of subject-matter experts,” the spokesperson says.
In addition, New York State Attorney General Letitia James, the top law-enforcement officer in New York state, has endorsed a joint law-enforcement initiative that would follow up on a series of leads presented in the article. “Attorney General James supports the concept of a multiagency task force,” a spokesperson says.
An online petition created following the article’s publication called for assembling a multiagency task force including the FBI and state police and noted the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office’s poor track record and limitations in manpower and resources. (The sheriff’s office was designated the lead investigating agency in 1973 based on the notion that the teens were allegedly last seen in its jurisdiction.)
“It is clear that the everyday duties of a single detective in the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office does not allow for everything that needs to be done to solve this case,” the petition states. (Sullivan County Sheriff Michael Schiff did not reply to a request for comment about the governor’s statement.)
Family and friends were thrilled with the new developments. “After so long, we finally may have a team in place that might get us closure,” says Stuart Karten, Weiser’s best friend in high school who has devoted his life to finding out what happened, including operating a website to keep the case alive. “With the technical expertise of the FBI and state police, this would give the case the best chance it has ever had to be solved.”
“That’s just amazing,” adds Bickwit’s sister Sheryl Kagen. “I’m hoping to be able to finally find out what happened.”
A spokesperson for the FBI declined to comment on the case specifically, but noted how the agency gets involved in cold cases. “When we’re working on cold cases, it’s generally case specific,” the spokesperson says. “We’re usually looking at it at the request of a partner agency. And then we would deploy any applicable resources that we have available as we would with any other investigation.”
Missing-persons expert Marissa Jones, the founder and host of the podcast The Vanished who has looked into the case, says assembling different agencies to work together is the right approach.
“I think that a multiagency task force could help in a case like this because it crosses several jurisdictions, including towns, counties, and state police,” Jones says. “Having them work together would help cut down on red tape. We really don’t know where this case could go in terms of other jurisdictions.”
In the original Rolling Stone article, missing-persons experts outlined a series of steps that could be taken by a multiagency task force, including searching for unidentified and unclaimed remains for the first time in more than 60 nearby counties, reinterviewing witnesses, contacting relevant websites related to the 50th anniversary of Summer Jam to ask for help, and engaging “web sleuths” whose informal methods can yield new information.
Bickwit’s best friend Michele Festa Weller echoes many of the couple’s family and friends in expressing hope and renewed optimism. “It’s about time,” Festa Waller says. “We’ve been trying to get closure on this case for 50 years. It’s a wound that never heals.”