The Cotta family is large. Eight siblings, to be exact.
It went Jan, Robin, Brian, Doug, Tracy, Jay, Kevin, then Chris.
“We weren’t a very elaborate family. Didn’t have a lot of money,” Jay Cotta told Dateline. “But we all stuck together. We still do.”
Jay said the siblings have always been close and over the years have grown even closer. Together, they’ve been trying to figure out what happened to their eldest sibling, Jan.
She disappeared when they were all just kids -- on the night of June 26, 1973.
Andrew and Dorothy Cotta raised their eight children in Wall Township, New Jersey. “It was the purest you could get,” Jay recalled. “It was all horse farms — farm living kind of things.”
In fact, the family lived on a horse farm. “We fought like normal kids,” Jan’s sister Robin Wilson told Dateline. “We grew up very happy, and we didn’t have much.”
To Jan, living on the horse farm was a dream. “She was a big horse person,” Jay remembered. “She rode a lot. She was in a lot of horse shows.”
But Jan was no ordinary equestrian. Jay said his sister was highly skilled. “She won several awards,” he said. “She was also a substitute for the equestrian team for the U.S. back in the day.”
Robin also recalled the love her sister had for horses. Jan “knew a lot of people through the horse association,” Robin said, adding that her sister “was just a typical teenage girl growing up, but she was more — mostly interested in her horses.”
On the night of June 26, 1973, Jan was in the family’s barn. “Me and the guy I was hanging out with — we heard noises at the barn like the horse was kicking something,” Jan’s brother Brian told Dateline. “So we walked up there and noticed that the light to the tack room was on.”
Brian said he and his friend went into the tack room and saw Jan sitting there. “I went back up to where my sister was and she asked me to leave because the guy she was seeing at the time pulled in,” he recalled. “And we left.”
That was the last time anyone saw 19-year-old Jan Cotta.
“I think it was my mother who within 24 hours made notification to the police department,” Jay Cotta said. “That’s when they came out and asked a bunch of questions.”
The Wall Township Police Department arrived at the scene.
Dateline spoke with Detective John Spinapont and Lieutenant Michael Seitz with the Wall Township Police Department.
Detective Spinapont told Dateline that at the time, “the whole property was searched. Nearby areas, friends’ houses, places she had visited,” and that “all of her equestrian friends and sites that she visited throughout the year” were also looked into.
According to Lt. Seitz, it was soon determined that Jan may have initially left on her own. “There was evidence that suggested that she had planned to leave the area,” he said. “I don’t know for how long, but there were steps that were discovered -- or evidence that was discovered -- that had indicated she was planning to go somewhere.”
One of the pieces of evidence was a note left in the tack room the night Jan vanished.
Jan’s siblings told Dateline that they vaguely recall what the note said. “I remember the letter,” sister Robin recalled. “It said, ‘It’s very sad to love someone and not be --.’” The rest of the sentence is lost to time.
“I do recall some of the stuff,” brother Jay said. “It made it sound like she was going to off herself. And it was a lot of apologetic issues involved with that, but nothing. No names. Nothing.”
While there weren’t any names mentioned, there was one thing in the letter that Jan’s family said they had no idea about prior to her disappearance. “I think we found out she was pregnant from the letter,” Jay said. “In 1972, that was frowned upon, right? So, I don’t know, she kept that hush-hush or decided not to tell anybody.”
Jay said he believes his sister’s case could go either way. “There’s two theories: One, either she was too embarrassed to say anything and decided to run away,” he said. Or “we believe the father-to-be was from a very affluent family up in Homedale and therefore they were embarrassed,” Jay said, and might know where Jan went.
Jay told Dateline he believes the father-to-be was Jan’s boyfriend at the time who Jan had told her brother Brian she was waiting for in the tack room the night she disappeared.
According to police, the boyfriend was looked into. “During the initial case it was believed to be an acquaintance -- a boyfriend of hers,” Lt. Seitz told Dateline about the person who reportedly picked Jan up that night. “He was interviewed and denied being there, denied picking her up that night.”
The lieutenant said investigators also looked into the possibility of Jan being pregnant. “That lead was heavily exhausted and continues to be exhausted,” he said.
Foul play is not suspected in Jan’s disappearance. “All signs do kind of lead towards she left willingly,” Det. Spinapont said.
But the detective said that doesn’t mean they are giving up trying to find her. “We’ve been going through past data trying to find new ways and attempting to identify if she’s still alive,” he said. “If other people would cooperate and speak to us — and just see if [there’s] anything they [didn’t] remember at the time or do remember and forgot to tell us.”
Jan’s family told Dateline they don’t plan on giving up, either.
Andrew and Dorothy Cotta have both since died, the weight of losing their firstborn always on them. “It was just absolutely devastating,” Robin told Dateline. “My parents got divorced. As far as the kids were concerned, I don’t think it -- other than emotionally, I don’t think it impacted us as far as relationships were concerned, but it had a toll on my parents.”
And while it’s too late for Jan’s parents, the siblings aren’t giving up looking for answers. “We’re not letting it go,” Jay said.
At the time of her disappearance, Jan was 5’4”, 118 lbs., and had brown hair and blue eyes. She was wearing Blue Land Lubbers jeans, a white shirt with a blue design, and brown loafers. She had a plain gold ring with the initials JAC and a gold ring with a blue topaz birthstone with two diamonds. She also had a round tweed purse.
Jan would be 69 years old today.
Anyone with information about Jan’s disappearance is asked to call the Wall Township Police Department at 732-449-4500.