It was the morning of Norine Brown’s 32nd birthday when her close friend Elaine Comando got the call.
“Norine’s husband called me at 8 o’clock in the morning -- said that Norine went to the food store last night to buy stuff to make Christmas cookies at around 11:00 p.m.,” Elaine said. “But he said they did have a little fight before that, so he was wondering if she had stayed at my house -- because she never came home.”
Elaine says she told John Brown that Norine wasn’t at her house. It was December 13, 1990, and they all lived near each other in New Hyde Park, a small town on New York’s Long Island. Elaine said she was “a little nervous” when she got the call, as it wasn’t normal for Norine to go off the map.
“I said to him, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ And he said, ‘Can you go to Pathmark and see if her car is there?’” Elaine told Dateline. “At that point, I thought maybe she had stayed at another friend’s house. I wasn’t too concerned. Until I went to Pathmark and found her car there.”
Suddenly, Elaine said she grew “very nervous.” She called John from the store’s telephone, and he soon joined her in the parking lot.
“[John] called the police. The police came down to the parking lot and they said they wouldn’t be able to report a missing person until 24 hours,” Elaine said. “The car was locked. There were wrapped Christmas presents in the back of the car. And that’s where it all started.”
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Elaine said police eventually took down a missing persons report and an investigation began into the missing mother of two. Norine’s childhood friend Maria Przybylski was living on Cape Cod at the time, but got the call from a mutual friend that day.
“We were hoping she’d been found or, God forbid, she had been killed, she would be found quickly. But she vanished without a trace,” Maria told Dateline, adding that friends immediately began putting up fliers around Long Island.
“Within the first week or so, we went on a search on Long Island. John was a fireman, so the firehouse joined the search,” Elaine said. “There were family, friends, and police dogs.”
Friends even visited a psychic, who told them Norine’s body was in a park in the Bronx. So Elaine and a group of friends went to search the park. But they found nothing.
“That was really the only search we went on. We really didn’t know what to do,” she added.
“Within a couple of weeks we knew she’d been murdered, because we knew she would never leave her children,” Norine’s friend Maria told Dateline. “Her mom was devastated, and her family was devastated.”
Dateline was unable to reach John Brown for comment on this report, but local Long Island media spoke with him at his house in January.
"I think she was murdered," John told News 12 Long Island. "That's what I think, and we just haven't ever found her. There was a report that a lady seen an argument there."
News 12 reports that authorities have neither been able to verify nor rule out the report of an argument at the store the night Norine disappeared. According to New 12, police also say John "did not grant permission to search any of the family properties and there was insufficient probable cause to obtain a search warrant." No persons of interest or suspects have ever been named in Norine’s case.
For decades, Norine’s case sat cold. Then, at her and Maria’s 40th high school reunion in June of 2017, Norine’s old classmates banded together to search for justice.
“There was a reunion when we all got together and everyone wondered about Norine. We said we had to reopen the case,” Maria said. “Even if we don’t find out what happened to her, just to find her and put her to rest and bring her home – that is what we want for her.”
Maria called Elaine after the reunion with the news. The two have been working with the Nassau Police Department to help keep Norine’s case active, Maria said. Nearly 30 years later, they have never forgotten about their friend.
“She’s actually my daughter’s godmother. We were very close,” Elaine told Dateline. “She was a terrific mother. Her kids were her whole life. There’s no way she would have just left.”
Norine Brown would be 60 years old today. For updated information on Norine’s case, you can visit the FindNorine Facebook page. If you have any information on the circumstances regarding Norine’s case, please call the Nassau County Police Department at (516) 573-8800.
Bianca Hillier covers missing person and homicide cases for NBC News.