February 26, 2024 | By: Mallory Pace

This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and the University of North Florida’s Applied Journalism class.

Josephine Despard left her mother’s house in Olean, New York in 1984 and never returned. Her body has never been found.

Her case remains cold and still haunts her siblings and daughter.

Josephine was the oldest of seven siblings and mother of a six-year-old daughter, Lois, when she disappeared. Eileen Payne, Despard’s older sister, took custody of Lois and raised her in Ohio.

Decades later the family is still searching for answers – even as their best leads are gone.

Josephine left her mother’s home with a male acquaintance who told police that the two of them were going to trade stereo equipment at his residence. Instead, they went to the Olean Mall for a cup of coffee. He said Despard met with friends at the mall, and he left her there at 6 p.m.

The male acquaintance last seen with Josephine tried to leave the country shortly after Despard’s disappearance but was stopped at the Canadian border. He died by suicide the following year.

Doris Herrmann, the youngest of the family, explained that her family holds out hope for new information on their sister’s whereabouts. They hope to give her a proper burial alongside her now-deceased mother and father, who instructed the family to keep their ashes until Despard was found, and then bury them all together.

“We don’t even have them buried yet, my mom and dad, because we’re hoping that one day, we have Josie’s remains and we can put them all together,” Herrmann said.

Herrmann described Despard as being an outgoing, protective big sister who was always kind to her. She recalled the times she would babysit Despard’s daughter. She would play bingo and Despard would always buy her something if she won a game or have goodies out to show her appreciation.

Dominick Cottone, Despard’s younger brother, described her as active and outgoing and remembered her involvement in theatre growing up and how she always wanted to help people.

Cottone has three now-adult children, and he explained how the disappearance of his sister impacted the way he raised them, especially his daughter, by warning them that anyone can be dangerous, even if they don’t necessarily appear to be. “You just have to be careful and don’t take it for granted,” Cottone said. “You meet a lot of people, and it just takes that one time to meet that wrong person.”

Dominick Cottone’s daughter, Jessica Cottone, has been working to keep her aunt’s memory alive.

“If anything, I would just love for Josie’s story to help just somebody,” Jessica said. “You have to be careful of who you go somewhere with, always bring someone with you.”

Anyone with information on Josephine’s case is asked to contact the Olean Police Department at 716-376-5678. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a reward, please call Crime Stoppers WNY at 716-867-6161.

Please consider using the buttons below to share this case in hopes that someone, somewhere will come forward and give this victim and family the answers they need and the justice they deserve.

If you have a loved one that is the victim of an unsolved homicide, please submit their case here for consideration in a future Cold Case Spotlight post.

Newspaper Clippings

The Buffalo News - Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Buffalo News - Thursday, February 15, 2018

Photo Album


Image provided by the family of Josephine Despard