Norwich psychic, credited in 1979 missing person case, has died

Other than the still-unsolved Christmas Eve 1973 hit-and-run death of Kevin Showalter, a case in which a popular New London mayor was named a suspect, not many crime mysteries have captured the city's attention as much as the disappearance in 1979 of Coast Guard Warrant Officer Richard Eastman.

Eastman, who was on a short assignment in New London installing new radar on the Coast Guard barque Eagle, was last seen early on the morning of April 13, apparently after leaving a Bank Street nightclub.

Also missing was Eastman's government-issued AMC Hornet, with $5,000 worth of electronics equipment in the trunk. There were investigations by state police, the FBI, New London and Groton police, and the Coast Guard conducted a wide helicopter search of the area. The governor put up a $5,000 reward for information about his disappearance.

A 25-year-old downtown resident was arrested after using one of Eastman's credit cards. He told police he found it in a wallet on the dance floor of the Bank Street club. He wasn't charged in the disappearance, although police said Eastman was almost certainly the victim of foul play.

I was reminded of this engrossing story this week, when I came upon an obituary for Pat Gagliardo, the Norwich woman whose public career as a clairvoyant was launched after she directed police to Eastman's car, found resting at the bottom of the Thames River in 15 feet of water, between City Pier and the Fishers Island Ferry District docks. She said she had a vision of a uniformed man slumped underwater.

The discovery of Eastman's car was a news sensation and hundreds of people gathered along the waterfront as a crane finally lifted the rusted Hornet out of the river the afternoon of Oct. 16, the warrant officer's body slumped over the wheel, six months after he was reported missing.

It was very big news in The Day, then an afternoon paper, and it was splashed across the front page for two days. Curiously, it was weeks before Gagliardo's role was disclosed, and then only in a short story quoting unidentified sources.

The initial stories quoted police as saying only that a tip had led them to the car, although then police Chief Samuel Fandel alluded to the unorthodox nature of the information that helped them find Eastham.

"We can't afford to take a chance with any of the information (that comes in tips) even if it seems kooky," Fandel said the day Eastman's car was raised out of the river.

Gagliardo did eventually get public credit and she went on to a career as a psychic, writing a few books, hosting a radio show and doing readings and phone consultations from her home. Police in New London and around the country consulted her on missing person cases.

She made a national television appearance in 2000 on the "Sally Jessy Raphael Show."

The vision that led to the Eastman discovery came soon after she learned about her powers after taking an eight-week parapsychology course, "Getting to Know Your Psyche," she said in the television interview.

Her obituary this week noted her work on the Eastman case and her career in clairvoyance, but only after also remembering her as a school bus driver for several years and a volunteer at the William W. Backus Hospital.

A Mass of Christian Burial was to be held at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Mary's Church in Norwich. She was 71.

The remains found in Eastman's car were identified as the Coast Guard officer's, based on dental comparisons. However, an autopsy was inconclusive about the cause of death because the body was so badly decomposed.

We may never know exactly what happened to Eastman, like we will probably never learn who was driving the car that killed Showalter.

But Pat Gagliardo gave us some avenues for educated speculation about Eastman's death, as well as the grist for another intriguing story from eastern Connecticut, the allure of the unexplained.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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