Road to Nowhere: What Happened to Toni McNatt?
Was she abducted while walking to school? Or did something happen to her much closer to home? Authorities have been trying to find out for almost forty years.
The day started out like any other, with the sounds of two teenage girls fighting. 14-year-old Toni McNatt and her 17-year-old sister, Roxanne, shared more than just a bedroom in their Clairton, Pennsylvania home. They also shared clothes, a curling iron, and a bathroom. Every school day started out like a war, with battles fought over what they were going to wear and who was going to get to use the curling iron first. The morning of November 5, 1981 was no different. There was no way either girl could have known that it would be the last fight they would ever have with each other.
Toni and Roxanne lived with their mother, Audrey, and her common law husband, Sam Chiapetta. It’s unclear if Sam was their biological father — neither girl used his last name — but he referred to them as his daughters. Both Sam and Audrey had been married before and each of them had children from these previous marriages. Audrey worked as a bartender in a neighborhood tavern, and Sam was a truck driver. Roxanne and Toni were both close with their mother, but they were somewhat afraid of Sam. Police had responded to several domestic violence cases at the house, and on one occasion they were called out after Sam shot a gun inside the house, though thankfully no one was shot. Toni expressed interest in getting out of the house, and had even gone to live with her grandmother for a while the previous August, but returned home at the beginning of the school year.
If Toni was having problems at home, she hid it well. Her friends described her as a happy girl, someone who was fun to be around. Toni enjoyed spending time with her friends, but unlike most teenagers, she didn’t seem to be in a hurry to grow up. She showed little interest in going to parties, never wore makeup, and obeyed the rules set by her parents without question. She spent two nights a week working Bingo nights at a local church, and she also babysat for multiple families in the neighborhood.
On most days after school, Toni could be found twirling her baton in the front yard. She wanted to try out to become a majorette at Clairton High School, and she practiced often. That Thursday, however, Toni had other plans. She walked to the corner store with one of her neighbors, buying a bag of chips and a soda. She and her friend then went back to her house and chatted until about 5:00pm. Toni was going to a pep rally that evening, and she was supposed to meet a friend beforehand. She left around 5:20pm to start the six block walk to her high school.
Although it had been a somewhat mild day, with temperatures reaching close to 60 degrees, it got much cooler that evening and a heavy rain was falling. On her way to the pep rally, Toni stopped briefly at her friend Beth’s house. The chatted for a few minutes, and then Toni said she had to go. She told Beth that she was going to meet up with Bobby Varva, a boy she had recently started dating, and she had something important to tell him. At 5:30pm, she waved goodbye to Beth and walked out into the rain, never telling her exactly what it was that she had to tell Bobby.
Bobby was waiting at the end of Rose Avenue, where he was supposed to be meeting Toni at 6:00pm. He waited until 6:15 or so, but she never showed up. Puzzled, he went to the pep rally alone. There was no sign of Toni there, either. He spoke with a few of Toni’s friends, but they hadn’t seen her that evening. Bobby was puzzled, but not overly concerned. Toni was usually a very responsible girl, so he assumed that something had come up suddenly and she had been unable to keep their date.
Sam Chiapetta got home from work around 6:00pm. Toni wasn’t there, but she had told her parents that she was going to a pep rally that evening, so he wasn’t expecting her to be home that early. As it grew later, he began to get concerned. He thought perhaps she had agreed to babysit for a neighbor after the pep rally and had just forgotten to mention it. Audrey finished her bartending shift and returned home, but there was still no sign of Toni. Worried, Audrey drove up and down the street that Toni would have been walking on, praying Toni would somehow appear. Sam went out into the pouring rain and began knocking on the doors of nearby houses, begging for information about his daughter. By midnight, it was clear something was wrong. The couple called the police and reported Toni missing.
Early Friday morning, police fanned out across town, looking for any sign of Toni. There were dozens of officers searching the woods and streams in the area. Detectives went around the neighborhood looking for anyone who had seen Toni the previous evening. After speaking with some of her friends, they knew that she hadn’t made it to the pep rally the previous evening. Beth said Toni had stopped by her house but had left at 5:30pm. She told Beth she would be meeting up with Bobby and they would be going to the pep rally together. Another classmate said he had seen Toni walking on Miller Avenue, about four blocks from her home. She was alone and headed in the direction of the high school. Bobby told detectives how he had waited at their agreed upon meeting spot until 6:15pm before realizing that Toni wasn’t going to show up. Somehow, in between 5:30pm and 6:00pm, the teenager had simply disappeared.
Clairton Police Captain William Scully was in charge of the investigation. Initially, he felt that Toni had likely run away. Her parents insisted she was a good kid who wouldn’t have voluntarily left home, but Scully knew from experience that teenage girls often hid things from their parents and could be extremely unpredictable. There was no evidence of foul play, and the street that Toni had been walking along was in a quiet but heavily populated residential area. It was unlikely she could have been abducted without someone noticing.
Audrey was inconsolable. She knew that Toni would never run away and insisted that someone had abducted her. Toni’s friends weren’t sure what to think. Although most of them told detectives that they didn’t believe Toni ran away, as time passed, they began hoping that she had. It was far less painful to believe she had taken off on her own then to think that someone had taken her and they might never see her again. But even those who wanted to believe that she had gone voluntarily missing told detectives that if Toni was still alive, she would definitely have called her mother by then. No matter what else may have been going on in her life, Toni was extremely close to her mother and would never have wanted to make her worry like this.
Sam began an intensive, one-man crusade to find his missing daughter. He was constantly out knocking on doors, looking for anyone with information about Toni. He followed up on every tip he received. Sam worked for the United Transfer Company, and his boss contacted the head of their parent company, United Van Lines, Inc., and had fliers containing a description of Toni sent out to all 3000 of the company’s drivers. Truck drivers all over the country would be keeping an eye out for the teenager.
Detectives followed up on over 200 leads and interviewed hundreds of people. They could find no evidence to suggest she had been abducted, but they couldn’t find any evidence that she had run away from home, either. As time went on Detective Scully felt less confident about his original theory that Toni had run away. Everyone he spoke to described her as responsible, honest, and dependable. She had a steady part-time job and was devoted to her family. She had never mentioned anything about running away to any of her friends. Scully knew that almost all teenagers who ran away from home mentioned their plans to at least one of their friends. If Toni had been planning to run away, she likely would have told someone.
Toni’s family didn’t feel very thankful on Thanksgiving Day. Toni had been missing for exactly three weeks, but Audrey set her usual place at the table anyway. The empty chair and unused plate were a stark reminder of the fact that their family was no longer whole. They tried to stay optimistic, telling each other that Toni would make it home before Christmas. They couldn’t imagine how they would get through the holiday without her.
Roxanne was devastated by the loss of her sister. Sure, they had fought most mornings while getting ready for school, but that was what sisters were supposed to do. Now, the mornings were hauntingly quiet. It took Roxanne more than three weeks before she felt able to go back to school. Her friends tried their best to console her, but there was little they could do. She was still too fragile emotionally to talk about Toni, preferring to shut herself in her bedroom and cry alone.
Audrey and Sam returned to their jobs around the same time that Roxanne began attending school again. Audrey said she was trying to stay strong for the sake of her family, but it was hard. Her life seemed empty without her youngest daughter, and she felt more like a robot, going through the motions of living but dead on the inside. Sam saw his return to work as a way to help expand his search for Toni. Since he was a truck driver, most of his day was spent on the road. No matter where he went, he looked for Toni. He carried her picture with him and interrogated everyone he came across. Once, while making a delivery in Uniontown, he heard a rumor that Toni had been spotted there a few times. He spent the entire night searching in vain for any sign of her. He would be gone from the house for up to 20 hours a day, working his full shift and then switching over to his investigative mode. He spoke openly to reporters about his search for Toni, though he refused to allow them to take his picture. He claimed he needed to stay anonymous in order to effectively track down leads about his daughter. It seemed quite bizarre, but reporters honored his wishes.
Christmas arrived without any progress in the case, and the family was in no mood for a celebration. The family had been praying for a miracle, hoping with all their might that Toni would be home for Christmas. There were wrapped presents with her name on them, items that Audrey had put on layaway before Toni had gone missing. The gifts would remain wrapped long after the holiday season was over. Toni would never get the chance to enjoy the roller skates, sweater, and dress that her mother had lovingly picked out.
There was no New Year’s Eve party in the McNatt-Chiapetta home that year, but the family was glad that 1981 was finally over. It had been the worst year of their lives, and they were looking forward to a better year in 1982. Hopefully, it would be the year that Toni would be found.
Investigators were also hoping that Toni would be found. Despite an intensive investigation, they still weren’t sure what had happened to Toni on that rainy Thursday night. As time went on, they found the case becoming increasingly difficult. There were so many rumors going around about Toni’s disappearance that it became nearly impossible for them to separate fact from fiction when they were interviewing people. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about what had happened, and they twisted facts around to fit their theory.
Months went by with little progress. Frustrated detectives were still struggling to sort through conflicting witness statements in an attempt to put together an accurate timeline of Toni’s whereabouts on the night she disappeared. It was beginning to look like 1982 wasn’t going to end any better than 1981 for Toni’s beleaguered family. But then detectives received a tip that they believed had the potential to finally crack the case wide open. Although the public wouldn’t hear anything about it until much later, it was in 1982 that a sobbing woman went to Detective Scully and told him she had information about the case. She had been interviewed by detectives before, but said that she hadn’t told the entire truth. She believed she knew who was responsible for Toni’s disappearance. The woman was Audrey Chiapetta. The person she was accusing of harming Toni was none other than her own husband, Sam.
Detective Scully had been suspicious of Sam from the beginning. There was something about him that just seemed off. It wasn’t anything he could put into words, more of just a gut feeling he had. Detectives knew that Audrey had been at work on the evening Toni disappeared; multiple witnesses were able to confirm she had been tending bar at a local tavern until well after her daughter was last seen. She had never been considered a suspect in Toni’s disappearance. But Sam had arrived home from work earlier, around 6:00pm. According to her friends, Toni had left her house by about 5:20pm. Sam told detectives he had come home to an empty house, but he seemed very edgy whenever he spoke about that night and Scully had believed from the beginning that he was hiding something. In prior interviews, Audrey had always supported her husband, insisting that he never would have done anything to harm his daughter. But now she told Detective Scully that she hadn’t been entirely truthful about that night and wanted a chance to come clean.
Audrey had always maintained that nothing was amiss when she arrived home for work on the evening that Toni went missing, but she had left out one detail that she now felt might be important in solving the case. When Audrey got home, the blouse that Toni had worn to school earlier that day was hanging in the laundry room, still damp. She had tried to convince herself that Toni must have done laundry when she got home from school that day, and that was why her blouse was hanging on the clothesline strung across their laundry room. Toni always did her own laundry, and anything that was considered too delicate for the dryer would be hung up to air dry. But there were no other indications that Toni had done laundry that afternoon. There were no other items of clothing hanging up to dry, no piles of clothing folded and ready to be put away. Audrey was afraid that there was another reason why the blouse was wet. It hadn’t been raining earlier that afternoon when Toni got home from school, but it began raining heavily right around the time that Toni would have been walking to the pep rally. Audrey feared that Toni, unprepared for the rain that afternoon, had gotten so wet while walking to the pep rally that she decided to go home and change into dry clothes, maybe grab an umbrella or jacket, and then head back outside. Was it possible that she had crossed paths with Sam and never made it back out of the house?
Detective Scully carefully thought over what Audrey was saying. The idea that Toni had been in the house when Sam got home hadn’t really been considered before, for the simple fact that they had multiple witnesses who were able to confirm that she had left her home well before Sam returned home from work. But if what Audrey was saying was true, and Toni had returned to her house after 6:00pm to get changed, there was a possibility that Sam had been lying to investigators from the beginning. Scully was cautiously optimistic — it was a good lead — but there were still many other questions remaining. If Sam had harmed Toni in some way, what had he done with the body? Audrey had not seen any signs of a physical struggle in the home, and Sam had been there when she got home from work around 7:30pm. That didn’t leave a lot of time for him to try to clean up and dispose of any evidence.
Detectives didn’t release any of this new information to the general public, but continued to investigate the case as normal. Unfortunately, there was never enough evidence for them to conclude if Sam had been responsible for Toni’s disappearance or not, though he would be plagued by rumors for years to come. There were claims that he replaced a wooden deck in his backyard with a cement one not long after Toni went missing, and there were whispers that Toni was encased in the cement.
Detectives continued to investigate Toni’s disappearance, but in September of 1985, the city of Clairton ran out of money, and the detectives ran out of time. Deeply in debt and with less than $1000 in the bank, Clairton laid off its entire police force and fire department. Firefighters remained on call despite being laid off, but all law enforcement matters would be handled by the Pennsylvania State Police. It was a devastating blow to the detectives who had been working so hard to solve Toni’s disappearance. Although they had complete faith in the skill and abilities of the state police, they knew that the high caseloads of the state troopers meant that they wouldn’t be able to devote as much time to the case. The Clairton police force would be reinstated in 1992, but the state police remained in charge of Toni’s case. Her family was not pleased with this decision. They felt that the state police weren’t devoting any time to the case, and didn’t seem to care if they solved it or not.
By the summer of 2001, Toni had been missing for almost 20 years. The investigation had stalled years before, and Toni’s family had resigned themselves to the fact that they would most likely never learn what had happened to Toni. But in August, investigators suddenly announced that they were taking another look at the case. A 40-year-old municipal worker was accused of raping a woman in her own home after he had been called there to work on a sewer line. Police quickly identified the alleged rapist as Dean Maksin — his name had been embroidered on the work shirt he was wearing — and he immediately confessed to the crime. Detectives assigned to Toni’s case became interested in the man after learning that he had been a friend and neighbor of the McNatt-Chiapetta family at the time that Toni went missing. He had been questioned by police back in 1981, but had never been considered a suspect in the case, but detectives now wondered if he had crossed paths with Toni when she was on her way to the pep rally. Toni’s family told investigators that Toni had known Dean fairly well and would have considered him someone she could trust.
Ultimately, like every other lead in the case, this one went nowhere. There was no evidence linking Dean to the crime, and he steadfastly denied having anything to do with Toni’s disappearance. There have been no new developments in the case for decades. Sam died in 2003, and Audrey died in 2006, but Toni’s sisters have never stopped searching for their missing sister. They believe that she is most likely dead, but they still hope that someone will come forward with the information needed to locate her body so they can give her a proper burial. Detective Scully, retired for years now, still stays in touch with Toni’s sisters and hopes that they will one day be able to find some answers about what happened to Toni.
Toni had been missing now for over 35 years. During that time, many theories have been proposed about what may have happened to her. Detectives have never been able to come up with enough information to prove any one theory, and freely admit that they have absolutely no idea what took place so many years ago.
Although Toni’s family insisted she was not a runaway, investigators couldn’t rule out the possibility. There were a couple of witnesses who claimed that they had seen Toni walking several blocks past her high school on the night that she disappeared. Police had been confused by this, as there was no reason for Toni to be in that part of town unless she wasn’t planning on going to the pep rally. Since they were never able to absolutely confirm these sightings, they were never a focal point of the investigation. But they were never able to discredit them, either, so the possibility remains that Toni left her home that afternoon with a different agenda in mind than attending a pep rally. It was no secret that Sam had a violent temper, and many suspected he had gotten physical with Toni and her sister. Perhaps she reached her breaking point.
Toni was a hard worker, babysitting for several families in her neighborhood as well as working two nights a week at a bingo hall. This meant she had access to money, so she wouldn’t have been running away from home completely broke. In a way, she had already run away once before, staying with her grandmother in Uniontown in order to get away from her own home. But it had only been a brief reprieve before she ended up going back home. It’s possible she decided to leave again, taking care not to let anyone know where she was going so that she couldn’t be made to return home.
The idea that Toni ran away is attractive because it means that she could still be alive. But the greatest argument against it is Toni herself. Even if she had been desperate to get out of her house, it seems unlikely that she would never attempt to contact anyone in her family again — especially after Sam died in 2003.
It’s possible that Toni was abducted on her way to the pep rally, but there were many people around and it seems impossible that someone could have pulled over and forced her to get in their car without someone noticing it. It’s also improbable that she was the victim of an accident. Even if a car had skidded through the rain and somehow hit her, the chance of someone being able to grab her body and throw it in their car without being seen is extremely slim. This leaves us with the possibility that she was harmed by someone she knew. Although detectives were never able to get enough evidence to charge either man, both Dean Maksin and Sam Chiapetta are likely suspects. But if one of them harmed Toni, what happened to her body? Is it possible that she really is lying beneath the cement porch of her own home? Police didn’t seem to feel this was a viable theory, so it’s unlikely.
Officially, Toni is still a missing person. Unless her body is one day found or she turns up alive, she will remain a missing person and her family will continue to be left with so many unanswered questions.
Toni Lynn McNatt was 14 years old when she disappeared from Clairton, Pennsylvania. She is a white female with blonde hair and blue-green eyes. She had freckles on her face, a mole on the left side of her neck, and a scar on the left side of her stomach. At the time of her disappearance, she was 5’2” and weighed around 105 pounds. She was last seen wearing jeans and an orange and black Clairton Band jacket with her name on the front. If you have any information about Toni, please contact the Pennsylvania State Police at 412–929–6262.