Missing in New Jersey: The Abduction of Tomiene Jones
Police believe the teenager was murdered, but lack the evidence to prove it.
Tomiene Jones dropped her daughter off with a babysitter so she could enjoy a night out with one of her female friends on the evening of April 17, 2002. The 19-year-old postal worker then returned to her apartment in Harrison Township, New Jersey and waited for her friend to arrive to pick her up for their night out. They had a fun but uneventful evening, and her friend dropped her back off at her apartment around 11:30 pm.
Tomiene — called Meme by her family and friends — called her friend around 1:00 am to make sure she got home safely. The two talked for a few minutes, and her friend would later recall that it sounded like there was someone at Meme’s apartment with her, but she wasn’t sure who the person was. She didn’t give it much thought at the time, and the two friends were off the phone before 1:30 am. Sometime after that, Meme disappeared.
Meme’s brother drove to her apartment the following morning after receiving a concerning call from Janiyah’s babysitter. She reported that Meme had not returned to pick up her daughter, something that was completely out of character for her. She was a devoted mother who always put her child’s needs first, and she had never been late picking her up before. Meme’s brother, Tom, immediately had a bad feeling that something was wrong, and he rushed to check on his sister.
When Tom pulled into the parking lot of the Mullica West Apartment complex on Route 45, he could see his sister’s 2000 Ford Focus parked in its usual parking spot. He quickly made his way to her apartment, where he was disturbed to find her front door ajar. He cautiously entered the apartment and called out his sister’s name, but got no response. When he noticed that her bathroom door had been broken, he realized he was looking at a potential crime scene and slowly backed out of the apartment to call the Harrison Township police.
Meme’s car keys and apartment keys were found inside her apartment; her purse, wallet, and identification were located locked inside her car. Except for the broken bathroom door, there was nothing inside the apartment that appeared out of place.
Officers from the Harrison Township Police Department determined very early in their investigation that foul play had likely been involved. Meme was a devoted mother with a steady job and a close relationship with her family, and they knew that she wasn’t the kind of person who would voluntarily disappear.
Marc Goodson, the father of Meme’s daughter, was a natural person of interest in Meme’s disappearance. The two had a rocky relationship that had started when Meme was 15 years old. They had broken up and gotten back together on a number of occasions, and she had been forced to take him to court in August 2000 in order to get him to pay child support after Janiyah was born.
Ironically, Marc was arrested the same day that Meme was reported missing, but on completely unrelated charges. The 25-year-old had been involved in a sexual relationship with a 13-year-girl; this was brought to the attention of police after he allegedly videotaped himself during a sexual encounter with the teenager. He had been arrested on sexual assault and molestation charges, and the victim was granted a restraining order against him. He was arrested for violating the restraining order and his bail was revoked. He was interviewed by detectives regarding Meme’s disappearance, but he emphatically denied having any involvement in it.
The Harrison Township police were assisted in their search for Meme by the New Jersey State Police and the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office. They spent two days dredging an area of Alloway Creek in Quinton, New Jersey and searching the wooded area surrounding it. This was particularly disturbing to Meme’s family, as they remembered how Nyoka Brice’s body had been found in the creek in April 2000; Nyoka had also dated Marc Goodson at one point and had a child with him. Investigators found nothing related to Meme’s disappearance, however, and the family breathed a slight sigh of relief. They wanted to find Meme, but they wanted to find her alive.
Meme’s family had never been happy about her relationship with Marc; there were allegations of abuse and they didn’t feel that he treated her right. At one point, Meme had gone into hiding at a women’s shelter, and made it clear that she didn’t want Marc to know where she was living. They would always make up, however, and she continued to see him. Meme’s sister-in-law described her as being a very sweet girl, but not very street smart. She was easily swayed by Marc.
The main reason she had decided to move into her own apartment the previous year was so she could spend time with Marc without having to deal with her family’s disapproval of him, but even after she moved out she remained in close contact with her parents and brother.
Investigators spoke to a couple people who were friends with both Marc and Meme, and they told detectives that the couple appeared to have a strong relationship. They claimed they had never seen the pair fight, but detectives had police reports that contradicted this claim.
About a month before she went missing, Meme had filed assault charges against Marc, claiming that he had punched her in her chest, causing her to fall backwards into her bathtub. When she fell, she injured her back. He had been arrested, but was able to bail himself out of jail. Marc and Meme were not supposed to have any contact after that, but a few weeks later Meme was arrested and charged with simple assault, harassment, and contempt of court after she and Marc got into an altercation. Meme was not particularly worried about the charges; she was confident when she went to court that the judge would understand she had been acting in her own self defense when she struck Marc with an umbrella.
Although some believed that Marc had been involved in both the murder of Nyoka and the disappearance of Meme, there was no tangible evidence against him in either case. Even Meme’s parents were unsure about Marc’s involvement in Nyoka’s murder; they noted that Nyoka had many enemies and there were a number of people who might have wanted her dead. Police were unsure about Marc’s involvement as well, and no suspects were ever named in the unsolved murder case.
Meme, however, did not have any known enemies. She had a good job with the postal service and she spent most of her time away from work with her daughter. Marc continued to deny that he had anything to do with her disappearance; he claimed he had not spoken to her since the day before she went missing. Detectives searched his home on April 25; although they found cocaine and other evidence of drug use, they found nothing to support the theory that Marc had harmed Meme.
Investigators knew they couldn’t afford to get tunnel vision, and they continued to follow up on all tips they received. Unfortunately, they were unable to develop solid leads, and Meme’s whereabouts remained unknown. They spent days going through creeks, streams, and other waterways in Salem County, New Jersey. They scoured the Salem River and some of its estuaries, then moved on to Mannington Lake. They used motorbikes and a helicopter to search the areas surrounding the lake, taking special care to go through all the areas where they knew a body might wash up with the tide. They found absolutely nothing.
Meme’s father, Thomas, had always had a close relationship with the daughter he named after himself. He was devastated by her disappearance and spent days combing through various wooded areas in Salem County, praying for some sort of clue that would lead to Meme. Like investigators, his search came up empty.
Six weeks into the investigation, authorities announced that they believed that Meme had most likely been murdered, and confirmed that they had a suspect in her death; although they did not mention any names, it was clear they were talking about Marc.
The investigation seemed to stall soon after this, as detectives were unable to locate Meme or any evidence against Marc. In November, they announced that they were offering a $9,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Meme’s disappearance.
Marc wrote to Meme’s family while he was in prison, and assured them that he had loved Meme and had nothing to do with her disappearance. In January 2003, he was interviewed by a reporter, and he readily admitted to committing several crimes, including assault, sex with a minor, and dealing drugs. He continued to maintain that he was not involved in Meme’s disappearance. Police had interrogated him numerous times and searched his home, but they were unable to find any evidence against him.
Over the years, Meme’s family has continued to search tirelessly for her, and have praised the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office for the way they kept the investigation active. In August 2003, the family raised money to have two billboards places along area highways to make sure the public didn’t forget that Meme was still missing. Although the billboards brought in a few tips, no substantial leads resulted.
Thomas and Cheryl Jones took over the responsibility for raising Janiyah, who eventually realized that her mother was not going to come home. Although they tried to make sure she got to experience a normal childhood, holiday celebrations were always tinged with sadness because Meme was missing. Not having a gravesite to visit and leave flowers was one of the hardest things for the family; they just wanted to be able to bring Meme home.
Meme’s parents made several public pleas for information, but admitted that they believed Marc was the one person who could tell them where to find Meme. He continued to maintain his innocence, and he was never publicly named a suspect.
By the time she was in high school, Janiyah had grown into a young woman who looked a lot like her mother. Meme had once dreamed of going to school to become a veterinarian, and now Janiyah had the same goal.
Thomas and Cheryl continue to hold out hope that they will one day learn what happened to their daughter. They cling to a sliver of hope that she might be alive somewhere, though rationally they know this is not the case. Still, even after nearly two decades, they have not declared Meme legally dead; that would make everything seem far too real.
Tomiene Jones was 19 years old when she went missing in 2002. She has brown eyes and black hair, and at the time of her disappearance she was 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds. She was last seen wearing a red, orange, and white sundress. She has a burn scar on her left thigh. If you have any information about Tomiene, please contact the Harrison Township Police Department at 856–468–0600 or the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office at 856–384–5602.