Billboard Aims to Stoke New Leads Into Suspicious Vanishing in May of George Contos
FlaglerLive | January 5, 2016
George James Contos for 10 years had lived in his 1,200 square foot mobile home on Apricot Avenue in Daytona North, also known as the Mondex. Detectives say many people knew him, at swap meets especially. He loved his motorcycles. He was reconnecting with his family and was planning on moving back north to Connecticut. That never happened.
On May 7, Contos disappeared. He hasn’t been since.
The family didn’t call on Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies and detectives until 10 days later, when deputies checked on the house. “Nothing appeared out of place or unusual,” an incident report stated at the time. Contos’s son Aaron, a 34-year-old resident of Terryville, Fla., told deputies his father was supposed to visit a friend in South Carolina, but never showed up.
At first detectives did not suspect foul play. That would change with time. Contos’s 1997 Lincoln Town Car was discovered in the parking lot of Ace Hardware in Palm Coast, empty.
“Over time, because of the amount of time that’s passed, we kind of suspect that maybe there is more foul play to it than we originally assumed, but we can’t confirm that it is absolutely foul play,” Cmdr. Chris Sepe, who heads the sheriff’s office’s investigative division, said Tuesday, providing more detail about the case since May.The occasion was the unveiling of a billboard on State Road A1A, north of Beverly Beach, offering a $10,000 reward—double the original amount—and asking for help in locating the whereabouts of Contos. The sheriff’s office and Crime Stoppers, the non-profit sponsoring the billboard, played up the occasion to an unusual degree in a news conference organized by the sheriff’s office at the foot of the billboard.
The result, however unintentionally, was not dissimilar from an orchestrated campaign event: On one side of the thorn-ridden field at the foot of the billboard were the print, radio, web and television reporters the sheriff’s office invited for the occasion. On the other were Sheriff Jim Manfre, detectives and victims’ advocates, Chief Deputy Jeff Hoffman, Alyson Lentz, executive director of Crime Stoppers, and three past and present Crime Stoppers board members—Ed Fuller, Tom Bexley (the deputy clerk of court running for the top post this year), and Rick Staly, a former president of the board, Manfre’s former undersheriff and now one of his rivals in this year’s race for sheriff. Staly specified that he was there as a former president of Crime Stoppers.
Outfront Media, owner of the billboard, is donating a month’s worth of exposure for the billboard. Crime Stoppers, which is funded in large part through appropriations from court fines across the state, is paying the $800 to $1,000 production cost of the billboard (which may stay in place if the space is not sold to another advertiser in a month), and is underwriting a portion of the $10,000 reward.
As all leads have withered, the sheriff’s office turns to the public’s conscience.
For the sheriff’s office and Crime Stoppers, going the route of a billboard is itself unusual—it’s not been done in recent memory in Flagler County—but it also points to the fog surrounding the case since May.
“Our detectives have followed up on many leads,” Manfre said. “We’ve interviewed friends, family and acquaintances. We continue to work very closely with the State Attorney’s Office to follow up on any of those leads. Right now, the leads have stopped. We have no further information to go on, and that’s why we’ve reached out to the community through this billboard and through the media to ask for their help. We believed always in the community being part of our attempts to solve crimes, and this is clearly one of those cases where we need the community’s help. Detectives and I believe that someone out there has some piece of information that will help us lead to the discovery of what happened to George, and we hope that this billboard remains as a constant reminder to the community that we need their help.”
There was little doubt, after hearing detectives speak of the Contos case, that the 59-year-old former resident of Bunnell—he turned, or would have turned, 59 on Monday—had disappeared in troubling circumstances.
“We all believe that there could be some suspicious circumstances,” Sepe said. “Obviously there’s things we can share with the media and there are things that we can’t share. We believe it’s a solvable case. We don’t have enough to put a solid case together at this point but we have bits and pieces, and we’re hoping that any help from the public would be able to compound what we’ve already developed, and make a case and bring some closure or bring George home if that’s possible.”The discovery of Contos’s car led to more clues, but without saying what those were, it seemed clear that they left detectives with diminishing hopes of finding Contos alive.
As the car was processed, “we found some pieces of evidence, nothing that is, like I said, giving us a solid case,” Sepe said, “but we do have some piece of evidence that we’re keeping to ourselves that anybody that’s familiar with the crime, sometimes would be able to relate then to that piece, or pieces, so we can’t go into that. But we have developed some evidence out of the car.”
Asked if it were still possible that Contos would be returned to his family alive., Sepe said: “There’s been a period of time that’s passed. I like to stay optimistic on the cases. We believe that there’s a possibility that George may never be brought home to his family. But we’d like to think that maybe there is a small possibility that he would. We can’t make that determination. There is no body that’s been found. So for that reason we’d like to stay optimistic. But we also are realistic as well as investigators. We’re not putting anything out there as far as that’s totally not a possibility. Anything is a possibility right now, so we welcome all tips.”
Contos’s son Aaron Thayer was not at the unveiling of the billboard, but a brief phone message from him was played to the gathered press. “I just hope that this billboard makes people aware in Florida of my father’s disappearance and hopefully can bring somebody with information and try to help find my father and to see where he is,” Thayer said as he urged people who know something to come forward. “My father was a good guy, he would do the same for anybody else,” he said. “Whether it’s a small amount or a big amount of information, anything is better than nothing.”
Not much is known about Contos’s life, his likes or social circles—only that, as Sepe put it, he “wasn’t associated with one particular group,” but knew various people in various circles. “George was well known amongst a lot of people in the community, that’s why we feel that the community has something, there’s somebody out there that knows something, and there’s no piece of information that is too small for us. So even if they feel that it’s something that it may not be relevant, please, give it to Crime Stoppers, give it to us, we’d love to take that bit of information. It may make a lot of sense to us and it may not make a lot of sense to you, but please, provide it anyway, we’ll be more than willing to take it.”
As always with Crime Stoppers, Lentz, the organization’s executive director, said tipsters can text their message, phone it in or can go through the Crime Stoppers’ website, where providing information is always entirely anonymous. (See the details below.)
“This particular family was not able to celebrate being with their father this holiday,” Manfre said, “and any information that will make their next holiday a little bit more bearable I think would go a long way to comfort them.”
To contact Crime Stoppers anonymously, tipsters may call 1-888-277-8477, or text at TIP231, plus the message, to 274637, or visit the website.