Joan was seven years old when she was delivering two boxes of Girl Scout cookies to a neighbor who lived across the street, three houses down from her house. The neighbor, a Tappan Zee high school chemistry teacher, Joseph McGowan sexually molested and murdered her on April 19, 1973 - Holy Thursday. Joan's body was found three days later on Easter Sunday in a sepulcher like space in a large rock at Harriman State Park, New York.
Her killer, Joseph McGowan, received a life sentence which meant that after 14 years he would be eligible for parole. He became eligible for parole in 1987 and was denied. In 1993 when he became eligible again there was a nine month campaign spearheaded by Joan's mom, Rosemarie, which included a candlelight vigil to keep him behind bars. He received a twenty year term which was reduced to twelve years because of work credits and good behavior credits. He appealed his ineligibility for parole twice and the first time the appeals court requested new information from the parole board. The second time three appellate court judges decided to return his request to the parole board again. The parole board was told they had to base their decision on whether or not the inmate would commit another crime. Whether he was rehabilitated was not an issue. In reevaluating the entire case, the parole board received the assistance of John Douglas, the innovator of criminal personality profiling. It was determined through his help that McGowan has the makeup of a mass murderer or serial killer. Also John Douglas got him to open up, and McGowan mentioned that he had inherited money from his deceased mother and it was put away so the D'Alessandro family couldn't get it. He had used this money to hire a lawyer for his first two appeals. On December 2, 1998, the parole board denied his parole again. Acting as his own lawyer he appealed for a third time but the appeals court affirmed the parole board's decision on February 15, 2002. McGowan became eligible for parole again in January 2009 and was denied. The parole board will soon decide when his fourth eligibility will be.
Rosemarie believed that changes in our laws were needed. After three years of work and a grassroots movement, Joan's Law was signed by Governor Christie Whitman on April 3, 1997 in New Jersey. It says that anyone who murders a child under fourteen years of age in conjunction with a sexual offense will never be eligible for parole and will never get out of prison. The law cannot apply to Joan's case because it is not retroactive. A Federal version of Joan's Law was signed by President Clinton on October 30, 1998.
Seeing the need for more victims' rights, Rosemarie proposed and advocated the Justice for Victims' Law that was passed in New Jersey on November 17, 2000. It eliminates the statue of limitations for wrongful death actions brought in murder, manslaughter and aggravated manslaughter cases, allowing the victims to sue criminals if they acquire inheritance or other assets any time after the crime. She used the law on April 19, 2001 on the twenty eighth anniversary of Joan's death to file a wrongful death suit against Joan's killer to insure that he will not have monies for appeals. He did not contest the suit and on September 26, 2001 a $750,000 judgment was awarded. To this date about $600 has been collected and it has all gone to Joan's Foundation.
A New York version of Joan's Law was signed by Governor George Pataki on September 15, 2004 in Harriman State Park, the site where Joan was found. 1998 marked the 25th Anniversary of Joan's death. A Joan Angela D'Alessandro Memorial Foundation, which is nonprofit, was created. Its goals are to promote child safety and protection, advance victims' rights and help homeless and neglected youth. Joan's legacy lives on through the Laws and the Foundation. Joan Angela D'Alessandro Memorial Foundation.