How Judy Chartier was found after 39 years

BILLERICA, Mass. — It’s the question I’m most often asked about the Judy Chartier case: how did they find her?

Last week news broke that after 39 years, Judy’s Dodge Dart was recovered from the Concord River in Billerica, about a mile and a half from the party where Judy was last seen on June 4, 1982. It was an amazing find. For nearly four decades, no one knows what happened to the 17-year-old Chartier.

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By the end of the week, more heartbreaking news. The DA announced human remains found near the car actually belonged to Judy Chartier herself.

We still don’t know if Judy was a victim of foul play. That part of the investigation is now in full swing. The next step will involve the State Medical Examiner’s findings.

Many have wondered if police got a tip or a deathbed confession that led them to search the Concord River in Billerica. No, that did not happen.

What DID happen is a pretty remarkable story. It turns out that Judy’s case touched the lives of many people who never met her, but who were determined to try to find her.

Among them is Bruce Stebbins of Billerica. He owns a high-tech underwater drone and he likes to locate things underwater. He was drawn to Judy’s case by a friend who has a lot of knowledge about the Judy Chartier disappearance and other unsolved crimes in the murder. They came up with a list of locations for Bruce to use his underwater drone.

Hans Hug of Exeter, N.H. is a scuba diver who owns an EdgeTech side scan sonar. Bruce teamed up with Hans and, in late August, they began to search a section of the Concord River in Billerica. Hans’ sonar turned up a few areas that needed to be searched further.

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In September, Bruce dropped his underwater drone into the murky waters of the Concord River. They found four cars. The fourth car resembled a Dodge Dart. That’s the make and model of Judy’s car.

Bruce remembers seeing the moment he saw the first underwater images of the vehicle.

“When I first saw it, I remember shouting to Hans, ‘We got her car!’ It just felt like it was her car and just amazing, incredible,” Stebbins told me.

Bruce and Hans talked to Chelmsford Police about their findings and received permission to look further. They were told not to touch anything.

Soon, Hans put on his scuba gear and took a closer look.

“I saw the three spokes of the steering wheel. I saw the window vents the little triangular vents from the 70′s,” Hans told me. “Everything about it said, ‘Yes! Dodge Dart.’ Two doors, vinyl roof everything. It was a fabulous feeling.”

Their discovery unlocked a mystery that haunted Judy Chartier’s family for years.

“From the start, it broke my heart that she’s been missing all this time,” Bruce Stebbins said. “To be able to help them out like that. It was just great.”

“This just opens door we could never open before,” Hug said. “Powerful technology that does the job in a very big way.”