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Despite challenges, law enforcement never forgot Janet Kovacich

Old, new police chief say proud of way investigation handled
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Former Auburn Police Chief Nick Willick doesn’t remember ever meeting Janet Kovacich but he spent a significant part of his law-enforcement career looking for her. The mother of two disappeared Sept. 8, 1982, and it would take 26 years before a jury convicted her husband, Paul Kovacich Jr., of her murder. “I’m very glad the case finally went to the people and that there was justice,” Willick said. “This particular case was probably worked on more than any other case that the Auburn Police Department was involved in.” The initial effort to find Janet Kovacich included numerous search parties scouring the Auburn area. Media outlets reported the disappearance and helicopters with infrared technology – new for the time – were used at night to try to find some sign of the missing woman. Nothing came of the initial search efforts and they were called off after a few weeks. But the search for Janet Kovacich never really ended. Willick said multiple agencies joined the effort, including the FBI, Department of Justice, Placer County Sheriff’s Office and more. Auburn Police Chief Valerie Harris said it’s difficult to tally up the hours spent trying to close the Kovacich case. “This cannot be determined in so far as so many officers and allied agencies helped with this case since 1982,” Harris said of the amount of time and money spent. “Again, whatever the amount it is worth it with respect to brining justice being served for Janet and her family.” Willick said multiple leads were explored. Even up until the late 1990s, the Auburn Police Department received phone calls and even follow up on “leads” from psychics. “As our investigation continued to evolve, more questions arose,” Willick said. “As a result of our investigation, we began to think that maybe the case was more than a disappearance.” When asked how long the department was convinced Paul Kovacich was the reason for Janet Kovacich’s disappearance, Willick said he believes officers kept an open mind and investigated all possible leads. It wasn’t until September 2006, after Willick had retired, that Paul Kovacich was officially named a suspect in the case. It was then that a grand jury indictment him for Janet Kovacich’s murder. In October 2008, the trial for Paul Kovacich began and in January 2009 it ended when a jury convicted him of first-degree murder with the use of a firearm in the death of his wife. Willick said he felt there was enough evidence to take the case to trial. He admitted that it was “very frustrating” when some witnesses passed away over time, but stood behind the case investigators built. Harris added that re-interviewing witnesses and Paul Kovacich’s “refusal to speak with investigators” after 1982 interviews, were a challenge. When a jury returned a guilty verdict, Willick said he wasn’t surprised. “I can’t say I was surprised,” Willick said. “I was glad that finally the case had gone to the people and finally a decision was rendered in what I believe to be a very just decision.” Harris agreed that the verdict was not only just, but allows the department to move forward and work on other unsolved cases. When asked what Harris would say to Paul Kovacich, she said she would like him to think about the request made in court Friday from Janet Kovacich’s brother, Gary Gregoire. “Mr. Gregoire asked Mr. Kovacich to reveal where he put Janet,” Harris recalled. “This will allow the family to put Janet in her final resting place and hopefully bring some additional closure and relief from the pain they have suffered for so long.” Willick credited many people with helping bring a 26-year-old cold case to a true close. “There have been a number of cases over the years you never forget and this is one of those,” Willick said. “For not just myself but for anybody involved in the investigation of the case, it never left their minds. They always felt the need to look at this again. That was the thing I’m probably most proud of. All of the people involved in the investigation, they didn’t forget.” The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment.