Pasco County mother missing for 8 months

1:24 AM, May 15, 2010   |    comments
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Hudson, Florida - Joe and Laraine Rossi haven't slept in months.

Each time the phone rings, they hope it will be their youngest daughter, Kim Marie.

Every time there's a knock at the door, in the back of their minds, they pray that it's her face they'll see when they open the door.

Each time, however, deep down they know this will never happen.

"My daughter's dead.  Everybody says we don't know that for sure. I raised her. I know she's dead," says Joe Rossi, as a tear streams down his weathered cheek.

This father has seen a lot, more than he ever imagined he would in this lifetime.

"She always told me, 'Daddy, don't worry,'" Joe sighs. "I can handle things. There were times I tried, but not good enough."

Good enough, he says, to save his troubled daughter.

Kim Marie O'Connell is the kind of woman who got noticed.  Her striking looks and charismatic personality were made her popular growing up in Brooklyn.

Once you met her, you wouldn't forget her.

Kim always had moré friends than she could count, more boyfriends than most women would see in a lifetime, and a family that adored her.  She had a beautiful life and gave birth to a precious little boy, Jimmy.

She and her sister, Desi, would enjoy the infamous decade of the 80's together - with big hair, wild clothes, and music like Cyndi Lauper.  They often joked about their high school memories.

Kim would call Desi's phone and hold the receiver up to the radio whenever an 80's song came on, saying, "Desi, listen to this! Remember this song?"

Kim would call her mother four or five times a day. The two talked incessantly.  There wasn't much Kim wouldn't share with her mother and sister.

They had a bond.

But, life would not always be so kind for the 42-year-old Hudson mother.

In her early twenties, she would be diagnosed with a painful condition called fibromyalgia,  She was prescribed painkillers to deal with the discomfort.

And, like many, Kim quickly became addicted to Vicodin - which Pasco County detectives call "an epidemic in this area."

She used it so much that she began spending time with people that her parents didn't approve of at all.  In fact, Kim's once successful and rewarding job as a hospice worker fell by the wayside.

It was a job she was good at and loved dearly.

Her sister, Desi, tells us, "She would spend her money on things for the patients, things [they] wanted like lotion.  She felt bad because no one else was taking care of them or helping them."

But, the Vicodin became more important and more powerful. More than she could handle, her parents say.

"I don't care what anybody did in life.  No one deserves to go through this.  I don't care how bad of a person you may be in life. No one should suffer like the way we're suffering."

Kim began dating the wrong man, says Detective Pete Federico from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.  "He was trouble," says the detective.

James Rappa lived in Hudson, and he quickly began running Kim's life after they started dating, detectives tell us. She basically moved in with him, and detectives say began getting "her fix of Vicodin" from him.

Rappa had a dark side, including more than fifty arrests for various offenses, according to records. But, the worst part of his criminal record was a history of domestic violence with women.

He was accused of beating up Kim numerous times.  The two would always make up, however, and he would not be prosecuted, according to police.

They would break up and make up constantly.

Kim's parents never liked him. They knew he was trouble, and they were always warning her about him.

Kim, headstrong as ever, continued the tumultuous relationship much to the chagrin of her father, in particular.

"She was 42 years old.  She'll be a baby to us, I don't care how old I get.. or she [had] gotten. She's still our baby," Joe says.

As Kim and James constantly fought, Kim's mother would always worry.  She would drive up to James' home to pick up her daughter, not knowing what to expect.

The last time she saw her daughter was July 5, 2009.

That would be the last time anyone saw Kim alive, including James Rappa. He was the last person to come into contact with her before she went missing.

Detective Federico is handling Kim's case.  He talked with us about Rappa, "He knew Kim very well. Apparently they were very close. So again, at this point, he is a person of interest, so to speak."

In the beginning, Rappa was cooperative.

He let deputies conduct a search warrant of his home with the use of K-9's.  He stood there patiently and answered all of their questions.

As the investigation went on, he became less and less willing to talk.  In fact, he refused to take a lie detector test.

So, did James Rappa kill Kim O'Connell?

Detectives say he is a person of interest at this time.  Again, he was the last person to see her alive.  Kim's parents feel strongly that he knows something and for whatever reason, will not talk about it.

"If someone knows something about it, I appeal to their compassion. I appeal to them, please, just give us peace of mind. Help us find her," Joe says.

10 Connects went by James Rappa's home in Hudson to speak with him about the case. He came out of his home, yelling at our crew to leave.

We managed to get in several questions before we left. "Do you know what happened to Kim O'Connell? Do you?"

He answered over his shoulder as he walked inside his home, "I wish I did. I love her and miss her."

Kim hasn't been seen in months, which is highly unusual, since she had such a close connection to her family and her 16-year-old son.

Detective Federico says, "[The] family feels it's very unusual for her to just disappear to have contact with them completely."

He added, "As a detective, I have to have an open mind... and I have to explore all the options."

Options that, sadly, include the worst case scenario.

"It probably doesn't look great because it's been such a long period of time," he says.

Meanwhile, Joe is doing everything he can to feel like he's contributing to the investigation, including combing the woods in Pasco County for nearly an entire year.

"I was eaten alive by mosquitoes, crying, fearing the worst. You wouldn't believe what's back in those woods. Was my daughter there? I kept looking for her," he cried.

Then, there were the days he took a hook and dragged it along the bottom of Pasco canals, desperate to find her, but terrified at the possibility of what he might drag up from the bottom in the murky waters.

"Walking in those woods for an entire year every day, in heat, bitten up like you wouldn't believe, swimming in canals, snakes flying by you," Joe explains.

Joe, Laraine and Desi talk about their sleepless nights and their desire for one thing and one thing only - giving their beloved Kim a proper burial with the sacrament in the Catholic Church.

"I can't sleep. It's impossible to rest your mind over this. [It's] on your mind 24 hours a day," Joe tells us.  "We just want to find her."

If you know what happened to Kim Marie O'Connell, please call Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay at 1-800-873-TIPS.

You could get a reward of up to $1,000 for your information, and you never have to leave your name.

Melanie Brooks, 10 Connects

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