For a while, Donna Palomba stayed anonymous regarding her September 11, 1993, sexual assault in her own home by a masked assailant. She had gone to the police as a “Jane Doe,” but they weren’t exactly on her side and all the people in her community thought she was lying about the horrible attack in order to cover up an affair. Eventually, Donna got justice for her terrifying assault and came out of hiding, but it took years of vigilance.
On the night of the attack, Donna Palomba had opened her second-floor bedroom window because it was hot. She had just come home from a concert with her two kids. She remembers shutting the door, locking it, and tucking in her kids. Her husband John had been away for the past few days to go to a wedding out of town. This was the first time the couple had spent the night apart in 12 years of marriage.
While she was lying in bed Donna suddenly heard footsteps in her home, then saw a shadowy figure of a man come into her bedroom. His face was obscured by a mask. He jumped her and she bit down into his glove. He told Donna if she didn’t cooperate, she would be hurt.
It all happens in a matter of seconds. She started to scream but then decided to stop because she didn’t want her children to walk in.
He then pushed her face down into the bed and bound her wrists and eyes with nylon stockings and covered her head with a pillowcase. At this point, bound and overtaken, Donna resigned herself to doing whatever she could do to survive. She says he cut her clothing, flipped her over, and raped her.
The attacker put a gun to her mouth and her temple. She thought she would die, so she asked God out loud to forgive her for her sins.
After the assault was over, the unknown man flipped her around again, put the gun to her back, and said, “If you call the pigs, I’m going to come back and kill you.” She smelled an odor of grease or oil while he spoke to her, a scent that lodged into her memory.
Donna felt hope that she could survive this, so she promised him she would never tell a soul what happened.
After that terrifying experience, she found herself feeling grateful that her assailant had left and she was still alive. Her next thought was to get to her children to see if they were okay. Donna burst into tears when she found her kids fast asleep. They had no idea that anything had happened.
Despite what she promised her attacker, Donna immediately wanted to call the police. When she went to do so, she found that her phone lines had been cut. This was before the time of cellphones, so Donna had no way to communicate with the outside world without leaving the house. She was scared to leave because she didn’t know if the attacker was still near.
Donna didn’t want to wake her kids, so she decided to leave her house without them to find help from a neighbor, who was Cliff, a distant cousin of her husband. She still had the nylons on her head and wrist. He called 911 for Donna.
Cliff then went to Donna’s house with an ax for protection.
Police asked her to not change clothes or wash.
Donna called her brothers-in-law, who showed up at their house. They wanted to call Donna’s husband John, but Donna didn’t want to tell him until he came home the next day because she didn’t want him to worry when he couldn’t do anything.
Donna went to the hospital and had her rapist’s DNA collected. John came home and found a new deadbolt. He was angry that this happened to his wife and wondered if he should have left.
Investigators couldn’t figure out how the man had gotten into the home.
Donna kept her identity anonymous. Public reports of the crime referred to her as “Jane Doe.”
A month after the assault, Donna went to the police department to see if there was anything she could do. She was taken into an interrogation room and was read her Miranda rights.
He asked her to tell him what “really happened that night.” The officer claimed that they had evidence that she had lied to the police. He refused to share with Donna this evidence.
However, he did threaten to arrest Donna unless she told him “what happened. “
Eventually, the officer let her go but asked her to come back later that afternoon. He threatened to arrest her if she didn’t return. He said he had 27 cases on his desk and wanted to closet his one today.
John went to the police department. They implied that Donna had had an affair and had invented a rape to hide it from her husband.
He didn’t believe this but asked Donna if this was true. Donna replied “absolutely not” and he trusted her.
Donna felt like she had been attacked twice: once by her rapist, and again by the police.
An informant had come to the police with a rumor that Donna had had an affair. It was not evidence but simply gossip. They claimed that one of her children had woken up while the man was there, so Donna made up the story about the rape to save face.
Meanwhile, in town the rumor about Donna’s affair spread around their community.
Six months later, in the spring of 1994, Waterbury detective Neil O’Leary, who is now the mayor, looked further into the situation. He listened to Donna’s 911 call and thought that she sounded sincere in her terror and agony. He also saw that the police officers had bungled investigating the night of the crime.
Althought the forensics report supported Donna’s story, police didn’t like the fact that Donna didn’t want to call her husband right away, and they dind’t understand why she didn’t wake up her children. These were decisions that made sense to Donna. She didn’t want to traumatize her sleeping children, and she didn’t want to wake up her husband in the middle of the night to cause him stress when he was about to wake up to come home in just a few hours. The kids were eventually woken up and taken to their grandmother’s house. They were told it was a gas leak.
There had been a bachelor party the night of Donna’s assault. The neighborhood was tightnknit, and the men would probably know that John was out of town for the party.
The Palombas sued the police over the bungled investigation. The case went to court 8 years later, in 2001.
Donna was still referred to as “Jane Doe.” Neil O’Leary took the stand for them to testify that the case had been botched.
The jury found that the police had been negligent and awarded Donna $190,000.
Donna was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer around this time.
Donna felt she was being discredited in the coverage of the local paper The Republican and American and the local rumors were still out of control. In fact, the rumors intensified because of the trial.
Donna did an interview as “Jane Doe” with John Murray, an independent newspaper called the Waterfod Observer.
decided that she wanted to come out with her identity and her side of the story. The story helped quell some of the gossip about her.
The Moran brothers, worked at the police department.
Years later, Donna still worried that her attacker would find her and kill her.
Summer, 2004. Eleven years later Donna’s case was still cold, and Donna didn’t think the case would ever be solved. Neil O’Leary came across an attempted sexual assault case by a man named John Regan. He was middle-aged father of three from a prominent family in town. He was accused to attempted sexual assault of a coworker. She said he had taken her to his parents house and assaulted her, but she had fought him off and got away.
Neil looked up if John Regan was in at the stag party the night of Donna’s attack.
John Regan was a good friend of the Palombas, and John Palomba thought there was “no way” he was Donna’s attacker. He had known John “Rocky” Regan since he was five years old. Still, Neil O’Leary wanted to compare his DNA to Donna’s attacker.
John and Donna Palomba were good friends with John Regan and his wife. They would swap favors sometimes. Donna never thought John Regan raised any red flags with her.
In October 2004, Neil O’Leary met with the Palombas to let them know that their friend John “Rocky” Regan was Donna’s attacker.
John had immense rage against his longtime friend “Rocky.” He said he thought about killing him.
The Palombas once spent a day at the beach together a few years after the attack.
He was charged with kidnapping Donna because the statute of limitations on rape had run out.
The rumors came back. People thought Donna and Regan were having an affair.
A year later, a drug store clerk called police because she was disturbed by film John Regan was dropping off to be developed. There were pictures of women who didn’t know they were being photographed. The photos were being taken from inside a vehicle.
On Halloween night, 2005, in Saratoga Springs, NY
Saratoga High School 5:30 p.m. a high school student Lindsey Fergusen was leaving cross-country practice and walking to her car.
A man grabbed her from behind in an instant. She screamed and kicked, which got the attention of her coach, who was across the parking lot.
The man got back into his van as the coach ran towards him and drove away. The coach called 911 and described the assailant.
Another coach chased after him. Police eventually caught up with him and pulled him over. He had alochol on his breath. They found two slip knots and a tarp in the van, and some antihistimines and a syringe.
It was John Regan. He was out on bond awaiting trial for his cases with Donna and his coworker.
Regan was in Saratoga Springs working on an empty house for a relative. He coule have pulled inot the back, out of sight of the street and neighbors.
When the people of Waterbury heard about the Saratoga attempted kidnapping, they finally started to believe Donna’s story.
In 2007 Donna Palomba came out with her real name about her ordeal. She appeared on Dateline NBC. She started a nonprofit called “Jane Doe No More” to create awareness about sexual crimes and to help with healing.
That August 2007, Donna found out some horrifying news. John Regan sentences in New York and Connecticut were served concurrently. Before he was to be transferred to Connecticut, he was about to get out.
Donna worked with authorities in New York to apply a rare statute called the Civil Management Law, for sexual offenders. He had to stand trial again and see if a jury would let him be free.
If the jury thought he was likely to re-offend, he would not be let out. Donna and his other victims took the stand.
The jury deliberated for less than a day and decided that Regan would likely re-offend.
In 2012, Donna released Jane Doe No More: My 15-Year Fight To Reclaim My Identity–A True Story Of Survival, Hope, And Redemption . (affiliate link)