ITHACA, N.Y. — Nick Marranca walks along a railroad track the day after Thanksgiving with the sun shining on an unusually warm November day. As he walks, he stops to lift discarded comforters off the ground knowing full well that under those comforters, he could find his daughter’s dead body.

But he doesn’t find her. Underneath the comforters are just stray items of clothing.

The Marranca family found discarded clothes under a comforter as they searched for their missing daughter Friday in Tompkins County.

The train tracks are near the Economy Inn off of Elmira Road. It’s the last place 27-year-old Ithaca woman Nicole Marranca was seen on Aug. 18. Nobody has heard from her since then.

Police have asked the public for help on the case saying that they have exhausted all possible leads.

“I’m waiting for the worst, but I’d love to hear the best,” Marranca said.

He said he knows that things aren’t looking good for the safe return of Nicole. His daughter lived a lifestyle that was not a secret to her family.

She is addicted to heroin and worked as an escort to get money to feed her habit. She often posted provocative ads online looking for “dates.” She’d been arrested several times in the past. Many of her friends are also involved in drugs and sex work.

But that wasn’t always the lifestyle she lived.

Her father said she started riding horses when she was about 4 years old. She had an American Paint Horse named Shimmer who was white and black. The horse was born the same month and year as her and the two shared a bond. Nicole Marranca rode the horse in competitions all over the region and at the New York State Fair, sometimes winning ribbons.

“I got them hanging on things in my kitchen. They’ve been there so long. I can tell you the good things, but it all turned when she came back here…There’s no other way to put it,” Nick Marranca said. 

Nicole Marranca Provided photo

He said he and his wife Kelley Marranca held Nicole to a high standard both at home and at school. So when she turned 15, she came to Ithaca to live with her mom full-time.

He knows Nicole started using drugs when she was just a teenager and he wanted her to get clean. When Marranca gave birth to a daughter four years ago, he and Kelley Marranca got legal custody of the child. But they wanted Nicole to get come home, get healthy, and be part of her daughter’s life.

Nick Marranca said he knew his daughter wouldn’t last long without her drugs and she refused to use them at his house. He was worried for her well being, but let her visit.

The last time Nicole visited her daughter was a day in October 2016.

Kelley Marranca said Nicole slept on a recliner near her daughter that night and woke up suffering from withdrawal.

You could just see the look on her face and the pacing, and her on the phone, and in-and-out smoking cigarettes,” Kelley Marranca said. “When she gets sick she gets really, she doesn’t like going through withdrawal.”

He lovingly told her she had to leave and come back when she was clean. Nicole’s daughter started crying as she left.

Nick Marranca said, “Oh, it broke my heart. (Redacted) cried so bad because she said, ‘Papa, I like her. I don’t want her to leave.’”

Since then, Nick said his daughter talked about going to visit them again in Buffalo. She told him she would be able to use heroin before she got there and would be okay for a little while. But it never happened.

Despite that, he said they stayed in touch.

“She used to call me all the time. She was a daddy’s girl. ‘Dad I need this. Help me out dad.’ And I’d do it a lot…,” he said even though Kelley Marranca reminded him that money was surely going to drugs. “She said ‘Dad I haven’t eaten in a while…(but) deep inside I knew.”

Sitting in a van parked outside of a Rite Aid in Ithaca Friday, he and Kelley Marranca planed their next move for the day. They drove from Buffalo to search for Nicole and arrived in Ithaca around 10 a.m.

Kelley Marranca said she has a relative who claims to be a psychic medium and gave them some hints to help with their search: a creek, a bowl, horses, white, scissors, a hotel or motel with a home nearby. The person who picked her up from the hotel knew she was going to die, the relative said. It wasn’t an accident.

It’s not much to go on, if any on if it is even true, but they stopped at a bridge over a creek with a horse crossing sign. They searched a creek area near a church and found a hypodermic needle that’s clearly been there a while. They checked nearby trails. They think that if somebody got rid of her body, they wouldn’t have wanted to risk carrying her too far.

“I feel like I’m kicking a dead horse here,” Nick Marranca said. 

Despite hoping for the best, wanting to find his daughter alive, Nick Marranca said he knows that if she were alive — if she ran off with some guy, if she decided to start somewhere else fresh, even if she’s on a drug binge — she would never stop calling him. Kelley Marranca agreed.

“The last time I talked to her — she didn’t even call me, I called her — I said ‘How you doing baby?’ She said ‘Dad, I’m starving. I haven’t eaten in a couple days. I swear I won’t buy any drugs. Can you please send me some money?’ So I did, and I called her back. I could her hear eating. I could hear the potato chip bag. I could hear her chewing in my ear. And that was the last time I talked to her,” Nick Marranca said.

Kelley Marranca had Google Maps open on her phone and she looked for places that match her relative’s visions — an out-of-the-way motel, a creek, horses, some other indicative symbol.

She said. “I get upset because she hated being cold, and it’s getting cold out. And all I can think about is her body laying somewhere and it’s going to snow on her and it’s cold and she don’t like cold. She hates cold. And it just upsets me.”

But conducting their own search for Nicole is tricky. In addition to not knowing where to begin looking for Nicole, the Marranca’s don’t want to go on private property, despite knowing a few places they’d like to search. It’s also hunting season. Nick Marranca wore a bright orange sweatshirt and Kelley Marranca wore a bright yellow T-shirt so they don’t accidentally get shot.

They said Ithaca police have dissuaded them from doing their own investigating and told them that they risk compromising witnesses or evidence in the process.

But they’re understandably frustrated with the investigation not turning up any usable or new leads that they know of, hence their most recent trip to the area — the third time they’ve combed the county for her.

“I’m not going to grab her and carry her up a hill — her remains — on my shoulder. I’m gonna walk my steps back and go get the police,” Nick Marranca said. “The only thing I want to do is get her found. They’ll probably do an autopsy. I’ll take her home. After that I already have a funeral director friend of mine that’s ready. He’ll come up here with me and we’ll get her.”

If you have any information about the current whereabouts of Nicole Marranca please contact the Ithaca Police Department Investigations Division by the following means:

Police Dispatch: 607-272-3245
Police Administration: 607-272-9973
Drug Tipline: 607-330-0000
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ithacapolice
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ithacapolice

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.