MUNSTER | Promila Mehta-Paul’s Munster home was once swarmed with investigators searching for evidence that could lead them to her.
Two years later, the brick house stands as a quiet reminder of the missing person investigation that has become a cold case.
This week marks two years since Mehta-Paul was last seen alive — on March 21, 2011 while making a deposit at a Highland bank. Police have said they believe she is dead.
Viewed from a window, a few items Mehta-Paul probably used remain inside, such as a cream couch, a bicycle and a connected telephone. An outside garage light still turns on automatically when someone walks by.
In the initial months of the investigation, law enforcement officials searched for Mehta-Paul using horse-mounted volunteers, they used sonar equipment to look in a nearby lake and offered a $20,000 reward for tips.
Nothing led police to Mehta-Paul.
Munster police Detective Sgt. Ray Schweitzer said the agency only actively investigates the case when tips come in, usually from other law enforcement agencies.
Mehta-Paul’s eldest son, Paul M. Fontaine, remains the primary person of interest in the case, authorities said.
Fontaine, 40, is in the Westville Correctional Facility until April 2014 on forgery charges stemming from when he tried to sell his mother’s vehicle six months after she disappeared, according to the Indiana Department of Correction’s website.
Munster Detective Mike Janiga said Fontaine was the last person to see Mehta-Paul alive and he gave conflicting statements to people about the disappearance.
Schweitzer said it’s up to Lake County prosecutors if charges will ever be formally filed against Fontaine. He said there have been cases where people were charged even if the bodies were never recovered.
“It’s really frustrating,” he said. “It’s like knowing who stole your purse but not being able to prove it.”
Not much is known about what Mehta-Paul’s life was like before she vanished. She would be 72 years old today.
According to records, she graduated from the Christian Medical College in Ludhiana, India in 1965. She also attended the University of Madras and Punjab Medical College.
Records indicate that by 1975, she had applied for a license to practice in Illinois. She worked as an ophthalmologist and had her own practice on Kennedy Avenue in Highland. The business still looks the same, except now it has a Realtor’s sign outside.
At home, Mehta-Paul had three children who are now adults. She had been divorced for years.
Her other children declined comment or did not respond to requests.
Court records indicate she may have had financial troubles. In 1999, a lawsuit against her Merrillville attorney claims she was forced into bankruptcy after she fell at his office and couldn’t work because of pain she suffered.
Many of Mehta-Paul’s neighbors say they didn’t know her well and declined to comment.
Neighbor James Stout said Mehta-Paul had lived in the same house for about 20 years. He saw her three sons grow up alongside his children, and he often bumped into her at school meetings.
As the children grew into adults, Stout saw less of Mehta-Paul. He occasionally would see her working on her garden.
“Everyone would like to know what happened,” he said.
A sense of closure in the case could come through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Todd Matthews, the director of communications for the database, said Mehta-Paul is in the database and law enforcement officials and coroners’ offices have access to DNA and some dental records.
“She could already be a Jane Doe in the morgue,” he said. “It’s a possibility.”
Matthews said the database, used by agencies across the country, contains 31 unidentified cases in Indiana and 97 missing person cases in the state.
Kenna Quinet, an associate professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said most missing persons cases involve juveniles and result in a successful reunion.
Quinet said technology and databases like NamUS has helped to decrease the volume of missing person cases.
Mehta-Paul is not a person likely to disappear, Quinet said. In her research, the most vulnerable people to go missing are homeless or prostitutes.
She said cases like Mehta-Paul's are harder to solve the longer the case remains unsolved. "Evidence fades with time," she said.
Anyone with information about Mehta-Paul is asked to call the Munster Police Department at (219) 836-6600.