On the morning of Oct. 24, 1998, Kristine Kupka telephoned her sister Kathy to let her know that she was meeting her boyfriend, Rudy Persaud. She was going to help him clean out a Brooklyn apartment he had recently rented. "Boyfriend" was a relative term; Kupka and Persaud were having some problems.
That morning Kupka reportedly met Persaud outside her Kensington, Brooklyn, house. She got into his car and they drove off. That was the last time she was ever seen.
Kupka was a Baruch College student?and she was five months pregnant with Persaud's child. The two had met at Baruch, where he taught one of the classes she was taking. When the disappearance was reported, a friend of Kupka's told the police that Kristine had once said, "If anything happens to me, Rudy did it."
Rudy Persaud had recently married, and was probably not happy that Kupka was having his baby. Persaud's wife had found out about his fling and thrown him out of the house?which is why he was moving into a new place.
Kupka's family believes that Persaud killed Kristine, but no body has been found, and no one was ever arrested. Persaud has not been charged. I wasn't able to reach Persaud for comment, but a source close to the case told me that Persaud maintains his innocence and Persaud claims to have no knowledge about what happened to Kupka.
That didn't stop tabloid tv from jumping all over the story when it first broke. You have a cornfed girl who moved to New York from Madison, WI, hooking up with a first-generation Indo-Guyanese-American man who also happened to be one of her professors; she gets preggers; the professor cannot be happy about the situation; she insists she'll bear his child as a single mother; and then she vanishes.
With no arrest the story died down. Then, on Oct. 24, 2000, the two-year anniversary of her disappearance, Kristine's sister Kathy raised enough funds to have a billboard placed on a building near the BQE, announcing a $25,000 reward for information that helps solve the mystery of her sister's disappearance.
Trying to read this sign as you're driving by can get you killed. It's on the side of a six-story building by N. 8th St. and Meeker Ave., and runs parallel to the expressway. To read it you have to take your eyes off of the road and turn your head 90 degrees.
It is an intriguing announcement. Bold letters declare: Missing/Murdered. Underneath is a color photo of Kupka gazing up into the camera. She looks forever young, a distracted, tomboyish face. Under the picture is the reward offer, a website and an e-mail link for the investigator, Gil Alba, looking into the case.
I called Alba on Thursday, May 3. He said he'd gladly talk about the case and then informed me, "You know, today is Kristine's birthday. She'd be 31 today." I got that eerie feeling my Irish grandmother used to say was like "a goose just stepped on your grave."
I asked Alba how the investigation was going.
"The Brooklyn Cold Case Squad just took the case over, and they're starting the investigation from scratch," he said. "We just gave them a solid lead that there was another man with Persaud that day, and we may be able to break this case."
Alba worked as a police detective for 28 years, and now has his own firm. I asked him if he was convinced that Persaud killed Kupka.
"I am, and I think the cops are, too. The first time he met with the police he came with a lawyer. Until we get something solid they can't arrest him. But we'll break this case. I get calls from all over and sooner or later someone will talk."
Persaud lives in Brooklyn and is reportedly back with his wife and their child. Alba believes he gave up teaching and is now enrolled in a dental school in New Jersey. I asked about the billboard over the BQE and Alba said that Kathy Kupka had spent about $6000 to put it up. He wasn't sure how much longer it would stand. I wished Alba good luck and then hung up the phone. Leaning back in my chair, I silently wished Kristine Kupka a happy birthday.