A case most cold

Frank S.

L'homme qui rit
Sep 28, 2006
The Mountains of Madness
It's likely a rare occurrence for victims to outlive their murderer, but it looks probable in this instance. I'm pasting the article here, from the New York Times:

His green raincoat pulled tight against the wet morning cold, Antonio Ciccarello, a Midtown Manhattan porter known as Tony, trudged through the Lower East Side on his way to work near Times Square.

Out of nowhere, Mr. Ciccarello felt a blow to the back, his daughter Mary Paloglou said, recalling the story she had heard through the years. He hurried from the attacker toward an uptown train, but the pain spread fast. He touched the throbbing spot. A slice through his coat. A bloom of blood.

Mr. Ciccarello went to the hospital but never filed a police report, and the stabbing, sometime in the late 1950s, became family lore, a small part of its Italian immigrant story.
But when he died in September, the unsolved and mostly forgotten crime took on elevated importance in the eyes of New York City. The medical examiner determined his death, at 97 years old, was connected to the stabbing five decades before.
Detectives opened a murder investigation.

The New York Police Department’s annual tally of murders usually includes a few in which a victim was injured in a previous year, but survived for a time.

But in that tradition of so-called reclassified homicides, Mr. Ciccarello’s appeared to be the oldest ever recorded by the city, officials said. There were roughly 55 years between the attack, believed to have taken place in 1958 or 1959, and his death.

There were 332 murders logged in 2014, the lowest number since the city began keeping reliable statistics in 1963. One of those was Mr. Ciccarello’s.

“It baffles the mind; it baffles our family’s mind,” said Ms. Paloglou, 57, who was 2 years old when her father was attacked. “The person who stabbed him is probably dead. Long dead.”

The Police Department has approached this murder investigation as any other, even if it has at times been a quixotic task.

Two detectives from the Manhattan South Homicide Squad have pored over microfiche of old crime reports. They have searched for medical records — Mr. Ciccarello might have gone to Bellevue Hospital Center, they believe, but any documentation would have been purged long ago — and for surviving co-workers. They have found no leads so far, no evidence, no witnesses.

“The problem we’re coming up with is there are not too many people who are still alive,” said Lt. Michael Saccone, the squad’s commanding officer. “He lived all these years with no problem,” he added. “And all of a sudden, it’s a homicide.”

For medical examiners, if a death can be linked to an attack, neither the age of the victim nor the time lapsed matters. Of the 11 other murders from 2014 that stemmed from an earlier assault, the second oldest was of a man who died of complications from a gunshot wound in 1989.

Last year, a medical examiner in Virginia attributed the death of James Brady, who was injured during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, to the gunshot wound to his head and its consequences, including partial paralysis. Mr. Brady, a former White House press secretary, was 73. (Federal authorities have since said they would not pursue murder charges against the gunman, John W. Hinckley Jr., who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in Mr. Reagan’s shooting).

Under normal circumstances, a 97-year-old’s body would not end up in a morgue. But after Mr. Ciccarello died at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, his body was sent to the medical examiner because his hospital records included references to the stab wound.

Mr. Ciccarello died from complications of a bowel obstruction “due to ventral hernias due to remote exploratory laparotomy for treatment of stab wound of torso,” his death certificate says. In other words, the operation Mr. Ciccarello received to save his life decades ago eventually led to a fatal obstruction.

The medical examiner made its determination based on a body exam, hospital records and information about the crime provided by Ms. Paloglou. “Stabbed by other,” the death certificate reads. “Homicide.”

Born on Sept. 5, 1917, in Des Moines, Mr. Ciccarello did not stay long in the United States. His parents, who had come to the Midwest to work on the railroad, returned to Sicily with him when he was about 2, Ms. Paloglou said.

There, he lived a hard life working on a farm. His parents gave him away when he was about 10, Ms. Paloglou said. He later worked as a shepherd, at times sleeping on the ground. He longed for a better life, she added, “especially, as an American.”

In 1951, he returned to the United States. Two years later, he brought along a growing family, immigration records show: his wife, Carmela, and their two children, Salvatore, 6, and Angela, 4. Upon entry into New York, their names were erroneously recorded as Ciccarelli, but the family kept the old spelling.

Mr. Ciccarello found work as a porter in a building on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. The family squeezed into an apartment more than two miles south, at 651 East Fifth Street, in what Ms. Paloglou — born there in 1957 — described as “a hard neighborhood.”

The story of his stabbing became a piece of family history, told and retold. It was hard to ignore: Mr. Ciccarello bore a foot-long scar on his torso — sternum to belly button — from the operation.

“He was walking from East Fifth Street and Avenue C,” Ms. Paloglou said. “It was a rainy morning, around 4 in the morning. He had on an old-fashioned raincoat.” He tried to continue on to work after the attack, but after seeing the blood, he returned home.

But Ms. Paloglou never learned the date, only that it happened when she was about 2, putting the year of the crime around 1959.

“I do remember hearing my mother screaming,” she said. In later conversations, her father spoke of a random attack. “He didn’t know who it was,” she said. “It could have been a bum in the street, it could have been anybody. He was a porter, he didn’t have anybody against him.”

While not unheard-of, random attacks are rare, Lieutenant Saccone said. He speculated that Mr. Ciccarello could have known who stabbed him and did not want to tell anyone. “The only person who is going to know the truth has unfortunately passed away,” he said.

But, the lieutenant added, detectives had not discovered anything in Mr. Ciccarello’s past that might provide a motive. "He’s a regular hardworking guy; he was his whole life,” he said.

Soon after the stabbing, Mr. Ciccarello returned to his job as a porter, washing floors and bathrooms. He ran a freight elevator in the same building in the 1970s. Ms. Ciccarello worked cleaning offices. She died in 1998. Their only surviving child is Ms. Paloglou, who for a time ran a West Village deli with her ex-husband, and now works in the public library in the Rockland County hamlet of Garnerville, N.Y., where she lives.

A week before Mr. Ciccarello died, about three dozen relatives and friends gathered for his 97th birthday in the Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, apartment where he moved in retirement and still lived on his own. “He was healthy till the end,” said Ms. Paloglou, who would visit each weekend and cook food to last her father through the week. “He recognized people he hadn’t seen in years.”
That made it all the more painful to see a box marked “homicide” on his death certificate, Ms. Paloglou said. The word suggested the opposite of closure — a mystery that may never be solved.

“But I’m not fighting it,” she said. “I want my father to rest in peace.”