Police seek answers in 30-year Burlington mystery
By STEVE DeMARCO firstname.lastname@example.org
BURLINGTON It is a grave at Chestnut Hill Cemetery that is just grass, there is no stone, but it does have a designation Section D, No. 550. An unidentified man is buried there whose body was discovered in a wooded area off Muller Road nearly 30 years ago.
The site's emptiness reflects the fruitless results of the work of some detectives in the Burlington Police Department, who have tried off-and-on for those 30 years to identify the man.
According to Inspector Frank Nardone, the man was murdered (shot twice in the back of the head), and his body was buried in about two feet of dirt off Muller Road, near what was known as a "lover's lane" in 1975 (the entrance has since been blocked off with large hay bales).
Since that time, "We have had several leads, and they have all come up short," said Nardone.
"I figured that with all of the computers (accessibility to data) we have now, we would have identified him by now," Nardone went on to say. "But some of those missing-person sites, they can be very depressing.
"We (Nardone, Inspector Gary Burdick, Sgt. Glen Mills, and State Trooper Peter Sennott) have been going at this for the last two years full-blast," said Nardone. "There has got to be an answer out there somewhere."
In defining the difficulty he has had in trying to make strides in the case, Nardone said he received the autopsy on the body just two years ago. The law requires that autopsy reports only go to next-of-kin and the district attorney's office.
"He has to have family, hopefully, his family is alive," Nardone said. "Sometimes, people leave, lose complete contact with their family. That could be the case here."
"This is someone who lost his life, but they stole his name," Nardone went on to say. "Some people may have thought he was bad, but he started out good.
"If I can do this (identify the body) before I retire," Nardone continued, "I feel I will have accomplished something."
Possible military connections
Reports indicate the body was discovered May 22, 1975, by two men who were in the Muller Road woods walking a dog.
"He was wearing an army field jacket, dungarees, and canvas sneakers with black socks," said Nardone. "Wearing black socks in those days usually meant you were associated with the military or law enforcement."
Police officials deduced at the time that the body had been buried there "anywhere between six months and a year."
He had "excellent dental records" of the man, Nardone said, but "all dental records were sent to St. Louis in the late 1970s and were destroyed in a fire."
The inspector added that there were several gold fillings in the man's mouth, and "the only people who had gold in their mouths in '75 were mostly military people."
Nardone also said the man was wearing a belt with a unique, Garrison-style buckle, and a medallion suggestive of association with a motorcycle gang.
"At that time, there were reports of motorcycle gangs in town," Nardone recalled. "There were a couple of houses where four of them, five of them would live."
A witness came forward in the 1980s whom Nardone initially considered credible, he said. He led them to a motorcycle group in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., "but that trail eventually went cold," Nardone stated.
Nardone said he later learned this witness "spelled his last name two different ways," which cast further doubt on his credibility.
Nardone said he would like to exhume the body, and that is a daunting task, he said, "because there are a lot of hurdles you have to get through, you just can't exhume a body."
That will require a court order, Nardone said, as well as permission from the local Board of Health because "we are digging up a body. I am trying to get the state (medical examiner's office) to exhume the body."
If the body is exhumed (it is first sent, casket and all, to the state medical examiner's office) that could ultimately reveal a lot, Nardone said.
"With all the technology and advances, we can do a lot more than we could do in 1975," he said. "I have an artist who could draw a picture of his face, and two other people I have could make a clay model of his skull."
Nardone also said advances with DNA could aid in identifying the man.
A local funeral home has offered to donate a new casket for the body, Nardone said, because the original casket "has likely been destroyed, or at least decayed."