Peter Weinberger would have turned 60 years old in the summer of 2016, but he never even had a chance to celebrate his first birthday. In fact, Peter barely made it past his first month on Earth. He was kidnapped over the July 4 holiday from the patio of his well-off family’s home in Long Island when he was 33 days old for a measly $2,000 ransom that his parents were easily able and extremely willing to pay.
Instead, his kidnapper — a father of two young children — abandoned baby Peter in a bramble patch the day after the kidnapping and left the child to die. “Mercifully,” the infant somehow asphyxiated rather than starving to death or being attacked by animals.
It was an usually chilly and gray day in Westbury, New York, when Beatrice Weinberger gave Peter his 5-ounce bottle and placed her son in a carriage on the back patio of her home. As Peter dozed she went inside to get a diaper. When she returned a few minutes later, Peter was gone and in his place was left a brief ransom note.
I hate to do this to you, but I am in great trouble. Don’t notify the police. I am not asking for a lot of money, only for what I need, and I am very serious about this.
When Morris Weinberger returned with his 4-year-old son, the family surreptitiously made contact with police who laid a trap for the kidnapper.
Unfortunately for police and the Weinberger family, the New York Daily News got wind of the story and ran with it. Of course, the rest of the East Coast press picked it up and stormed Westbury to stake out the kidnap drop zone.
Dozens of reporters combed the neighborhood looking for clues and watching the Weinberger house for signs of a break. Eventually the police asked the reporters to leave, allowing a photographer and print reporter to stay.
At 9:55 a.m. on July 5, two ransom packages were placed beneath trees outside the Weinberger home. The packages contained envelopes filled with blank paper wrapped with bank notes.
“Every instruction about leaving the package was observed,” Detective Chief Stuyvesant Pinnell told the press.
Ten minutes after the drop, a taxi with a female passenger drove by the house three times. Later a red station wagon driven by a woman paused near one of the packages, but left when a small boy wandered down the road.
No one else appeared and for some reason, police did not follow either of the cars.
When it was apparent that the drop had failed, authorities arranged for Beatrice to make an appeal to the kidnapper via television and radio.
“I am the mother of Peter Weinberger,” she read from a written statement. “I am willing to cooperate in any way. I am most concerned of all for the welfare of by baby. He is only four weeks old.”
Sadly, the only responses to her plea were from cranks and low-lifes who wanted to take advantage of the family. Several times people called demanding money, but it was clear that they were not connected with the crime.
By the time Beatrice went on the air, Peter Weinberger was already dead. He had been abandoned by the kidnapper, a former cab driver (possibly the driver who appeared at the drop zone) named Angelo LaMarca.
LaMarca was a family man who had happened on tough times and had a petty record for operating an illegal moonshine still.
On the surface nothing appeared to be happening on the Weinberger kidnapping. Until there was evidence that the kidnapper had crossed state lines or until a week passed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was prohibited from entering the investigation. On July 11 the week deadline passed and the FBI took over the investigation. They began by analyzing the handwritten ransom note.
Over the course of a month they examined 2 million handwriting samples. They looked at 75,000 fingerprint cards without a match.
Eventually, while looking at records from the Federal District Court for New York City, they came across Angelo LaMarca’s signature. He had been arrested two years before and pleaded guilty to running an illegal still. Laboratory technicians matched it to the ransom note and rushed to Nassau County on Long Island, where LaMarca lived with his pregnant wife and two children.
LaMarca was arrested on August 24, and confessed shortly after. He told police that he abandoned the child when he saw police around the drop zone on July 5. The Weinbergers held out hope.
“We are still praying that our child is alive and well and is being cared for by someone somewhere,” Beatrice said. “We will not believe otherwise untiul we hear contrary from someone in authority. We cannot put into words our feelings at the present time.”
On August 25, the decomposed body of Peter Weinberger, still in the clothes that he was wearing when he was taken from his home, was found.
LaMarca, 31, told authorities where to find the boy — beneath a honeysuckle vine.
It turns out the Peter was simply a target of opportunity. LaMarca told authorities that he had written the note in advance, but didn’t have a particular child in mind.
He also told police that he was spurred on by ever-increasing debts. His wife said that his concern over his finances had pushed him into a deep depression.
“He said he wrote the note but didn’t have anything to do with the murder,” LaMarca’s wife, Donna, told reporters. “Someone else is involved, but he won’t say who.”
In November, 1956, Angelo LaMarca went on trial for kidnapping and murder — crimes that carried the death penalty. The pressure of his debts prompted temporary insanity, his lawyers unsuccessfully claimed.
After the defense asked for mercy for the father of a 9-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl, the prosecution reacted strongly to that plea.
“What mercy was shown baby Peter when he was left in that woods?” District Attorney Frank Gulotta asked the jury. “What mercy did he show then?”
He was convicted of both crimes in December 1956. When the death sentence was pronounced, LaMarca’s knees wobbled and he sank back into his chair.
Two years later, LaMarca got something that the Weinbergers never had — he said farewell to his young children.
“They got along fine,” Donna LaMarca said. “He told them to do well in school and to take care of me. (The girl) is too young to understand, but (the boy) knows what’s happening.”
The next morning, after eating a hearty breakfast, a silent but whimpering LaMarca was led into the Sing Sing death chamber and after a last minute plea to Governor Averell Harriman failed, was electrocuted.