The Cost of Silence

One wonders if the Calzacorto family suffers any pangs of remorse for relying on Omerta when Brian Calzacorto was suspected of murdering his father, a Donora, Pennsylvania, police lieutenant in 1986.
 
There’s a good possibility that their silence resulted in the rape and murder of a young woman years later. If so, then those who stonewalled the investigation into Al Calzacorto’s murder bear culpability for the death of Laurie Colannino.
 
The story of Laurie’s tragic death begins a few years earlier when 31-year police force veteran Alfred Calzacorto, Jr., 60, was found dead in his bed by his wife, Mary Ann on the evening of October 27, 1986. At first it appeared that he had died of a brain hemorrhage while sleeping, and as a result very little investigating was done at the scene.
 
However, when Alfred Sr.’s body was being prepared by a local funeral director, the mortician noticed a small wound below his subject’s right eye and called the coroner, who later said the wound looked “like a pimple.”
 
The coroner summoned the police superintendent, and a subsequent closer examination of the wound revealed that it was an entrance wound for a .32 caliber bullet. The bullet had entered Alfred Sr.’s brain, killing him.
 
Unfortunately for police, the coroner, Dr. Farrell Jackson, had ordered the bloody bedclothes and pajamas destroyed, leaving little material for an investigation.
 
Alfred Sr. had just finished an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift when he returned to his Allen Avenue home. His wife was out babysitting and only one son, Alfred Jr. was awake. Alfred’s identical twin brother, Brian, was asleep, Alfred Jr. said.
 
The father and son spoke briefly about the New York Mets-Boston Red Sox World Series — the Series was tied at 3 games all and the deciding game was set for that evening at Shea Stadium (Mets 8, Red Sox 5). Alfred Jr. left for classes at California University southwest of Donora.
 
Mary Ann returned home around 10 a.m., and a daughter, Kathleen Volpi, showed up around 20 minutes later. Neither disturbed Alfred Sr., whom they assumed was sleeping.
 
The Calzacorto family was in and out of the house for the rest of the day, but no one checked on Alfred Sr. or assumed anything was amiss. After Mary Ann picked up the couple’s other daughter from work around 6:30 p.m., she began fixing dinner. When it was ready around 8 p.m. she went in to wake up her husband and found him unresponsive. Efforts to revive him through CPR performed by Kathleen and police were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead by Dr. Jackson.
 
The autopsy revealed that he had been dead about 10 hours.
 
acalzacortofuneralBrian Calzacorto was nowhere to be found. His mother told authorities that he was “out of state” on a job interview. He called home several times after his father’s death, but did not return home until after Alfred Sr.’s funeral. On the day of the murder Brian used his brother’s ATM card to withdraw $200 around 8:30 a.m. on October 27. He later tried to use the card two more times but was unsuccessful.
 
Police investigating the death immediately centered on Brian as their suspect. There were no signs of forced entry and nothing was amiss in the home. The death was unlikely to have been suicide because the .32 pistol was not found at the scene.
 
Brian returned home after the October 31 funeral but quickly returned to Florida, where he remained an uncooperative person of interest.
 
Authorities quickly ran into a wall of silence from the Calzacorto family. Brian refused to answer questions without an attorney present — which is, of course, his right.
 
In January 1987, Dr. Jackson decided to convene a coroner’s jury and place the various parties under oath in an effort to find some answers. The Calzacorto family consistently declined to answer any questions and Brian refused even to return from Florida.
 
Over the four-day hearing, the family invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination an amazing 133 times — again, that is their right.
 
“The Fifth Amendment,” said the coroner’s jury foreman. “My God, I never saw it abused so much.”
 
Mary Ann Calzacorto, who had been married to Alfred Sr. for 35 years, took advantage of the right to remain silent 51 times. She refused to answer such benign questions like why she attended church that day.
 
She did tell prosecutor John Pettit that she was interested in bringing her husband’s killer to justice. Every other member of the family, when asked by Pettit if they wanted the person or persons responsible for killing Alfred Calzacorto, Sr., brought to justice, invoked the Fifth Amendment.
 
“It is quite possible that there has been other criminal misconduct committed and others may have to answer for their conduct,” said Pettit, who was clearly frustrated by the stonewalling.
 
Despite an admonition by the judge that taking advantage of their right not to incriminate themselves should not be held against the family, the coroner’s jury took just 27 minutes to return an open murder charge against Brian.
 
“Brian should have been here,” the jury foreman told the media. “He should have showed up. He should have at least showed up for his father’s funeral.”
 
Although the jury recommended charges against Brian Calzacorto, Pettit was unprepared to file those charges until he had more evidence. The subsequent investigation revealed a number of strange actions by the Calzacorto family.

  • A taped interview of Alfred Sr.’s sister played at the inquest revealed that Mary Ann Calzacorto told her sister-in-law that “Brian did it, but he’s still my baby. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Alfred’s sister had died before she could testify, so the tape was admitted.
  • Alfred Jr. was subsequently tried for tampering with evidence in the case. Authorities said he found the murder weapon but hid it behind furniture. He was acquitted of all charges.
  • Kathleen Volpi was charged with tampering with evidence for reportedly wiping blood off her father’s face before performing CPR. Police said she did so to help bolster the idea that the death was natural. Charges were dismissed against her when the prosecution failed to prove a prima facie case against her.
  • Two other relatives, Louis and Virginia Artalona, were charged with similar offenses when the prosecution alleged they received a handgun from Mary Ann Calzacorto and took it to Florida. Those charges were also dismissed.
  • One of Alfred Sr.’s brothers told police that Mary Ann told him “they can search this house from top to bottom and they’ll never find the gun.” Two other siblings confirmed Mary Ann made the statement in front of them.

 
In addition, a Donora Police Officer stood trial for calling the coroner anonymously to report that he knew where the murder weapon was. He said it could be found in the home of a friend of the Donora Council president. On the stand during the inquest, the officer denied making the statements and was charged with perjury. He was acquitted at trial.
 
The case went cold and the murder remains unsolved. Brian Calzacorto, however, will very likely die behind bars.
 
In 1990, a 23-year-old cocktail waitress, Laurie Colannino, was found murdered and sexually assaulted in her apartment complex. She was raped and stabbed 16 times. One of her neighbors at the time was Brian Calzacorto, who was sharing an apartment with his brother, Alfred Jr., but Brian was not considered a suspect at that time.
 
Four years later, police on the cold case squad in Pinellas County, Florida interviewed approximately 200 male residents in the apartment complex, and were intrigued when Brian, whom they learned had been a murder suspect in Pennsylvania, moved away from the complex shortly after he — like many other residents — was asked to give a blood sample.
 
When they finally found him in Tampa, detectives honed in on Brian Calzacorto because he was the only man living in Colannino’s apartment complex who wouldn’t voluntarily give a DNA sample.
 
The case went cold again until the science of DNA testing improved enough that all police needed was a saliva swab. Returning to Brian’s apartment, they scoured his trash and finally found a cigarette butt and parts of an electric razor that gave them the cellular material they needed.
 
It matched the DNA taken from semen at the scene of Colannino; Brian and Alfred Jr. were both arrested because, as identical twins, they had identical DNA. Alfred was able to establish an alibi and was freed. He was never again considered a suspect in the case.
 
The only evidence linking Brian to the murder was the DNA, which jurors later said he could have explained away by claiming he had had consensual sex with Colannino. The defense’s alternative theory was that Colannino’s boyfriend killed her in a fit of rage after learning she had been intimate with one or both of the twins.
 
At his 2003 trial, Brian blamed his brother for the murder and denied knowing Colannino. The jury didn’t believe him and he was convicted of rape and murder.
 
The jury recommended a life sentence, unaware until informed by the judge after jurors made their recommendation that Brian was a suspect in his father’s killing. Many of the jurors said that would have influenced them to vote differently had they known.
 
That Brian Calzacorto was capable of murder is undeniable, so it is possible that he killed his father. The question remains, if he did, why did the family close ranks behind him? If they hadn’t, perhaps Laurie Colannino might still be alive.