When the answer finally came, after 45 years of heartbreak for a Staten Island family with a mysteriously missing father, it brought more questions than closure.
Vincent Palmieri Sr., age 36, disappeared without warning on April 30, 1972, leaving a wife and nine kids behind in their crowded outer borough home. He was last seen around midnight after visiting with a friend at a local cab company.
One month later, some 330 miles north of New York City, authorities pulled a body from a Vermont river. The unidentified victim was executed gangland-style, his jaw broken and four bullets pumped point-blank into the back of his skull. The corpse was buried in an unmarked grave and quickly forgotten.
Back on Staten Island, the Palmieris were left to a life without their patriarch. There were money problems, with suddenly-single mom Annette forced onto welfare. The kids pitched in, taking full-time work in lieu of college degrees. Some struggled with drugs and alcohol. And a new generation of Palmieris was welcomed: 22 grandchildren arrived in Vincent Sr.’s absence.
Decades passed, nothing changed — until 2007.
With the use of vastly improved technology, Vermont State Police finally attached a name to the anonymous man killed 35 years prior in the Green Mountain State: He was Vincent Palmieri Sr. Yet it took another decade, for reasons still unclear, to contact his family.
To this day, his murder remains unsolved.
Vincent Sr. now lies alongside his wife Annette in the Staten Island cemetery where the couple was posthumously reunited in November 2017.
Why was the body of the unknown man just brushed off? Was it just shabby police work? A cover up even? I just don’t see why they didn’t test any of the evidence sooner. Even when they did it took years for the family members to be notified of the deceased. Sketchy, to say the least. Maybe the case was just buried under all the other cases over the years.
Yes, his sons acknowledge, the elder Palmieri and his wife had issues that led to separations during their 18-year marriage. And yes, Vincent Sr. raised on Mulberry Street in Little Italy had a few run-ins with the law.
But the siblings insist their devoted dad had no ties to organized crime. They instead recall a sentimental soul who made time to speak with his wife or touch base with their kids, even when things turned a bit rocky at home.
The old man’s 1969 yellow four-door Chrysler was found a few months later, dumped in a long term parking lot at Kennedy International Airport. The move was an old Mafia ploy, suggesting the driver parked the car and gout out town in hurry. Cops popped the trunk just in case, but found no body.
The abandoned vehicle, apparently wiped clean, surrendered no blood or fingerprints just a ticket to exit the lot.
About a month after Vincent Sr.’s disappearance, the rivers of New England surrendered three bodies in a five-week stretch. Each victim was male, shot multiple times and deposited in a watery grave. The same handgun was used in all three homicides, according to what Vermont officials told the Palmieri family.
Victim No. 1 was Palmieri, identified only as a John Doe at the time (and for a long time to follow). He was found June 1 in the Passumpsic River, a Vermont tributary of the Connecticut River, a well-known Mafia dumping ground.
No. 2 was Gary Dube, a Massachusetts bad guy shot twice in the head and found June 23 in the Connecticut River.
No. 3 was Victor DeCaro, the son-in-law of notorious western Massachusetts mobster Francesco (Skyball) Scibelli. DeCaro was reportedly whacked for cheating on the Mafioso’s daughter with another made man’s wife. His corpse, stuffed inside a sleeping bag and perforated by three bullets, was found July 3 in no surprise the Connecticut River.
Scibelli, aligned with New York’s mighty Genovese crime family, was a man of respect among his peers, once even summoned to boss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno’s Manhattan social club. The DeCaro execution again, remains unsolved.
Dube was killed by career criminal Francis Soffen, who admitted murdering his crime partner and a second man to keep the pair from snitching. Vincent Jr. believes Soffen was possibly hired to dump his dad’s body.
But whatever the man knew of Vincent Sr. was buried along with him. The inmate, denied parole 15 times, died behind bars on Nov. 30, 2015. The list goes on as far as Mafia related crimes in the area at the time, so this was suspicious of course but with no hard evidence there is no way to pin it on anyone involved with the mafia at the time.
On her deathbed in 2015, Annette Palmieri asked her son Vincent Jr. one question: “What do you think happened to your father?” She died without getting an answer.
And then, two years later, one of the missing man’s granddaughters submitted a DNA sample to Ancestry.com. She received an out-of-the-blue email from a Vermont investigator: “Are you related to Vincent Palmieri (DOB 09/13/1935) who was found deceased in Vermont in 1972?”
Vincent soon received a call from his kid sister Angela, who said something too incredible to believe: “Vinny, we found daddy.”
The Palmieris reclaimed the body and brought Vincent Sr. home, with Gerald and Vincent Jr.’s initial happiness replaced by their need for more details. Both are now fluent in New England organized crime and frustrated by local investigators disinclined to speak or explain.
The determined brothers hope their story will shake some people into sharing old secrets and bring the Palmieri clan some real closure.
“When he surfaced, I can tell you right now — I’m a man of optimism, I have a lot of faith,” said Gerard. “And I never thought he was coming back. Never, never. And all of a sudden, my father emerges again.”
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