Introduced by Cadieux to Rosemary’s surviving relatives, Daily News reporter Gene Mustain wrote up the mystery. The story ran in May ’91 — more than two-and-a-half years since anyone had last seen the two women.
In the background of the tragic story was the ugly divorce that had strained Gerald’s relationship with his only child. After his marriage ended, the mother was unwilling, as misguided parents sometimes are, to risk sharing her child’s affection with her dad. Trust only your mother and God the Father, was the lesson the child absorbed.
Gerald did manage, finally, to re-establish contact with his grown daughter, but even then, he told Cadieux, meetings seemed awkward. Lately, he had once again lost touch with Rosemary. Rose, the divorced mother, had never really loosened her adoring hold. Rosemary, a secretary, hardly dated. When she worked on Wall Street, Rose met her each evening at the subway to walk her safely to their tidy one-bedroom apartment upstairs in a private house. The women went together to their church, St. Finbar’s in Bath Beach, and regularly to others, as well, chosen from the many in the neighborhood. Brooklyn also is the Borough of Churches.
Ironically, the news of Rosemary’s disappearance came to Gerald in a call from the women’s landlord. The landlord counted on their rent check, like clockwork by the third of each month. He had delayed an extra week before going upstairs to see what was going on. The scene, when he did go, was eerie: food in a pan on the kitchen stove; Rose’s reading glasses and her newspaper, dated Friday, September 14, 1988, on the table. No sign that anyone intended to be gone longer than an hour or so.
The unnerving tableau sent the landlord straight to the police station, where officers speculated that his tenants had no doubt left town temporarily. Even if the tenants were missing persons, the landlord learned, only a relative may file a report to that effect. No report was filed.
Rosemary and her mother were missed by church friends, too, who came looking for them at the house. The worried landlord rushed to the station for the second time — again, to no avail. Revisiting the upstairs apartment, he unearthed the telephone number of a relative. Three weeks after the date on Rose’s newspaper, Gerald heard the landlord’s disturbing news.
Gerald and his wife were kin to the missing women, of course — but they, too, struck out with the police. Since Rosemary and Rose were of sound mind and body, the father learned, and both older than age eighteen and younger than sixty-five (Rose was sixty-four), they did not fit NYPD guidelines for opening a missing persons investigation.
By the time Cadieux took the case, the police had long since opened the missing persons case. But the months of bureaucratic delay bothered him, not only for the sake of his clients and their case, but for the cops who had come after him. In his day, if the bosses chose to so slavishly adhere to case guidelines, detectives would have found a little time when their tour was over to take a ride to the Vasquez girl’s place and see what the story was. There’s always a way, he insisted, to help someone with a problem.
Well before Friday, September 14, the likely day of Rose and Rosemary’s disappearance, their landlord had received from Rose Santoro some startling news. Rosemary had accepted a suitor’s proposal — indeed, would marry him — and what’s more, Rose would be going to live with the couple in their new house.
Rosemary’s suitor was Demetrio Lifrieri, a Sicilian immigrant and an old business friend of her father’s — it was, in fact, through her father that Rosemary had met him. Years back, Gerald had brought his friend around, hoping to lighten those awkward meetings between himself and his daughter; he had thought another voice in the conversation might just help put her at ease. The father was by no means matchmaking; Lifrieri, a mechanic by trade, was married.
Around the same time in late summer of ’88, when the women’s landlord heard that Rose and Rosemary would be moving, Gerald Vasquez received a surprising phone call from Marina Lifrieri, Demetrio’s wife. Marina, in her turn, reported an odd phone call from Rose, demanding to know what was holding up Marina’s and Demetrio’s divorce. If there were something between Rosemary and Demetrio, Vasquez told Marina, this was the first he’d heard of it.
As that summer waned, a friend of Rosemary’s heard from her that the marriage was off; all she wanted now was the $40,000 — her mother’s life savings — that she had loaned to Demetrio. Rosemary was frantic to get the money back.
In November 1988, Gerald and Helen Vasquez had retained their first PI, and set about searching the apartment from which Rose and Rosemary had vanished. What they found provided their investigator with a solid lead. In one search, they came up with four checks totaling over $40,000, each payable to Rosemary, signed by none other than Lifrieri — but returned to her by the bank marked ‘Insufficient Funds’. Scouring the place again, Gerald and Helen discovered an IOU for $40,000 to Rosemary from Lifrieri. When their investigator confronted him, the “fiance” stonewalled.
Lifrieri now worked a couple of jobs, one at Blue Chip Coffee, where he had started as a mechanic and moved up to salesman. The coffee import business was run from a warehouse in the Park Slope section by the owner, Anthony Viola. (Cadieux had been raised in Park Slope.)
The papers found by Gerald Vasquez sent his first investigator to the police, who went to Lifrieri– who had little to say. They offered a lie detector test, a simple way he could take the heat off himself, but he brushed them off, telling them to talk to his lawyer. When Marina, his wife, asked why didn’t he let the police give him the test, he got furious and and violently shoved her. Marina threw her husband out– better to divorce him than to disappear.