Early on, Ron Cadieux had called Jack Ferguson at his Waterfront office. Over coffee, the PI talked about his new case, and about the suspect, Lifrieri, working for Blue Chip. Ferguson took a few notes. He would call Cadieux if anything popped up. The PI knew that to solve this puzzle, he must stay in touch with all the investigators, get them all cooperating. “You can never have too much cooperation,” he believes. Lone-wolf heroes are for PI novels.
Periodically, the mystery of Rosemary and her mom was brought to the attention of the Brooklyn DA, and a prosecutor was assigned. About two years after the women disappeared, Brooklyn South Homicide put a mob detective, Bill Tomasulo, on the case with Bath Beach detective, Frank LaBarbera. To get the DA to indict Lifrieri, Tomasulo and LaBarbera needed those bodies — the bosses took the partners “off the chart” so they could work this case exclusively.
Tomasulo was another guy Cadieux had worked murders with, on the job. Tomasulo also was one of the NYPD mob mavens who helped me sort out the Mafia names and styles. His grasp of the Columbo family, for instance, is respected, especially by the Columbos, who would much rather have someone less knowledgeable on their case.
Brooklyn to the core, “Billy Jack” Tomasulo has a thick accent to prove it (never mind that he actually lives in Staten Island). Average height, with a ready chuckle, he’s dedicated to the street and knows where it can lead. If ever his kids show signs of getting too fond of the street, he takes them on a cautionary trip to the morgue.
Tomasulo may hold the record in New York for “digging up bodies that were not given proper burials.” In the mid-eighties, two bodies exhumed from beneath a cement floor on South Brooklyn mob turf. In the late eighties, five dismembered corpses, “Samsonited” — packed in suitcases — disinterred from a Staten Island secret “Mafia graveyard” near a bird sanctuary. Billy led the white-jumpsuit brigade of detectives and technicians who dug for weeks in that site — to the immense delight of Staten Island Advance photographers, who got a lot of mileage out of the operation.
Billy Jack knew about the Federal/State investigation of Viola’s Blue Chip Coffee, so he reached out for Waterfront and hooked up with Ferguson. All the good guys were in this together.
By the time the Daily News story came out, the feds and the Waterfront cops had a “wire” (phone tap) up on Viola. Cadieux hoped someone would soon be overheard complaining about detectives snooping around about murders. It didn’t happen, but Jack Ferguson says the murders were solved because of what Cadieux told him over coffee about the case he was investigating.
By July, Ferguson and the feds had enough on Viola’s drug wholesaling and smuggling crimes, and they were ready to pick him up. Billy Jack Tomasulo and LaBarbara were in on the bust. On a rainy Monday afternoon, the umarked detective car waited with Ferguson’s, out of sight of the Blue Chip warehouse but close by. Viola’s new Mercedes could outrun the cops, Ferguson knew, so they would have to grab him fast.
From an observation point in a building with a good view, a surveillance team would radio when Viola came out. With luck, he would come out alone, and be in custody before his workers found out. Viola left with two other guys, one of whom got into an old Chevy with Florida plates.
As Ferguson moved on Viola’s Mercedes, he radioed Billy Jack, “Take the guy in the Chevy over to the Waterfront Commission, give him a summons and hold the car.” Ferguson recognized the guy, a heroin junkie who hung around Viola’s place.
At the Waterfront office, the guy in the Chevy told the detectives his name: Robert Paolucci. He did odd jobs around Viola’s warehouse, and he had worked for a funeral parlor. And, like a lot of junkies, he was an informant anytime he could be. Junkies– street people– know what goes on, and they know that detectives can pay small amounts for useful information. They know whatever they need to know to get money from “the system.”
Almost before Tomasulo and LaBarbara could ask, Paolucci excitedly spoke up. “I’ll help you,” he said. “I know two bodies . . .”
The detectives tried hard to keep their cool as Paolucci explained that he had not killed the two women — only disposed of their bodies after the murders. Lifrieri had choked the victims to death, and then paid Paolucci to wrapped them up in plastic and put them in the trunk of Lifrieri’s Caddy. The junkie then parked the car within sight of Blue Chip.
Jack Ferguson was in Manhattan with the prisoner, Anthony Viola, and the feds, when their phone rang. Det. Tomasulo and his partner were elated. The junkie “gave it up,” yelled Tomasulo — cop talk for “confessed,” or “provided key information”. Cadieux’s office phone rang and Ferguson relayed the amazing news.