Cops Solve A 45-Year-Old Murder
I was driving Wednesday when my phone blew up. It was buried in my purse on the passenger seat, but I could hear pings and tri-tones telling me I had a rash of emails and text messages.
At the next light, I dug out my iPhone.
I looked at the first text. Just three words from a friend in California and a link to a breaking news story.
“Is this her?” he wanted to know.
I pulled the car over and clicked the link.
The story was that an 80-year-old ex-con in New York had been arrested and charged with the murder of two teenaged girls at the Virginia Beach oceanfront in 1973. The names of the long-dead victims were Janice Pietropola and Lynn Seethaler. They graduated from a Pittsburgh high school in 1972 and were killed a year later during a vacation in Virginia Beach.
According to the 1973 news accounts, the bodies of Pietropola and Seethaler were found in a motel room on 10th Street. One of those old fashioned inns with little cabins. It’s long gone. They’d been shot multiple times in the head. One of the girls had her throat slashed. One was raped.
Modern DNA testing helped the cops finger a suspect.
I answered the text. Nope, it wasn’t Barbara Jean Monaco’s killer, I replied. The perps in her case are believed to be locals.
Still, this was excellent news. A reminder that cold case detectives are quietly working crimes that most of us have forgotten. A Norfolk TV station reported a few years ago that 12 women were either killed or disappeared in Virginia Beach between 1973 and 1985. They raised the specter of a serial killer at work in the Resort City.
“Ten women, all young, petite, pretty, and white were murdered at or near the Oceanfront. Even more women vanished from the same Oceanfront streets.
None of those crimes were solved. Until now.
The thought that someone who spent the last four decades thinking he got away with murder and now will almost certainly die in prison provides a bittersweet conclusion to a terrible story.
But this not the cold case I’ve been obsessing over for years.
The emails and text messages on my phone were about an 18-year-old girl from Derby, CT who disappeared on a week’s vacation to Virginia Beach in 1978. I’ve been writing about this case since the mid-1980s when her mom called the newspaper and asked us to do one more story about her missing daughter. I was the reporter who happened to answer the phone.
Since then, I’ve written about Barbara Jean scores of times, hoping I’ll shake something loose. Hoping that someone will come forward with a key piece of information or evidence to put a couple of killers in prison and give her family some peace.
On Thursday morning I had a call from a member of Barbara Jean’s family asking if this guy could be Barbara Jean’s killer.
Only if everything we know about the case is wrong, I said.
Nevertheless I phoned the cold case detectives. They confirmed what I already knew, the apprehension of Ernest Broadnax won’t change the way they’re investigating the Monaco case.
Of course it won’t. Beach police had - have, actually - a list of possible suspects in the Monaco case and a working theory of what happened on the August night she disappeared. Four or five local guys took her, killed her and got rid of her body. They submitted to polygraph tests shortly after Barbara Jean’s disappearance. They were found to be deceptive. Forty one years later, two of those guys are dead. The others are not.
Perhaps these hairballs got a chill when they read about the arrest of Broadnax. I hope they did.
So far, they’ve gotten away with murder. But the final chapter in the Barbara Jean Monaco story has not yet been written.