A father’s search for his missing son leads him to believe the local police department covered up his death.

Michael Rosenblum

Michael was never seen again

CASE DETAILS

On April 2, 1988, 30 volunteer firemen gathered on a steep bluff overlooking the Monongahela River just south of Pittsburgh in Baldwin Borough, Pennsylvania. At the suggestion of a psychic, they were there to search for the remains of Michael Rosenblum, a young Pittsburgh man who had been missing for more than eight years.

The car was towed and left for 3 months

For Michael’s father, Maurice, the search was another desperate attempt to find out what happened to his son, who disappeared on Valentine’s Day 1980, from a road that runs along the foot of the cliff. According to Maurice:

“There is not the slightest possibility in my mind that he could be out there alive. I pray that that one-in-ten million chance would happen. I guess you always have some hope.  As long as I don’t have a body, there’s always hope.”

During high school, Michael began experimenting with drugs and soon became a heavy user of prescription painkillers. His life spun wildly out of control, and his family struggled to help him get back on track. They insisted that he go to drug rehab.

On the night of February 13, 1980, a month after Michael was released from drug rehab, he began behaving oddly. His mother, Barbara, found a bottle of painkillers in his bedroom, and she kicked him out. Michael left with his girlfriend, Lisa, in her car. According to Barbara Rosenblum:

“I said to Michael, ‘Don’t come back until you’re completely off drugs, until you want to live your life the way you should. And that’s the way it is.’  I have always faulted myself for that. And I probably will ‘til I die, that I didn’t say, ‘Okay, well, we’ll try again, maybe tomorrow will be different.’”

A bone fragment was discovered

But the next day wasn’t different. After a night of partying, Michael became extremely agitated. He insisted on driving Lisa’s car. Then he left her stranded at a local gas station.  Michael’s last words were, “Go to my parents’ house.  I’ll see you there in two hours.”  Michael’s father, Maurice, said he thought his son would return:

“I figured, ‘Well, he took her car and he took off for a day or two.  He’ll be back or he’ll call.’  We waited that night. There were no calls. I became seriously worried. My wife felt immediately that it was a terminal situation and that he was dead. I didn’t.”

Michael’s mother said it was not characteristic of her son to disappear:

“He would never have just left. When he left, there was money in his bank account. His clothes were in his closet, and if he was going to go anywhere, he would’ve said to us, ‘I plan to do such-and-such and I’m going to take my money and go.’ But his money’s still in his bank account.” 

The following day, the Rosenblums filed a missing persons report with the Pittsburgh Police Department. Private Investigator Stephen Tercsak was a detective for the department at the time Michael vanished:

“You need a starting point. In any homicide case, your dead body is your starting point.  In this case, the car would’ve been your starting point. So it’s important that we find the car as quickly as possible and then take the steps to notify the media for their help, and ask the general public if anybody saw the boy who was in the car, or if they know what happened to him.”

But after two weeks, they had found nothing. So Michael’s father began his own search.  He offered a reward for information, posted flyers, and traveled as far as California to find friends Michael might have contacted. Maurice said that he hoped to find his son and “put him on the right track again.”

Three months later, on May 21, 1980, police in a Pittsburgh suburb notified Lisa that her car had been found. Official records show that the car had been impounded on the very day that Michael vanished. Maurice said he was shocked:

“We couldn’t believe they had that car for 91 days. Absolutely couldn’t believe it. The Pittsburgh police had contacted every police department in this area looking for that specific car. And here that car was discovered in the police-bonded tow yard, less than three miles from where we’re sitting right now.”

According to police reports, just two hours after Michael left Lisa, a Baldwin Police unit found the car on River Road. Two of the tires were flat, the keys were gone, and the engine was cool. The car had been towed to the Baldwin Borough car impound, where it remained, resting on its bent tire rims, for the next three months.  According to private investigator Tercsak:

“If we knew that car was on River Road, the whole picture would’ve changed drastically.  If we had known that car was found in Baldwin that morning, within hours, I strongly believe we would’ve known by now what had happened to Michael.”

When Maurice found out that the police had found the car, he said that he immediately thought his son was dead. He demanded an explanation. The Baldwin police claimed that they’d mailed Lisa a letter the day after the car was found, saying they had impounded it.  Lisa says she never received it. They eventually produced a copy of the letter dated the day after Michael disappeared. But Lisa still insisted she never received a letter from the Baldwin police. Maurice Rosenblum suspected a police cover-up:

“In my opinion, they deliberately misled the Pittsburgh police in the search, assuming that my son was never even involved. Why didn’t they search for the young lady that owned the car? Because all this was done to cover a more sinister fact, that’s why.

Around that same time, Maurice claims that he received two anonymous phone calls:

“The first, they said that Michael was arrested. And I wrote it off as a crackpot. After the car was found, I received a second telephone call, just simply said that, ‘Your son was arrested by the Baldwin Police.’ Click. They were gone.”

Maurice offered a reward for information about Michael. But after five months, the only concrete clues were the discovery of the car and the two anonymous phone calls. Then, on July 15, 1980, a shocking turn of events: the Baldwin Police issued a warrant for Michael’s arrest. They claimed he was wanted in connection with a robbery that had taken place two and a half months after he had vanished. According to private investigator Tercsak:

“Now the big twist in this whole thing was that everybody that has talked to the people who were the victims of the robbery, they both told everyone from day one that the person that came in there was a white man and he had aviator mirrored sunglasses on that covered right above his eyebrows and down almost to the bridge of his nose. So the only part they actually could see would be the forehead and the chin line. But yet the composite was made without sunglasses. There was no doubt in my mind that this composite was made from that first flyer put out on Michael Rosenblum back in February.  It’s just too perfect.”

One week after it was issued, the warrant was suddenly dismissed. Something very strange was going on in the borough of Baldwin.  Were the Baldwin police working to solve this missing person case, or were they trying to hide the truth?  A full inquiry into the case cleared the department of any wrongdoing. But years later, new evidence emerged.

Six-and-a-half years after his son disappeared, Maurice Rosenblum received an unsigned letter. It urged him to talk to a former Baldwin police dispatcher named Margaret Haslett.  The tip ultimately led to accusations that the department, headed by Police Chief Aldo Gaburri, had mishandled Michael’s case. According to Margaret:

“Mr. Rosenblum showed me an anonymous letter that he had received indicating that if he contacted me, I had information regarding the vehicle that the Baldwin police towed.  I then told him that approximately two or three months after the vehicle had been towed, the chief of police ordered his clerk, Fred Cappelli, to type a letter notifying the owner of the vehicle, that it had been towed. And the letter was backdated to February 15, the day after the vehicle was towed.”

The chief’s former clerk, Fred Cappelli, confirmed Margaret’s disturbing story:

“Approximately May 20, the chief told me to type a letter in reference to the car that was towed from River Road. I never thought anything about it. I did what I was told to do.  You know, he’s my boss. So I did what he told me to do. And I didn’t question it.”

Fred claims that after he typed the letter, the Chief ordered him to sign the name of Chester Lombardi, the senior officer at the River Road scene that day.  Lombardi is now deceased.  According to Fred Cappelli:

“He had asked if Chester Lombardi had signed the letter, and Chester refused to sign it because it was backdated. So the chief told me to go ahead and sign Chester Lombardi’s name to it, but don’t mail it. Put it in the file. And that’s what I did.”

Based on these new revelations, Maurice wrote an angry letter to the Baldwin Borough Council, demanding an investigation into what he thought was a cover-up.  The Council held a hearing on the matter and dismissed Chief Gaburri for interfering with the investigation into Michael’s disappearance. But the Civil Service Commission voted to reinstate Gaburri as police chief, finding there was no misconduct. They have never published a transcript of their hearings, but clearly they didn’t believe Fred Cappelli.  Fred thinks it’s because the chief had friends on the commission.  At the time, the secretary of the Civil Service Commission was Robert C. McFall:

“There’s been some innuendos made about the way it was handled, and all I can say is this commission rendered its decision strictly on the evidence and the testimony that was presented at the hearing.”

In April 1988, eight years after Michael disappeared, a bone fragment and some scraps of clothing were found near River Road. The bone couldn’t be identified, but the pieces of clothing matched those Michael had been wearing. Maurice Rosenblum:

“I’d contended all along that something had happened. The possibility that I might have proof in my pocket makes you kind of sick.”

The final proof was discovered four years later. A hiker in the River Road area found a piece of human skull and turned it in to authorities. Tests confirmed that it belonged to Michael Rosenblum. After 12 years of searching and wondering, Michael’s parents were finally able to bury their son. But for them, the agony isn’t over. They still want to know how and why Michael died.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season one with Robert Stack and season seven with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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21 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    In my opinion, based on the evidence, the Cops did it. Michael probably tried out run the cops and then when caught resisted arrest and was killed as a result then the police covered it up and got away with murder as usual. Case closed.

    Reply

  2. Anonymous

    I live in Monongahela, PA which is near Baldwin. Based on my experience with local police departments in the area, I find it very easy to believe that this was probably a traffic stop that went sour and subsequently was covered up to prevent Baldwin police from looking bad. The Baldwin police department has among the worst reputations in the local area for how they handle crime even to this day.

    Reply

  3. Anonymous

    If I had to take a guess, I would say this young man was killed by the Chief or someone he knew, whether as a case of mistaken identity, accidental, or otherwise (maybe saw something he shouldn’t have) and the cover-up began 3 months later when the Chief discovered someone was looking for the car (and the boy). I’m curious to know how police officer Chester Lombardi died. Was it another part of this cover-up? Had Chester found out his name had been forged and was going to speak out? It’s obvious that Officer Lombardi was not involved in this death or the subsequent cover-up, otherwise he would have signed the back-dated letter. It’s also obvious the Chief of Police was responsible for the cover-up, thus somehow involved in the boy’s death.

    Reply

  4. Anonymous

    well i feel for the family, a cover up definitely seems to have happened the question is why? why would the police not notify them about the car that was found for 3 months & make up a fake letter? something is not right about this case at all!

    Reply

  5. Vincmes

    Hello. And Bye.

    Reply

  6. K Jucha

    In 1974 my sister was murdered in Baldwin Borough. Her head was blown off with a 357 magnum rifle, in her home where she was living with her boyfriend, who owned a chop shop, used by the Baldwin police. At the police station, my father and brother in law were given completely different stories. My dad saw the rifle used on a shelf along with her purse at the morgue when he went to identify the body. There never was any investigation. The case file was sealed. It was all extremely horrific and devasted my family. I have always wished cold case files would reopen this case. We always believed the Baldwin police had something to do with my sisters murder. K Jucha

    Reply

  7. Curious

    I know this may be a stretch but perhaps he gave the police information of another drug addict or criminal he knew of and was put into Witness Protection? That could be why the police were so …. messy with the investigation. Just something I thought of while watching the episode.

    Reply

    • RISSSS

      Yeah and then he just happened to die mysteriously on the road where the car was found. Or maybe he’s running around without a head somewhere….

      Reply

  8. Torya

    This was a very beautiful man the murder had to be horrific, for the cops to come to the conclusion of covering it up , I don’t believe his entire body was ever found just a bone and skull fragment , I feel if his body had been left in tact after death he would have easily been found right away by someone, I believe he was dismembered after death making it almost impossible to retrieve his entire body clothing fragments proved it was him also and they probably were aged from time. So sad he was beautiful and I’ll always remember this case.

    Reply

  9. Canopy

    My guess is that Michael died in custody. It would hardly be the first time a police department covered up a death of a suspect, though this one certainly went to a sizable extreme. I am also interested in the fact of the faked eyewitness sketch, something that also popped up in the original false arrest of Steve Avery.

    Reply

  10. socialfilter

    Ive read alot about this case after originally seeing it on Unsolved Mysteries or a similar program. It’s obvious to me that this is just another case of small town cops covering thier own ass. Ill stop short of accusing them of murder but that wouldn’t surprise me either.
    My brother was a cop for 12 years in 4 different departments. He kept trying out new precincts hoping to find one that wasn’t full of racism, cops planting drugs & other “evidence”, and just a general attitude of being above the law. His final job as a cop he testified against 2 cops who beat a guy while hancuffed ( blinded him in 1 eye & has permanent brain damage). Anyway the grand jury refused to indict them ( surprise surprise) and my brother was so disillusioned he quit and has never worked in law enforcement again.
    Corruption is rampant in police departments large and small, country wide. In most cases they police themselves so why be surprised?

    Reply

  11. Anonymous

    I know who killed michael

    Reply

  12. Kristie

    Wow! Just watched this episode and can’t let it go. What a horrible way for his parents to find out.. And especially to be left with no answers, no nothing, just a dead end. I hope whoever is responsible for this will still be brought to justice.. My deepest sympathies.. From, kristie W. In Gonzales, Louisiana

    Reply

  13. France's Ann Nagel

    I’ve worked on this case for years , still do… We know exactly what happened and who is responsible… Law Enforcement Refused to bring those responsible to Justice.. Only Two left do the math…

    Reply

  14. phil r

    Dirty cops? the flat tires and bent rims on one side , I think he was driving erratically,and was pulled over. HIgh on drugs , he resisted and was badly injured or shot. A cover up ensues…..or he was the man who knew too much…just saying……still, my sympathies to the family …RIP

    Reply

    • Flabbergasted

      Why would you say that?

      Based on the cover up, it makes more sense that he was chased by the police officers, and that is why he was needing to drive erratically.

      Reply