A father’s search for his missing son leads him to believe the local police department covered up his death.
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.
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:
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:
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:
Michael’s mother said it was not characteristic of her son to disappear:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Around that same time, Maurice claims that he received two anonymous phone calls:
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:
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:
The chief’s former clerk, Fred Cappelli, confirmed Margaret’s disturbing story:
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:
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:
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:
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.