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The Joseph Pellicci murder case will be easier to solve now than it was 27 years ago. Why? Stamford, Conn., now has a modernized, corruption-free police force and strong leadership. All it’s lacking is the force of will to finally close this case. Pellicci, partner in a popular Stamford restaurant whose clientele has included Joe Dimaggio, Tony Bennett, Howard Cosell, Nancy Sinatra, Danny Glover and Walter Cronkite, was shot twice in the head and once in the body in February 1973. He was found wrapped in a blanket, his hands tied with a cord. The blanket and the cord have been linked to the prime suspect, who is still alive. A witness gave police a partial identification of the initials on the suspect’s license plate. This is a murder that has enough evidence to go forward. But it’s still stalled. There are many reasons, known and unknown, why this case has languished for so many years. On at least two occasions, police believed they had solved the case and were ready to make an arrest. Cops who worked on the case were puzzled about why they could not bring it to the next level. To understand why the case did not close almost immediately, we must go back to the darkest era in the history of the Stamford Police Department — the decade of the 1970s. The lead detective on the Pellicci case, Larry Hogan, was in the process of becoming a consummate shakedown artist and agent of the Gambino organized crime family, as detailed in news stories by Tony Dolan, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his expose of mob influence in Stamford. One of Hogan’s top men, Sgt. Duke Morris, ran narcotics. By this, I mean he sold drugs out of the police station and arrested the competition. “Duke was a very capable guy,” one Stamford police officer said. Morris became a suspect in as many as five murders. His specialty was said to be two bullets from a .22 behind the ear. After being arrested, Morris died in a shootout with other drug dealers in New York. Hogan died of cancer before he could go to trial. Essentially, Stamford police in the 1970s were too busy running their own rackets, including burglary rings and gun-running to Northern Ireland, to solve many crimes. The Pellicci case was one lost in that corrupt and inept era. The investigation would be marred by lost evidence and failure to pursue leads. For example, dog hairs were found on the blanket and the victim and in the suspect’s car. They were not retrieved. Witnesses were threatened with impunity. And on a cold February day in 1973, the suspect drove his car — the one identified by a witness — through a car wash with the windows open. The day before, the suspect had washed his car at home. Police have never publicly identified the suspect. A bust of Joseph Pellicci, sculpted by his brother, Anthony, who runs the restaurant today, is mounted by the entrance to the dining room. The inscription reads, “Those of us who remember Joe remember him with a loving smile for his friends and all children.” “We want people to know that he was a good person, a nice person, whom we all loved,” Anthony Pellicci said. The unresolved case is like an open sore for the family. Like any family, the Pelliccis want resolution and closure. Today’s Stamford Police Department is led by a former New York prosecutor, Dean Esserman. In the late 1970s, a reform chief took over, and the bad apples retired or were arrested. Officers from Stamford and other jurisdictions have shared information over the years in hopes of closing the Joseph Pellicci case with an arrest, but for reasons still unexplained, nothing more has ever come of the case. It’s time for Esserman to show what his department is truly made of. It’s time to re-activate the Pellicci investigation.

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