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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Did Mary Badaracco Really Disappear "Without a Trace?"

Mary with her daughters, then ages 2 and 3. 
In medieval times, a visitor approaching a city would smell it from miles away. Inhabitants lived in cramped quarters and left their waste in barrels on the street. When it rained, an "evil smell" arose and engulfed the city. The closer one got, the more putrid the smell. This seems like an appropriate analogy for the unsolved homicide case of Fairfield County resident, Mary Badaracco. The closer you get to it, the more it stinks.

Mary Badaracco went missing from her home in Sherman, Connecticut, in August of 1984. She was thirty eight years old. Initially a missing person's case, Mary's daughters Beth Profeta and Sherrie Passaro convinced a state representative to have the Connecticut State Police reclassify the case as a homicide. That happened in 1990. Think about that. Mary had already been gone for six years. The police spent all of that time approaching a woman's disappearance under the assumption that she simply skipped town... so much for the first 48 hours being crucial to figuring out a crime.

It seems unfathomable that the police would entertain the notion that a mother who doted on her children for two decades and adored her then two year old granddaughter would leave forever without first notifying her daughters, or attempting to contact them as months turned into years. Sherrie was planning a wedding at the time, and her mother was excited about helping her with the details. Keep in mind, this is the same woman who routinely sketched hearts and unicorns on customized cards for her daughters at holiday time. She knew just what they wanted for Christmas, whether it be a Baby Alive doll or a stuffed ET figure, and she would prop the special gifts under the tree as they slept on Christmas Eve, eager to watch their delight the next morning.
A card that Mary drew for her daughter in 1984.

By all accounts, Mary Badaracco was a lovely and down to earth woman. She used to tell her daughter Sherrie that they were "Swamp Yankees," meaning that their blood contained a mix of many nationalities common to this part of New England, including Italian, Jewish, and Native American. Mary was an attractive woman and when her first marriage ended, it did not take long for the single mother of two young girls to catch the eye of another man. She met her second husband, Dominic Badaracco, while she worked at a bar that he owned. Although Dominic had four children from another marriage, he was still something of a catch; handsome, tall and financially secure, he swept Mary off her feet to the extent that she not only married him, but took on the daunting task of helping to raise his children through their adolescent years. To that end, she stopped working and focused all of her energies on keeping a clean house and making home cooked meals.

Life was not always easy in the Badaracco home. According to Sherrie, Dominic's sons were a handful to raise and were often getting into trouble at school and with the law. Sherrie recalls that, in the years when she was ages 5 to 11, her stepfather Dominic would sometimes get physical with his wife. During angry outbursts, he would throw food from the cabinets, rip the phone from the wall, and break plates. Whenever Mary sensed a fight brewing, she sent her two daughters to a neighbor's house where she knew they would be safe. One time, Sherrie came down the stairs to see her stepfather sitting at the table with a large carving knife and fork before him. Her mother was clearly nervous and sent Sherrie and her sister to the neighbor's house. Sherrie remembers that her mother came to pick them up later on and her arms were covered in cuts.

It came as a great relief to Sherrie when her mother and stepfather's marriage seemed to calm down after the six children were raised into adulthood and finally out of the house. In about 1983, the empty-nesters moved into a beautiful Colonial situated on five acres of land. It appeared to be Mary's reward for the sacrifices that she had made for her blended family over the years. The couple gutted the entire house, repainted, and purchased all new furniture. When Sherrie visited for dinner every week, her mother and stepfather's relationship was noticeably different. Gone were Dominic's iron-handed, controlling ways. He seemed nicer; less troubled. For the first time, Sherrie began to actually like her stepfather and the fear that she felt throughout her childhood slowly went away.
An aerial view of the Badaracco's dream house in Fairfield County, CT
That all changed one evening in August of 1984. Sherrie went to the house on a Monday for a scheduled dinner and was surprised to find the doors locked and no one at home. Her mother's new car was in the driveway, which seemed even stranger, and the window on the driver's side had been smashed. A large, circular pattern in the glass told Sherrie that something was terribly wrong. She waited on the front porch and her stepfather eventually drove up in the noisy truck carrying ladders that he drove for his sign business. "Where is Mom?" she asked as he approached the steps.

"She left me," he replied.

Sherrie was shocked. The week before, her mother had told her that they had been to see a divorce lawyer and that her stepfather was having an affair. That was the first time Sherrie heard that their marriage had not improved, as she earlier assumed. Still, she never thought for a moment that her mother would pick up and leave her beloved home without any notice to her or her sister. The very proposition was nothing short of absurd. Only a few days before, she had spoken with her mother on the phone about going to the Bridgewater Fair that Saturday. She therefore surmised that her mother went missing on the weekend of August 19th and 20th.

According to Dominic, he last saw Mary a few days before. She was sleeping on the couch that morning, before he went off to work. When he got home from work later in the day, she was not there and all of her belongings had been removed from the home. He claimed that he had hidden $100,000.00 in cash throughout the house (perhaps in anticipation of a future division of assets?) and Mary had found that money and stolen off with it.  

Naturally, Sherrie said that they should call the police right away. She states that Dominic told her not to do that, because his lawyer was "going to take care of everything." One week later, Sherrie's sister Beth found out that their mother was gone, and the two women went to the Southbury Barracks to report the matter. According to Sherrie, the detective in charge was a close friend of Dominic's. He visited the house, and apparently took Dominic's story of a wife who just up and left him at face value.

What about the car with the smashed window? Dominic told Sherrie that her mother had had an accident before leaving and that explained the damage to the car. Conveniently, the car disappeared within weeks of Mary's disappearance. The only proof that it had been sold came in the form of a botched cover up on the back of the title, according to Sherrie, containing wrong dates and misinformation. Did the detective think to impound that car and search its contents before Dominic got rid of it? Apparently not. Was there any further investigation into the dates and names on that title, or the current whereabouts of the car? DMV records may hold a clue, and it would not be hard for law enforcement to get hold of them.

Just a few days after her mother went missing, Sherrie's stepsister asked her to assist in cleaning Mary's belongings from the house. Now that's what I call getting immediate closure. Sherrie was surprised to see that there was barely anything left to retrieve. All of her mother's clothing, jewelry, make-up, and other personal effects were already gone. Mary allegedly packed everything up in a matter of hours before her husband came home from work. One would think that a woman skipping town would take only a few suitcases, but no- Mary took everything she possessed, including all of the photos of her with her daughters. Some of the frames that lined the wall along the stairway were empty, but only the ones that contained pictures of Mary and her daughters. All that Sherrie could find in that "clean up" was a box or two hidden in the storage room containing holiday items. Within weeks of her mother's "departure," Dominic's mistress moved into the home and he filed for an uncontested divorce from Mary in 1986.
Sherrie prizes this gift given by her mother.

Next week's blog will discuss the events that unfolded in the years following the disappearance of Mary Badaracco. To date, no one has ever been charged or convicted in this matter.

A hand-drawn card from mother to daughter.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article was derived from online articles found at newstimes.com, along with an interview conducted between the writer and Sherrie Passaro. Mrs. Passaro has read this article and approves of its contents.   


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Live and Learn: When Mistakes Come Back and Bite You.

When I sat down for a radio interview with Chaz and AJ on 99.1, PLR, "Connecticut's #1 Rock Station" this morning, I expected to be asked questions about the six murders that took place along an 8-mile stretch of Route 8 between 1988 and 2004. The notes in front of me referenced the list of victims, how and when they died, how they were discovered, and a possible link between the unsolved Route 8 Murders and the unsolved New Bedford Highway murders that ended just one month before the Route 8 murders began. I was also prepared to discuss the false confessions of Steven Hayes, the Petit home invasion murderer, who I visited on death row in May 2015.

What I was not prepared for in today's interview was the possibility of a listener calling in to offer, shall we say, 'feedback.' Why I did not expect that possibility is beyond me. Here is one of my favorite sayings: Anticipation is the heart of wisdom. How many times have I said that to my clients when preparing them for court? Today, it seems that I forgot to take that adage to heart.

For those of you who heard the interview, you witnessed the train wreck from start to finish. Everything was going great until Chaz took a phone call from a family member of one of the Route 8 victims, Jessica Muskus. The caller was livid. "What kind of a woman are you?" she demanded to know. "How can you look at yourself in the mirror? How can you sleep with yourself at night?" And perhaps the most stinging comment of all: "You are going to burn in Hell."

Her grievance against me was 100% justified. I began to research the unsolved Route 8 murders two years ago. It was my first attempt at writing true crime, although I have been an avid true crime reader for decades. Early on, I was desperate to talk to friends and family of the victims. In my investigative zeal (i.e. euphemism for recklessness and profound stupidity) I thought I would drop off my card with my contact information at a funeral for a member of the Muskus family. Despicable, I know. What the hell was I thinking? A woman is grieving her father's death and I slip her my contact information and tell her to give me a call if she wants to talk about her sister, who was murdered 13 years before?

I had officially joined the league of the infamous paparazzi, hated by all. As soon as I did it, I knew that I had committed a grievous wrong. I saw the pain and shock on her face and I felt like crawling into a hole; a deep one, with no chance of exit.

Lesson learned. I will never, ever do that again. That's the best I can offer, in terms of repentance. To the Muskus family: you don't need to accept my apology, but please know that it comes from a place of sincerity. I stated, on the air, that doing what I did two years ago was one of the two biggest regrets of my life. I brought additional pain to you in a time when you deserved only comfort and respect. I let my single-minded determination get the best of me and I have no excuse. Usually, that quality serves me well and helps me to advocate for people without a voice. Here, it caused destruction.

That said, now that the cards are all on the table, I can also say with confidence that I did not share any information on air today, or in my blog, that had not been verified by reputable sources. With respect to concerns that were brought forth today by Muskus family members, I suggest readers take a look at the article from The Litchfield County Times dated December 14, 2006, "Body Count at 5; Now What?"

I don't want to broach that subject any further because I feel it distracts from the more important questions at hand, specifically: Who killed five of the six victims found between Exits 39 and 42 along Route 8 from 1988 to 2004? Was it just one person, or were there separate killers? Why have these cases gone cold? Are there any new leads? Does anyone out there know more?

Frankly, the fact that many of the victims worked the streets and had substance abuse problems makes me feel for them all the more. There is a drug epidemic sweeping our country and anyone's child can fall prey to it... and to all of the dangerous situations that come along with it- including murder. No family is immune. Labels do not matter. Who cares about what the victim was doing or addicted to when her life was cruelly stolen? The fact remains: she was a human being, a mother, a daughter, a sister... she had great worth.  
 
To date, I have not made one cent in writing about the unsolved Route 8 murders and I don't even plan to write a book about the subject. I am currently writing a book about a different, high profile criminal case in Connecticut and will not publish the contents until a trial takes place and verdicts are rendered. My original intent in researching and writing about the Route 8 murders was to light a fire beneath these cold cases and maybe, just maybe, give voice to the victims in terms of rendering final justice in a court of law. I feel that my earlier blog posts about the murders reflect that intent.
My good boy, Max. Putting him to sleep is my second biggest regret.