Total Pageviews

Sunday, April 9, 2017

When the System Fails: The Unsolved Murder of Mary Badaracco

Mary's daughter, Sherrie Passaro, won't stop fighting for justice
It's called a travesty of justice- when the legal system not only fails to bring about justice, but also provides wishy-washy explanations to the extent that one wonders if some kind of cover-up is going on.

When Sherrie Passaro found out that her mother, Mary Badaracco, was missing, she felt in her gut that her mother's husband, Dominic Badaracco, was involved. Although police initially approached it as a missing person's case, Sherrie asserted that her mother would never leave her daughters and her beloved grandchild without saying goodbye, and she certainly would not permanently cut them out of her life. She also told them that her mother's relationship to Mr. Badaracco contained a long history of domestic violence, and that, one week before Mary went missing, the couple met with a lawyer and planned to divorce due to Mr. Badaracco's ongoing affair with another woman. In the weeks and months following her mother's disappearance, the grieving daughter metaphorically led authorities into a small room containing a giant elephant. In response, the assortment of men gazed out the windows and stared at the walls- and failed to look upon the beast standing right before them.

Why didn't law enforcement immediately suspect foul play and approach the sudden departure of Mary Badaracco as a possible homicide? According to Sherrie, local officials knew that messing with Dominic Badaracco could lead to problems down the road. He was not only a man of means- he also had connections in high places. He and his business partner, Ronald "Rocky" Richter, even golfed with judges. Who golfs with judges? Men with power.

Dominic Badaracco divorced his "missing" wife, Mary, in 1986 on grounds of desertion. That came as a blow to Sherrie and her sister- that a court of law would conclude that her mother deserted the ones she loved. A few years later, a former Hells Angel in the federal witness protection program told authorities that club members killed Mary Badaracco. The informant died in a motorcycle accident shortly after divulging that information.
Mary Badaracco

In 1990, Connecticut State Police reclassified the missing person's case as a homicide. Sherrie thought that progress was finally being made when she met with the new lead investigator. He shared her desire to get to the bottom of the mystery and initiate searches. More hope arose in 2010, when a one man grand jury was formed and carried out a detailed, 18-month probe into the matter. The experience was traumatic for Sherrie and her sister. They were called to testify on numerous occasions and rehash all of the pain surrounding their mother's disappearance. Still, they felt that it was worth it if their mother's murderer could be named and prosecuted. Their hopes were dashed, however, when the grand juror, Judge Arthur Hadden, failed to render any public finding of fact, and the Chief State's Attorney, Kevin Kane, did not pursue the matter any further.

According to Passaro, nothing was ever enough for authorities to find probable cause. They always needed more, more, more- but would not say what more meant. Many murders are solved without finding a body or a weapon, where a mountain of circumstantial evidence is enough to obliterate reasonable doubt. Hadn't investigators presented the grand jury with a virtual mountain of circumstantial evidence: a marriage on the rocks with a history of domestic violence; an impending divorce that would result in the division of a substantial amount of assets not to mention alimony; the fact that the victim's car (with a smashed in window) went missing weeks after she disappeared; and a former Hell's Angel alleging that club members carried out the murder, soon after dies? Sherrie and her sister felt that the court system was turning a blind eye to the elephant in the room- but why?  

Well, for one thing, the case got particularly ugly (and potentially scandalous) when Dominic Badaracco's former business associate, Richter, solicited the assistance of an old golfing buddy, Judge Brunetti. Telephone records subpoenaed by state police indicated that Richter and Brunetti spoke on the phone six times in October 2010; during that time, Brunetti was also talking to colleagues in the New Britain judicial district where he worked, and found out that a grand jury had been formed. He then told Richter about the existence of the grand jury- something that any judge knows not to do.

It remains unclear why it took weeks before Brunetti became concerned enough about Richter's phone calls to report the problem to his lawyer and seek advice. Did he sense that someone was onto him, or was his conscience just getting the better of him? Moreover, why did he have to ask a lawyer for advice on what to do? Wasn't it obvious that the first time Richter called wanting the inside scoop about grand jury proceedings that could result in Dominic Badaracco's indictment for murder, that he should have hung up and reported the matter to law enforcement ASAP? Keep in mind, the man was a judge.    

Brunetti's lawyer instructed him to inform the authorities that Richter was calling him. Police then tapped Brunetti's phone lines. On November 17, 2010, Dominic Badaracco called Brunetti from Richter's cellphone and offered the judge a $100,000 bribe in exchange for "help" in the matter. Badaracco was eventually arrested and served a very short period of time in jail for attempting to bribe a judge with the end goal of influencing a grand jury.

Sherrie Passaro and her sister subsequently attempted to obtain sealed transcripts of the grand jury's proceedings in hopes of showing that evidence had been presented that showed that Dominic Badaracco's current wife, Joan, along with his former business partner, Richter, were also directly involved in the bribery. Unfortunately, grand jury proceedings have been shrouded in secrecy since the 1600s. The theory is that disclosing that kind of confidential information could jeopardize an ongoing, active case. Here, however, the reality is that there appears to be nothing active or ongoing about the ice cold case involving Mary Badaracco. It seems to me that any danger that could come about by unveiling the grand jury's transcripts to the public, and especially to the daughters of Mary Badaracco, is far outweighed by the possible gains that would come from full disclosure. As the saying goes, "If you have nothing to hide, then why try to hide anything?" Information gleaned from grand jury transcripts could likely assist in future investigations and media coverage.

Does Sherrie Passaro hold out any hope that her mother's homicide will someday be solved and that the killer(s) will be brought to justice? Yes, there is always a chance that justice will prevail. Miracles happen. On the other hand, these days the answers seem more concrete to her on a spiritual level than in the realm of the court system. Sometimes she awakens from a deep sleep to feel her mother's face hovering just over hers, as if about to kiss her as she did when she was a small child.

Several years ago, she took a break from work and stood outside to get some sun. In the far off distance, a yellow butterfly floated directly her way and began circling around her head. She sensed her mother's spirit so strongly, in that moment. The next time she stood outside on break, a butterfly came and circled her head once again, and she felt her mother's presence. Now she has a flower garden designed to attract butterflies. They float to her balcony and stay still for unusually long periods of time while she takes their photos. Even the simplest of things can invoke her mother's presence. Recently, she made Mary's favorite recipe for cherry chocolate chip Bundt cake; the aroma, the taste, the memories of childhood birthdays.... all of this brought Mary's presence into the room. In a world where the court system can fail and murderers can get away scot-free, at least butterflies and cake can comfort a wounded soul.

Disclaimer: The information in this week's post was derived from a second interview with Sherrie Passaro, dated April 8, 2017. Ms. Passaro has read this article and approves of its contents. All other information contained in this article was derived from online sources including the following articles: Cool Justice: Pretend Investigations The Norm In Badaracco Homicide For 32 Years, by Andy Thibault, August 16, 2016; Judge Took Calls About Grand Jury Investigation, by Rick Green, The Hartford Courant, April 30, 2012; and Victim Advocate Makes Bid For Testimony, by Dirk Perrefort, CTPost, September 7, 2012.  To date, the homicide of Mary Badaracco remains unsolved and no suspects have ever been named. 

Mary Badaracco's famous cherry chocolate chip cake.