Was a Police Officer Involved in the Death of Michael Rosenblum?

Michael_rosenblumDuring high school, Michael began experimenting with drugs and soon became a heavy user of prescription painkillers. His life then spun wildly out of control. On the night of February 13, 1980, a month after Michael was released from rehab yet again, his mother kicked him out after finding painkillers in his bedroom. He left the house with his girlfriend, Lisa Sharer.  After a night out partying, he woke up with a “drug hangover” and Lisa took him to the hospital, but he refused treatment and left. He went to a nearby gas station and left Lisa stranded there.  Michael was never seen again. His family filed a missing person’s report on February 15th.

His last words were, “Go to my parents’ house. I’ll see you there in two hours.”

Police put out a BOLO on Lisa’s vehicle, but after two weeks of investigating, the police found nothing. Michael’s father, Maurice, began his own search. He offered a reward for information, posted flyers, and traveled as far as California to hunt down leads.

Three months later, on May 21, 1980, police in Lisa’s suburb notified Lisa that they found her car. Official records say that the car was impounded the same day that Michael disappeared.

The family was shocked, Maurice said, “We couldn’t believe they had the car for 91 days…The Pittsburgh police had contacted every police department in this area looking for that specific car…”

Rosenblum’s family could not understand how the police could have overlooked the fact they had the car the whole time. The car had been found on River Road, which connected Baldwin to the South Side of Pittsburgh.  According to police records, just 2 hours after Michael left Lisa, a Baldwin officer found the car on River Road. Two of the tires were flat, the keys were missing, and the engine was cool. The car was towed to the Baldwin Borough car impound where it remained for 3 months until it was connected with Michael’s case.

There was still no trace of Michael.  The Pittsburgh Police Department, where the missing persons report was first filed, went to Baldwin to determine the reason behind the notification delay.

The Baldwin police told the family that they’d mailed Lisa a letter the day the car was found saying it was impounded, but Lisa disputed this. They produced a copy of the letter dated the day after Michael disappeared, but Lisa insisted that she never received that letter.  This exchange would take an interesting turn later.

Maurice said that he received two anonymous phone calls saying that Michael had been arrested by the Baldwin police.  After five months of investigations, the only clues were the car and the anonymous tips.

On July 15, 1980, Baldwin police put out an arrest warrant for the missing man in a bizarre twist to the case.  They claimed he had committed an armed robbery two and a half months after he disappeared.

Private Investigator Stephen Tercsak, who worked at the Pittsburgh Police department at the time Michael disappeared, said “Now the big twist in this whole thing was that everybody…who were the victims of the robbery…from day one [said] that the person that came in there was a white man and he had aviator mirrored sunglasses…the only part they actually could see would be the forehead and the chin line. But yet the composite was made without sunglasses. There is 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.”

PI Tercsak was hired by the family to interview the witnesses of the armed robbery.  They described a completely different man from Rosenblum, yet the composite police released to the public resembled Rosenblum’s missing person’s photo.  The family as well as Tercsak believe that the composite sketch was falsified by the police department.

In yet another odd twist, one week after the warrant was issued, the warrant was rescinded without explanation.  Maurice Rosenblum took his suspicions to the Attorney General.

In 1983, an inquiry by the state Attorney General LeRoy Zimmerman’s office cleared the police and said there was no evidence. The A.G.’s inquiry concluded that the notification letter to Lisa must have gotten lost in the mail.

Deputy State Attorney General Thomas Halloran said:  “…we still have been unable to discover what happened to Michael Rosenblum…[There is] no evidence of wrongdoing or violations of state law by members of the Baldwin Borough Police Department…” or the owners or employees of Streets Run Auto Body, who towed and stored the impounded car.

But, the family still wondered why it took 3 months to notify them that the car, which their missing son was last seen driving, was in police custody the entire time?

6-and-a-half years after Michael disappeared, in 1986, Maurice Rosenblum received an anonymous letter that urged him to speak to former Baldwin police dispatcher a Ms. Haslett. The tip ultimately led to accusations that the department led by Police Chief Aldo Gaburri had mishandled the case. The tip came from George Galovich, a Baldwin police officer.

Ms. Haslett said, “Mr. Rosenblum showed me an anonymous letter…indicating that if he contacted me, I had information…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 [Lisa]…the letter was backdated to February 15, the day after the vehicle was towed.”

The chief’s former clerk, Fred Cappelli, corroborated the story: “Approximately May 20th, the chief told me to type a letter in a reference to the car that was towed from River Road…I did what I was told…he’s my boss…I didn’t question it.”

Fred says that after he typed up the letter, the Chief told him to forge Chester Lombardi’s name. Lombardi was the senior officer at the scene the day the car was recovered. Lombardi has since died.

“He had asked if Chester Lombardi had signed the letter…Chester [had] refused…so the chief told me to go ahead and sign [his] name to it…[and] put it in the file. And that’s what I did.”

The police chief denied all wrongdoing.  Maurice then wrote an angry letter to Baldwin Borough Council demanding an investigation into the police chief. The Council held a hearing in the fall of 1987 and dismissed Chief Gaburri for interfering in a missing persons investigation. The Civil Service Commission subsequently reinstated Gaburri as police chief when he appealed. They never published the transcript of their hearing.

A few months later, Galovich, who had been an officer for about 6 years, was fired after being accused of lying under oath during the investigation into the police chief.  In October of 1988, Galovich was reinstated.  Many said that this was retaliation because of his tip to the Rosenblum family.

In April of 1988, 8 years after Michael’s disappearance, a small bone fragment and some scraps of clothing were found near River Road. The bone could not be officially identified, but the clothing pieces matched clothing Michael was wearing that day.

In 1989, an anonymous caller told Maurice Rosenblum that he saw Michael Rosenblum in the Baldwin jail around the time he disappeared, 9 years earlier. He claimed that he was in jail on suspicion of DUI and that Rosenblum appeared to have been beaten and shot by the police. He said officers removed Rosenblum from a cell and he thought they were going to take him to the hospital. Baldwin police deny that Rosenblum was ever an inmate or that they have any knowledge of his disappearance.

In 1990, two police officers sued Pittsburgh Magazine over their coverage of the case and the magazine settled with them. Officers Warren Cooley and Donald Misencik said they were defamed by an article about the investigation. The settlement was for between $50,000 and $75,000. The officers said that a 1988 article, The Search for Michael Rosenblum, damaged their reputation.  The article detailed Maurice Rosenblum’s efforts to find out what happened to his son. The suit said that the article falsely suggested the officers were responsible for Rosenblum’s disappearance.

Four years later in 1992, a hiker in the River Road area found a piece of skull in an area 3 miles from where the vehicle was located. The coroner initially doubted that the piece of skull belonged to Rosenblum, but tests confirmed it.  The police ruled his death a probable homicide.

Police chief Gaburri has since retired and the family still has no answers.

[Sources:  Cold Cases Hard Copy,  Unsolved Mysteries,  Google News Archive 1, Google News Archive 2]

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