On Dec. 28, 1997, the body of 29-year-old medical student Anthony Proviano was found in eastern Ohio, several days after he failed to arrive at his family's annual Christmas celebration in Baldwin Borough.
Anthony's death initially was ruled a suicide, and his parents and Belmont County, Ohio investigators struggled for nearly a decade to discover what really happened.
Today begins 12 consecutive installments in which Post-Gazette reporter Steve Levin unravels the intricacies of a case that is every parent's nightmare and every investigator's struggle.
Sgt. Robert A. Artman was perplexed.
On Christmas Day 1997 he expected an uncomplicated shift at the Baldwin Borough Police department. It had been anything but.
Just before 10 a.m., Maryann and Carmen Proviano arrived, crying and shaking, and visibly exhausted. They had neither eaten nor slept for nearly two days.
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Baldwin Borough Police Sgt. Robert A. Artman was the first contact with the Proviano family. He is now retired.
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Retired Sgt. Robert A. Artman describes meeting Carmen and Maryann Proviano on Christmas Day, 1997.
"You could just tell something was terribly wrong"
"What are you doing to find our son?" they asked. He had no idea what they were talking about.
Their 29-year-old son, Anthony, a second-year medical student in Cincinnati, had been due home two days earlier for the family's decades-old traditional holiday celebration of a meatless Christmas eve -- pasta aglio and eggnog, cookies and music.
There'd been no word from him and no answer at his Cincinnati apartment.
Artman sent them home to rest. Then he and Detective Patrick J. Coyne spent several hours working the phones. It took hours to get Cincinnati police to check Anthony's apartment. While the door to his apartment was locked, there had been a burglary at one of the building's other apartments.
Artman then checked Cincinnati phone records on the chance any of Anthony's recent phone calls could provide information. They didn't.
By the time Carmen and Maryann returned to the station late that afternoon, they were threatening to drive the six hours to Cincinnati to search for their son.
"You can't go to Cincinnati," Artman told them. "You're in no condition."
But Artman wanted to help somehow. "You just knew that these people were experiencing the worst pain a human being can feel," he said. "In their hearts I think they knew something was wrong. Seriously wrong."
He called Chief Chris Kelly, at home, and explained the situation. Kelly asked officer Matthew Kearns to drive the Provianos to Cincinnati the next day. Kelly figured the Provianos not only would be safer if accompanied by an officer, but it might also convince Cincinnati cops to be more cooperative.
That night, Baldwin Borough police listed Anthony as a missing person, and sent a regional message to law enforcement officials in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Police also searched for the registration for Anthony's red Z28 Camaro; his parents didn't know the license plate number.
During the next day's six-hour drive, Kearns tried to buoy the Provianos' spirits by saying there was a likely explanation.
His words had little effect.
"Any conversation was -- I don't know how to describe it," Kearns said. "We talked about different things but it was obvious their minds were somewhere else."
At their son's apartment, located across the street from the entrance to the Cincinnati Zoo, nothing seemed amiss. There were eight or nine phone messages -- mostly from family members -- dishes in the sink and unpacked boxes in the middle of the floor.
Kearns did find a .45-caliber pistol with a loaded clip. The discovery surprised Maryann.
That evening, a Cincinnati TV station, alerted to the story by local police, arrived to interview the Provianos.
In Pittsburgh, Kelly contacted local media outlets about the situation, so by the 11 o'clock news, the disappearance of Anthony Proviano was being broadcast throughout Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.
Kearns stayed at a hotel that night while the Provianos slept in their son's apartment. They straightened up, including washing the dishes, rearranging furniture and packing some of Anthony's personal items to take back with them to Pittsburgh.
Saturday dawned gray and cold. Kearns called his department; Anthony had not showed up.
Back at the apartment, Maryann and Carmen were being interviewed by two newspapers and two TV stations.
By the time the interviews were finished, it was nearly 2 p.m., and time for Kearns and the Provianos to return to Pittsburgh.
The discussion during the entire return trip centered around the idea that Anthony must have been a victim of foul play.
"I know he's dead," Carmen said more than once. "I just want his body back."
Kearns dropped the Provianos off at their home after 8 p.m.
"It was a long ride back," he said.
Tomorrow: The Search
Steve Levin can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1919.