A Life Interrupted: The body is found, the questions begin

Chapter Three / The Scene

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Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
The body of Anthony Proviano is taken out of the woods near the Days Inn in St. Clairsville, Ohio.
By Steve Levin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Baldwin Borough Police Sgt. Robert A. Artman was one of the first to see the body of Anthony Proviano.

Walking 500 feet down the abandoned township road toward the knot of police officers standing in a semicircle around the body, the sergeant's mind flashed to an event years earlier.

"I had a 16-year-old girl run over by a tractor trailer," said the U.S. Army veteran and 16-year employee of the Baldwin Borough police department. "She went through every wheel. I grabbed her arm to see if she had a pulse and she gave one last breath.

"That's the thing about this job; there's some things you'll never forget."

He knew he'd never forget his first sight of Anthony, either.

Lividity -- the body's blood draining to the lowest part of the body -- had set in, and his face and hands were covered with debris.

His arms were tucked beneath him against his chest and his legs crossed, right over left. Several feet away were his right shoe, a flashlight and a knit hat.

The second-year medical student's blue, long-sleeve shirt was untucked and the front of his jeans dirtied. His red jacket was twisted into a ball about 3 feet away. A .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol loaded with two rounds of ammunition was about 100 feet distant from the body, along with one spent bullet casing, one unfired bullet and a pair of leather gloves laid neatly atop one another.

Sgt. Artman was still looking around the area when Chief Deputy Olen Martin of the Belmont County, Ohio, sheriff's office arrived. Bull necked and barrel chested, with a thick black mustache and brooding eyes, he had been sound asleep at his home an hour earlier after working a late shift. He hated being awakened by the phone, so he was in a bad mood before reaching the site. Now, seeing the area overrun with cops from four jurisdictions trampling on potential evidence and muddying up a crime scene already damp from days of cold drizzle, his temper boiled over.

He barked an order into his portable radio for the county coroner and then yelled for everyone except Belmont County sheriff's deputies and a state Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation agent to leave the crime scene.

As the other law enforcement officials trudged back up to the main road, he began photographing the scene. Normally, he would wait for the county coroner before "working" the body. Today, though, was "colder than a witch's wazoo," and he didn't want to waste time waiting for the coroner, Dr. Manuel Villaverde, to arrive.

Anthony's forearms had dug a 1-inch depression in the ground, either from crawling or writhing, like a snow angel. He turned the body over and spotted a single bullet wound in the upper left chest. There were abrasions on his face; in particular, he took note of a couple of horizontal cuts on the right side of his forehead. Anthony's wallet, with $47 inside, was in the front right pants pocket; his car keys were in the left pocket.

While he scoured the area and deputies measured the location of the body from the road and various items from the body, the BCI&I agent planted small flags at potential pieces of evidence. A deputy began cataloging items. The chief deputy sent others to secure Anthony's car, search the hotel and talk to the front desk clerk.

At 1:20, Dr. Villaverde arrived. A native of Quezon, Philippines, he survived the Japanese occupation during World War II to later graduate from the University of Santo Thomas medical school in Manila. He moved to Belmont County in 1975 and was elected to the $22,000-a-year county coroner position in 1992.

Obviously irked that the chief deputy had moved Anthony's body, the doctor spent just 15 minutes at the scene. Anthony's body was placed in a white body bag, placed on a gurney and awkwardly wheeled up to a waiting car from Grissell's Funeral Home in nearby Bellaire.

When the chief deputy reached the funeral home -- Belmont County does not have an actual coroner's office -- Dr. Villaverde had already begun his examination.

Using an old scalpel, he cut two or three times into Anthony's back before pulling out a hollow-point .25-caliber bullet.

"Maybe we save the county some money," he grinned.

A few minutes later, the coroner made his decision on the cause of death: suicide. There would be no autopsy.

Four separate times at the funeral home, Deputy Martin asked the doctor to change his ruling and order an autopsy: the gun was too far away for a suicide, the scene was suspicious, too many things didn't add up.

He refused.

"Listen," Deputy Martin said, his neck muscles bulging. "That ruling casts an umbrella of suspicion over the investigation. We're going to end up on 'Geraldo.' "

"Mahtahn," Dr. Villaverde said in his accented voice. "I don't care."

Gallery of key figures
Index to the serial
Listen in

Olen Martin, former chief deputy of the Belmont County, Ohio, Sheriff's Office, discusses the discovery of Anthony Proviano's body and the initial determination of suicide.
"When we arrived there was a lot of confusion ..."
"The county coroner ... appeared to have made up in his mind ..."

Carmen Proviano discusses why he and his wife, Maryann, did not think their son Anthony committed suicide.
"We never would have believed that."


The crime scene

Olen Martin

Manuel A. Villaverde

Tomorrow: The Home Front


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