The letter that arrived March 12, 1999, at the office of Greene County District Attorney David Pollock was distinguishable by the red printed return address: P.O. Box 200, Camp Hill, PA 15601.
He knew immediately it was from an inmate at the state correctional institution in Camp Hill. He rarely received such mail. But an even bigger surprise was the letter's content.
The inmate, Richard Mraz, claimed that a former drug ring member admitted shooting Anthony Proviano in December 1997.
The district attorney faxed the letter to Olen Martin, chief deputy at the Belmont County, Ohio Sheriff's Office and lead investigator into Anthony's death. Deputy Martin read the single-page handwritten letter twice and leaned back in his office chair.
After 16 months of leads in the case going nowhere, this was something. According to the letter, two people -- Douglas Ray Main, 37, and Marlene "Slim" Smith, 43, both of Washington, Pa. -- killed Anthony after she promised him sex and the subsequent robbery attempt went awry.
According to the ungrammatical letter, Mr. Main admitted killing Anthony "with the guys own gun happened around x-mas time probably 97 Unsolved Homicide."
Both of them were already in prison for their roles in the same drug ring that had landed Mr. Mraz in jail, too.
The deputy knew that the letter, which also mentioned the wrapped Christmas gifts in the trunk of Anthony's car and the deserted township road where his body was found, could have been cobbled from information already published in the media.
Still, the involvement of what he called "the criminal element" made this the case's biggest break in 14 months. Mr. Main and Ms. Smith, who were formerly married, lived close to Belmont County and had criminal records. It didn't take much digging to determine the connections between them and Mr. Mraz led directly to Charles W. Dailey Jr.
With a voice rough as rust, a mind for numbers and the physical size to intimidate, Mr. Dailey masterminded the largest heroin ring in Greene County, catering primarily to customers in adjoining Washington County. The ring sold up to 1,000 packets of heroin a week.
In May 1998, Mr. Dailey and his wife, father and brother plus seven others, including Mr. Main, Mr. Mraz and Ms. Smith, had been arrested, charged and later convicted of selling heroin and running a corrupt organization from his hillside compound.
Before their trials, Mr. Main and Ms. Smith told prosecutors they would be willing to testify against Mr. Dailey. Their help wasn't needed; his own brother provided the most damaging testimony.
Now, in the space of two days in mid-March 1999, the deputy had interviewed Mr. Mraz, Mr. Dailey and Ms. Smith at their respective prisons. The two men said their information about Anthony's death came straight from Mr. Main.
According to Mr. Dailey, his conversation with Doug Main occurred while parked at a St. Clairsville, Ohio, mall in Belmont County preparing to shoplift. Mr. Main was nervous, Mr. Dailey recalled, and said, "I can't get caught here." When asked to explain he said, "me and Slim was gonna rob this guy and I shot him with his own gun." Mr. Main claimed "he hit the guy so hard he knocked him out of his shoes."
Mr. Dailey and Mr. Mraz were willing to take polygraph tests and provide fingerprints and hair samples.
Ms. Smith, however, was not. But when Olen Martin pulled out a photograph of Anthony and threw it on the table in front of her during their long interview, her eyes welled with tears.
"I have to talk to Doug," was all she'd say.
With a criminal record stretching back more than a decade for disorderly conduct, simple assault and retail theft, Mr. Main was well known to Washington County law enforcement. The Navy vet had been married to Ms. Smith from 1992 to 1994, and lived with her in a Washington County motel between September 1997 and February 1998 before moving together into the Dailey compound.
Within days, Deputy Martin had secured a search warrant to retrieve samples of Mr. Main's hair, his photographs and his fingerprints under the Ohio state code for aggravated murder.
A 12-part serial by Post-Gazette staff writer Steve Levin (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1919).
Gallery of key figures
Index to the serial
Investigator Olen Martin discusses a letter received from a Pennsylvania state prison inmate that implicates Doug Main and Marlene "Slim" Smith in the death of Anthony Proviano.
"I was hopeful we had a solid lead ..."
Doug Main describes how it felt to be considered a primary suspect in the Proviano case.
"My first thoughts were it was some kind of practical joke ..."
"I just couldn't believe it was happening."
Tomorrow: A Letdown