Olen Martin had known it was a long shot from the start, the chance that the only two hairs recovered from Anthony Proviano's car would match either Doug Main or his ex-wife, Marlene "Slim" Smith, the main suspects in the case.
The chief deputy of the Belmont County, Ohio, sheriff's office had been in law enforcement long enough to realize that promising leads were never more than that until they were.
The state lab told him at the end of the summer of 1999 that the hairs did not match. That seemed to matter less to the media and the parents of Anthony Proviano than the results of two polygraph tests showing that Doug Main was 99.9 percent deceptive in answering the question "Did you have anything to do with Anthony Proviano's death?"
What troubled Deputy Martin, though, were the polygraph results showing that former drug ring leader Charles Dailey Jr. was telling the truth.
A master of manipulation, Mr. Dailey made no secret of his willingness to share information about the Proviano case with law enforcement officials -- for a price. He wanted his four- to eight-year sentence on drug charges shortened. He wanted to be moved to a different prison. He wanted to be moved to a halfway house.
Between 1999 and 2001 he parceled out several pieces of tantalizing information that directly linked Marlene Smith to Anthony Proviano.
He said she took him to the St. Clairsville, Ohio, Days Inn parking lot on Dec. 26, 1997 and tried to sell him a red Z28 Camaro. She opened the driver's side door and removed a small white box containing a woman's bracelet reading "No. 1 Mom." And she wiped down the door and the interior of the car with her hooded sweatshirt to remove all fingerprints.
But that wasn't all that was on the deputy's mind. A September 1999 quadruple homicide in Belmont County -- he flew to New York's JFK Airport to arrest the suspect -- generated international headlines and required his full attention. And the lack of progress on Anthony's case was making it more difficult to find county funds for the investigation. That same month he handed off primary responsibility for the case to Deputy Bart Giesey.
Doug Main's parole on his drug charges a month later was a blow not only to investigators but also to Anthony's parents.
Carmen and Maryann Proviano were determined not to let the case die. In December, they filed suit against Belmont County Coroner Dr. Manuel Villaverde, seeking monetary damages for "arbitrarily, recklessly, wantonly and in bad faith" ruling that their son committed suicide.
Throughout 2000 they regularly called Belmont County Prosecutor Frank Pierce's office, pushing him to get more involved in the case.
He tried to sympathize with them, telling Carmen, "I know how you feel."
"Like hell you know how I feel," Carmen replied.
In October that year they campaigned in Belmont County for Dr. Villaverde's opponent in the county coroner's race. The challenger, Dr. Gene Kennedy, won the November election by a more than 2-to-1 margin, the first Republican county-wide win in 20 years.
By fall 2001, not only had the Provianos settled their lawsuit, but their campaign efforts paid off: The new coroner changed Anthony's cause of death from "could not be determined" to "homicide."
But Olen Martin had decided to leave the Belmont County sheriff's office for a different job. And Anthony's murder was no closer to being solved.
Gallery of key figures
Index to the serial
Charles Dailey Jr.
Tomorrow: A Gathering Storm