Bill Fera's life was working just fine in 2002. Retired before he was 60. Playing golf. Spending time with his wife. Kids gone from home.
His 10 years with the Allegheny County Police -- seven as a homicide detective -- and 20 years with the H.J. Heinz Co. in human resources and corporate security were far behind him.
But what had begun for him as a vague sense of loss had grown into a deep need to help right a wrong. He picked up the phone in June and called Carmen and Maryann Proviano.
Their son Anthony's death around the 1997 Christmas holiday had troubled him, he told them. His own son had been in medical school at the time. Anthony's life had been full of such promise. If the Provianos were willing, he would work the case.
They immediately agreed. They had been feeling ignored. They had called, visited and pleaded with prosecutors and Deputy Bart Giesey, the only investigator on the case since the departure of Olen Martin in mid-2001, to move forward with the case.
Within days they drove with Mr. Fera to the Belmont County, Ohio, sheriff's office, where the bulk of the case file was turned over to him.
Mr. Fera was appalled at the status of the case. Virtually nothing had been done for a year. One of the first things he did was contact Chris Kelly, chief of the Baldwin Borough police. Involved in the case since the first day, the chief also had chafed over the case's sluggish progress; investigators had failed to identify and interview witnesses, correspondence wasn't answered and the two people he believed were prime suspects -- Ms. Smith and Mr. Main -- were walking free.
Mr. Fera and Chief Kelly were convinced that Ohio prosecutors weren't interested in pursuing the case, and the lack of indictments from two Belmont County grand juries in 2002 only bolstered their belief. The chief called it "incompetence at the highest levels." Mr. Fera re-interviewed everyone involved in the case. He traveled to Arizona and Florida to track down leads. One of his first calls was to Ms. Smith.
He knew this much: Ms. Smith had a brother who died of alcohol poisoning and her father had an affair with her stepsister that resulted in three children. Nicknamed Slim Goody as a kid, she was a high school dropout. Divorced twice, she hadn't seen the son from her first marriage in years. And she was a longtime heroin addict made mean, people said, when she was strung out.
He called her cell phone and offered her a chance to tell him "how she and Doug killed Anthony Proviano."
"You can't prove anything," she said.
But I will, he told her, lying that he had DNA evidence linking her to the crime.
She immediately shaved her head, thinking it would prevent her DNA from being taken.
In early 2003, former drug ring leader Charles Dailey Jr. called the chief. He said Ms. Smith had come into his pawn shop in Washington, Pa., and demanded an employee give her money "if you don't want Doug and me to do what we did to Proviano ..."
A short time later, he told the chief about a security video from his shop in which Ms. Smith implicated Mr. Main. In the grainy video she says, "Me and Doug robbed a guy. Doug shot him and left him for dead. We were so scared we left all the Christmas presents in the car."
By March, however, Mr. Dailey had disappeared after being charged with a misdemeanor that could send him back to prison. He insisted Chief Kelly work a deal to help him. There was no deal, and in December he was returned to state prison.
But in August 2004, Mr. Dailey was released to a Beaver County halfway house. He told the chief he had new information: Ms. Smith had told him the previous fall that Doug Main's mother had offered her $5,000 if she could find a blue headband on an overgrown hill near the St. Clairsville Days Inn. Ms. Smith had asked Mr. Dailey to help. They tried to find it but failed.
Mr. Dailey mailed Chief Kelly a map of that search. A few days later, the chief and Mr. Fera checked him out of the halfway house to accompany them to the site.
After 25 minutes of searching the deep, wet undergrowth they found the blue headband.
Two months later, on Oct. 22, 2004, a secret session of the Belmont County grand jury returned joint indictments against Mr. Main and Ms. Smith, charging them with murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Anthony Proviano.
Gallery of key figures
Index to the serial
Charles Dailey, the convicted head of a Greene County heroin gang and a key witness for the prosecution, talks about how Baldwin Borough Police Chief Chris Kelly kept the Proviano case alive
"It kept running out of gas ..."
Retired investigator Bill Fera explains why he got involved in the Proviano case
"I remembered feeling badly for the family."
"When I first got involved ... there was no activity on it."
Charles Dailey Jr.