A Life Interrupted: Inquiry hits blind alleys
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Carmen Proviano was trying as hard as he could.
He didn't miss a day of industrial arts classes at Peabody High School, or a single practice with the boys' volleyball and basketball team.
Born in East Liberty and raised in Brookline, he was the first in his family to graduate college. Now, as the 1998 school year was closing, his career was approaching three decades in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Former students would stop him at restaurants, in the mall. "Hey, Mr. P!" the boys called, or "Hey, Coach Pro."
But since his only son, Anthony, had been found dead in Belmont County, Ohio, in late December, life had slowly been draining from Carmen.
"Anthony was on my mind all day," he said. "I could still teach. I still wanted to teach. I still had a good time with the kids. But all day long when I wasn't giving a lecture or a demonstration, he was on my mind."
He and his wife Maryann were trying to keep the investigation into their son's death galvanized, although it had occurred in a different state 70 miles from their Baldwin Borough home. What kept them going was their unshakable faith that their son did not kill himself, that he had, instead, been murdered. They even established a $5,000 reward for information in the case.
Although investigators tried to keep them abreast of developments in the case, there just weren't many to share.
Sixty-one pieces of evidence from the scene that had been submitted to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, including two hairs found in Anthony's otherwise spotless car, were dead ends. The hat found near his body didn't belong to him.
Handwriting analysis of the medical school memorial book turned up nothing. NASA satellite photos taken during late December of the site where the body was found weren't helpful. And a meeting of the Belmont County grand jury to take the testimony of Anthony's medical school peers adjourned without an indictment.
But there was one piece of information that Olen Martin, chief deputy with the Belmont County Sheriff's Office and the lead investigator into Anthony's death, shared with no one. A man in a photograph found near the back door of Anthony's Cincinnati apartment had been identified by a waitress at the Bella Via restaurant in Elm Grove, W.Va., as having accompanied Anthony there in late December. The man was a match for the composite sketch that had been circulated in a three-state area since January.
By summer 1998 Deputy Martin identified the man as Peter van Wordragen, a former co-worker of Anthony's at the GM plant in Warren, Ohio, and though he had made e-mail contact with him once, the suspect had not responded to subsequent efforts.
Through the help of the FBI and Interpol, he flew to Germany in October and confronted Mr. van Wordragen in Frankfurt, where he was working. But his alibi was solid, and the deputy returned to Ohio deflated and dejected.
Just two weeks later, the investigation received a jump start, when Belmont County Coroner Dr. Manuel Villaverde changed his ruling of the cause of death from suicide to "could not be determined." The change would make it easier for investigators to seek records and the help of other law enforcement agencies.
It had taken months of pressure from two U.S. congressmen, Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale, whose district includes the Provianos' home, and Bob Ney, a Republican from St. Clairsville, to force the change. But the coroner had also been hearing from his county prosecutor, Frank Pierce.
In a letter to Dr. Villaverde, the prosecutor wrote that by not changing the cause of death from suicide, he risked "the possibility that potential jurors in future murder cases may develop a negative attitude toward you that will harm the prosecution."
Dr. Villaverde said he changed the cause of death to "be nice to the family."
"I still think it's a suicide," he said.
Gallery of key figures
Index to the serial
Investigator Olen Martin describes the frustration of hitting dead ends in the Proviano case:
"The family was a much the victims in this as anybody."
First Published June 8, 2007 9:50 pm