http://www.philly.com/dailynews/online_extras/16080872.htmlLost, but not forgotten: Anthony Tumolo
Feb. 29, 2008
FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD Anthony Tumolo
vanished on a brisk October afternoon in 1966, after pedaling away on his bicycle to meet a friend.
Forty-one-plus years later, the Tacony teen's relatives and friends remain haunted by the unknown.
Was he kidnapped, molested and killed? Did he drown in the river and get swept into oblivion? Was he run down by a car whose panicked driver hid his body? Did he hit his head and suffer amnesia, forgetting his life and forging a new one elsewhere?
Beverly Sharpman's disappearance in 1947 seemed without mystery: The 17-year-old girl from the Parkside section of the city was last reported seen at a train station with a suitcase, and sent her parents a telegram telling them she was leaving home to marry and not to worry.
But the uncharacteristic move and her absolute silence since then aroused police suspicion and tormented her frantic parents for decades.
The two then-teens are Philadelphia's oldest active missing-juveniles cases.
And although the case files are yellowed and many potential witnesses are long dead or have moved on, police still search for Anthony and Beverly and about 100 other missing adults and juveniles who vanished months, years and even decades ago.
"They never leave our radar screen," said Capt. John Darby, head of the Special Victims Unit, which handles long-term missing-person cases. "We never forget about these people, because their families don't."
A telegram, then silence
In 1947, President Truman battled Communism and launched the Cold War. The United Nations created Israel. Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black man to play professional baseball. And the discovery of mysterious wreckage near Roswell, N.M., convinced legions of stargazers that alien life exists.
On Sept. 10 of that year, in a towering brick rowhouse on Viola Street near 42nd within walking distance of Fairmount Park, a 17-year-old girl went to her mother and said she had something to tell her.
Beverly Sharpman seemed "troubled," her mother later told police.
Nettie Sharpman went to make tea and did not pressure her daughter to confess her secret. And Beverly, apparently reconsidering, later went to bed without confiding her concerns.
The next day, she disappeared, leaving her tormented parents and brother agonizing over what could have driven the dark-haired, ruby-lipped teen away.
"She wouldn't do such a thing on her own," her mother lamented in a 1949 letter to city newspapers. "Please help me find 'My Baby Girl.'"
Police labeled Beverly — who family called "Babe" — a runaway.
Although she'd gone to Overbrook High School to register for her senior year the day she disappeared, she was last seen carrying a suitcase at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Station at 24th and Chestnut streets.
Her parents received a telegram that night, heartbreaking and succinct: Got married. Leaving town. Will not be back. Don't worry. Babe.
The telegram left them bewildered.
Beverly had no boyfriends, and her friends told police and relatives that they knew of no men in her life, nor of anyone with whom she might have eloped.
But police found that Beverly had taken $173 from her savings account, resigned her clerk job at a downtown firm the day before she vanished and told co-workers she was going to Chicago.
Although she seemed to have left willingly, police still searched for her, baffled that she hadn't left a trail.
Detectives checked marriage-license bureaus in all 50 states but found no evidence that Beverly had married. And although the Sharpmans had family in Chicago, those relatives reported that they hadn't seen or heard from Beverly.
Police received hundreds of letters from people nationwide who reported seeing her. But searches in cities from Chicago and Detroit to New York and Los Angeles proved fruitless.
Her family's public pleas for her return were heartrendingly tireless, appearing sporadically for years in newspaper classified ads.
In 1949: Beverly Sharpman. Call TR7-7379. Will send money for clothes. Mother.
A year later: "Beverly Sharpman — Babe, where are you. Please come home. We love you. I'm ill. Call TR7-7379. Mother."
Two years after that: Beverly Sharpman — "Babe" — it's Mother & Dad's Wedding Anniversary today. Call or write ...Love Bill.
Another year later: Beverly Sharpman, Happy brthdy., Babe. Come home. Call TR7-7379. Mom&Dad
In 1950, Nettie Sharpman offered this appeal in a newspaper article: "I want some word or sign that you are alive. Please contact me in your own way. I'll meet you anytime, anywhere. I'll sell my home and belongings, if necessary. I've got to find you."
But one slip of paper in Beverly's missing-persons file suggests that her family never lost hope of finding her. A letter, sent by a life-insurance company to Philadelphia police in 1981, indicated that her father had died and listed her as his beneficiary. Beverly's mother also died; police haven't located her brother.
Detective Valarie Miller-Robinson, who still occasionally reviews the case, wonders if she fled to conceal an unwanted pregnancy.
Most juveniles who disappear are runaways who eventually turn up, said Officer Robert Rajchel, who investigates Philadelphia's long-term missing juveniles.
"They're growing up and they want to be on their own, or they're escaping discipline problems or family abuse at home. Some might find themselves pregnant and afraid to tell their parents," Rajchel said.
People plotting suicide also may vanish to spare loved ones grief and gruesomeness, but Miller-Robinson doesn't think that's what happened to Beverly.
"I think she did run away and probably got married," she said, "but this is one of those cases that sticks with you. I'd still love to know for sure."
Darby agreed: "Some people may voluntarily go missing. But we still have an obligation to the family to find them to make sure they're OK."
Boy bikes into oblivion
When Anthony Tumolo disappeared in October 1966, police quickly labeled him a runaway. So they quit looking for him. And the city's newspapers ignored the case.
After all, as a boy, his disappearance didn't generate the concerns Beverly Sharpman's did nearly two decades earlier. And disappearing teens were as much a part of the 1960s as beehives and Bob Dylan, with many young people fleeing to New York, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and elsewhere to find themselves.
But Jack Marino knew better.
Jack and Anthony were best buddies to the core.
Growing up in Tacony in the late 1950s and early 1960s, they played toy soldiers together, flunked a grade at the same school and rode bikes daily, often pedaling over to survey the construction zone where workers were creating Interstate 95.
They also got jobs together, working for tips at Frank-the-fruit-vendor's truck and, later, landing Inquirer paper routes, rolling out of bed before the sun rose to deliver newspapers from shopping carts until school started.
Although Anthony had eight siblings, Jack was like another brother.
"My stepfather was Anthony's mother's cousin — to Americans, that don't mean much, but to Italians, that means you're related, you're family," said Marino, who spent his early childhood in Italy.
On Oct. 15, 1966, the boys spent the morning delivering papers and collecting dues, taking a break in between to devour a dozen doughnuts they bought at a bakery on Torresdale Avenue.
Afterward, they hung out with friends on the steps of nearby Lady of Consolation School, where they were eighth-graders. They parted just before 3 p.m. to head to their respective homes for supper, planning to meet up again afterward.
But the rendezvous never happened. Anthony ate his supper in a hurry; when Jack showed up at Anthony's brick duplex on Princeton Avenue near Torresdale, his mother told Jack that Anthony had left just 10 minutes earlier.
Jack trekked to all their hangouts — back to school, around the neighborhood, up to the unfinished I-95 — hunting for his pal.
As dusk fell, he went home, figuring Anthony had found something else to do.
At the Tumolo household, Anthony's parents weren't panicked.
"They just thought he spent the night over Jack's," remembered Joanie Hess, who was 19 and away studying at Penn State University when her brother disappeared.
While it was unusual for Anthony not to seek permission for such an outing, the Tumolos didn't worry until Anthony failed to return home to deliver his newspapers the next morning, a duty he never shirked, Hess said.
As his family and friends went hunting for him, Anthony's parents alerted police.
Still, the prospect of foul play was so unfathomable that Anthony's parents waited 10 days to tell Hess her brother was missing.
"Even then, it was: 'Is Anthony up there with you?'" recalled Hess, a retired nurse now living in Anaheim, Calif. "They just couldn't imagine something bad happening to him."
Neither could police.
Anthony's case file suggests that detectives figured the teen had a motive to run away. Just before he vanished, Anthony had argued with his parents about his paper route, which they wanted him to quit to focus on his sagging school grades.
And five days later, two students returning late to class blamed their tardiness on Anthony, saying they'd spotted the missing boy and unsuccessfully gave chase. The tale seemed plausible; the wiry Anthony was known for his speed.
"That stopped any police investigation — that's the real horror of the story," Marino said of the supposed sighting.
Marino, now a cop, works at the Philadelphia Police Academy as a firearms instructor and armer, fixing guns.
As Anthony's best friend and now as a 31-year veteran lawman, Marino never thought Anthony had disappeared willingly.
"He never voiced, ever, running away from home," Marino said. "He was a very family oriented guy. He idolized his older brothers and his father."
Hess also noted that Anthony had left an uncashed paycheck, some money and all his belongings in his bedroom, an unlikely oversight by someone plotting to run away from home.
And 20 years after Anthony vanished, Marino tracked down one of the tardy teens whose reported sighting of Anthony derailed the police probe.
"He said they were late because they were out having a cigarette, and they told that lie [that they'd seen and chased Anthony] to avoid catching a beating from the nun," Marino said.
Anthony's father died two years after his boy vanished. Although it was colon cancer that took his life, Hess blames heartbreak for hastening the end.
"He was a broken man after this happened," she said.
His father always thought his son had fallen victim to accident. That's a theory Marino hasn't discounted.
Marino said he and Anthony had talked about biking up to Hillcrest Dairy at State and Street roads after supper the day Anthony disappeared. Jack had tried to dissuade his buddy, worried that the long trek was a bad idea on a such a chilly day with dusk descending.
But Anthony was stubborn and independent, Marino said.
"We were all of us addicted to Marvel comics, and Anthony always viewed himself as Iron Man, like impregnable," he said. "Ice cream in those days was like the size of a cantaloupe for like 35 or 50 cents — it was a big deal. So say he rides up to Hillcrest Dairy because he's a hardhead like that."
State Road after sunset was a wooded, secluded, dark place, Marino said. And bike reflectors and reflective clothing didn't exist back then, he added.
"It would be so easy to believe that a car came over a hill or around a bend and hit him. The driver panics, throws him in the car and then ditches the body and the bike," Marino said.
Such a scenario makes sense to Officer Rajchel, who now has Anthony's case.
Rajchel grew up in the same area and was about the same age as Anthony when he went missing, although they didn't know each other.
"I could put myself in his place. Being a boy, you wander, you explore, you get into mischief. I suspect he probably got himself in a situation and met with some kind of accident," Rajchel said, adding that the I-95 construction and Delaware River presented perils that may have proven deadly.
Hess said their mother, who died in 2001, was more optimistic.
"She was in her 70s when I wanted to have him declared dead and have a memorial made, and she actually got mad at me," Hess said.
Anthony's mother always believed that Anthony had fallen victim to amnesia. As a small boy, he'd been hit by a car as he crossed the street.
"So my mom conjured up in her mind that Anthony maybe bumped his head somehow the day he disappeared and this delayed amnesia set in, that he forgot who he was and some day would show up on our doorstep once he remembered who he was," Hess said.
Hess instead always felt her brother had fallen prey to a child predator.
"He was a good-looking kid, but he was a naive kid," she said. "I think someone lured him to molest him and then killed him."
Joe Gabriele used to cut hair in a barbershop around the corner from the Tumolos' old house.
Now 90, Gabriele still remembers customers speculating about Anthony's whereabouts as they got clipped.
"People figured his parents weren't too good to him and maybe he ran off. But then when he was gone so long and never came back, you figured somebody grabbed him," Gabriele said.
Learning Anthony's fate has become an obsession for Hess and Marino.
Both have repeatedly revisited Anthony's old hangouts and retraced his last steps. Marino has talked up the case with his police colleagues. Hess has hashed it out with advocates from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the Adam Walsh Resource Center and similar agencies.
On the busy block where the Tumolos used to live, some things look the same as they did when Anthony and Jack hung out there as teenagers, plotting ways to make pocket money or impress girls. Rubino's Pharmacy, with its old-fashioned white marquee and RX icon, still promises the cheapest prescription drugs and other conveniences like it has for more than four decades.
"I can honestly say that there have been very, very few days since October 15, 1966, that I don't think about Anthony," said Marino, now 56 and weeks from retiring. "It's something that not only haunts me, but haunts an awful lot of people who lived in Tacony at that time.
"I can't tell you all the theories I came up with over the last 40 years, but I don't think I'll ever know what happened to Anthony," he said.
"You know when I'll know? When I'm dead and I make it to the other side." *