Thursday, February 05, 2015

Old Clues, New Interest

I recently reviewed Michael Connelly’s The Burning Room for January Magazine. Shortly after that, I came across this article in The New York Times, which echoes one of the major plot points in the novel. And I couldn’t help but wonder how Connelly’s Los Angeles police detective, Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, might have handled the case.

Let’s recap: In The Burning Room, Bosch investigates the shooting, 10 years ago, of Mariachi musician Orlando Merced, who was believed at the time to have been hit in a random gang-banger drive-by. As a member of the LAPD Open-Unsolved Unit, Bosch is assigned the case, even though Merced only recently passed away from his wounds. Because he was shot a decade prior to his demise, and his ultimate passing was due to complications from the shooting, the coroner rules Merced’s death a homicide.

Now, the Times tale: Back in 1959, early on a rainy New York City morning, Antonio Ciccarello left his apartment on East Fifth Street and Avenue C on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and headed toward his job as a porter at a building on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. Shortly after setting out, however, Ciccarello was stabbed in the torso by an unknown assailant. An operation to save his life was successful. Unlike the fictional Merced, who ended up in a wheelchair, Ciccarello had no recurring disabilities from his attack. Fast forward 55 years. On September 16, 2014, Mr. Ciccarello dies at the ripe old age of 97--and to the surprise of his family, his body is sent to the medical examiner’s office, because his hospital records indicate the stabbing back in 1959. The medical examiner rules that Mr. Ciccarello’s death is “stabbed by other … homicide.”

When I read this news account, I immediately thought of Bosch. It’s the kind of mystery and injustice that have always fed the flames of his personal mission: Everyone counts or no one counts. Someone stabbed Ciccarello and that person has to be caught.

Yet, there is a significant difference between how L.A. and New York treat cold cases. While Bosch’s Open-Unsolved Unit is handed the investigation following Merced’s death, the case of Ciccarello was given to the Manhattan South Homicide Squad, not a cold-case squad.

This was a juicy bone to chew over. I could imagine Bosch arguing with his superiors to be assigned the case, suspecting “high jingo” or department politics as the reason why the investigation wasn’t automatically tossed over to Open-Unsolved. It wouldn’t take long for Detective Bosch to wear down his superiors’ resistance. Or he’d call in a favor in order to appeal directly to the police chief, and either way he’d get what he wants.

Although porter Ciccarello always maintained he didn’t recognize his assailant, NYPD Lieutenant Detective Michael Saccone was quoted in the Times saying, “random attacks are rare. … Mr. Ciccarello could have known who stabbed him and did not want to tell anyone.”

In The Burning Room, Merced’s shooting is similarly considered a haphazard assault, until Harry Bosch digs deeper into the story. Who knows what Bosch could come up with in the Ciccarello case? While the victim’s family has stated that Ciccarello had no enemies (“He was a porter, he didn’t have anybody against him.”), Bosch would likely find just the right thread to pull and thereby unravel the mystery, confounding everyone, especially the doubters.

The challenges would be considerable: there is no DNA evidence, and most witnesses to Antonio Ciccarello’s 1959 stabbing died long ago. Still, I’d love to see Bosch take a run at this puzzling cold case. If Ciccarello’s killer is still alive, Bosch would surely find him.

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