by Carolyn Berardino
In 1972, Boardman, Ohio was a growing, still somewhat rural community where kids were free to roam and explore, independent of the careful watch of their parents that kids know today. A suburb of Youngstown, then a still-booming steel town situated halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Boardman was a place where people felt safe. That all changed the night of Friday, March 31st, when 12-year-old Brad Bellino left his friend Donald Templeman’s house to walk home and disappeared.
It was Easter Break, and with no school that day, Brad had spent the afternoon with his best friend Don. The boys were classmates in 6th grade at Boardman Center Middle School. Now a successful CEO living in Georgia, Don remembers he and Brad spent virtually all their free time together.
They had been baseball teammates for the last three years. Don’s dad was the coach, Don was the pitcher, and Brad the catcher. The Templemans were a close family who were in the habit of spending evenings together, watching TV and eating family dinners. Brad’s mom Elisa worked as a buyer for Lane Bryant and his dad worked shifts at a steel company, Youngstown Sheet & Tube, so while his parents were at work, Brad would often ride the bus home with Don and have dinner at his house. They’d practice baseball together, and Mrs. Templeman would drive Brad home at night.
That Friday afternoon, the boys had roamed around town, then ended up back at Don’s house in Applewood Acres, which was known at the time as a nice, upper-middle class development. When it was time to go home, Mrs. Templeman was at the grocery store, so she couldn’t drive Brad home, as was their normal routine. Mr. Templeman was in bed sick with the flu. Brad’s mom was working, and his dad was unable to pick him up, so when he left around 7:30 p.m., he decided to walk the 3 miles back to his house on McClurg Road.
There are conflicting reports from different sources about what exactly happened next. What is known for sure is that Brad was reported missing the next day at 3:20 p.m. Police, family, and friends spent the rest of the holiday weekend searching for him. Although Brad was known to be a bit of a wanderer, when he didn’t come home Sunday for Easter, his family knew for sure something was terribly wrong.
It wasn’t until Tuesday morning, April 4th around 8:00 a.m., that Brad’s body was discovered, about 2 miles down the road from Don’s house, in a dumpster behind Isaly’s Dairy Store in the Boardman Plaza by Paul Smith, who was there collecting trash as an employee of Varie Sanitation Company. The dumpster was partially filled, and Brad’s body was covered over with cardboard boxes and waste from Isaly’s. Brad’s sneakers were sticking up at an angle, and his striped pants were undone and pulled down below the hips. His head was in a downward position, and a belt was tightly fastened around his neck.
Then a young Youngstown policeman on the Vice squad, Tony Dapolito was Brad’s first cousin. Boardman police called him to the site to identify the body. He had helped in the search for Brad, leaving a family dinner on Easter Sunday to look for him, and remembers that searchers had been in the area of Boardman Plaza and Isaly’s, but hadn’t made the discovery. It was then his job to let his Aunt Elisa and Uncle Joe know their boy had been found.
Brad’s body was brought to South Side Hospital in Youngstown, and a post mortem exam was conducted by Dr. David A. Belinky. The Coroner’s report lists Brad’s time of death at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 1, more than 24 hours after he was last confirmed to be seen. The cause of death was strangulation, and he had been sexually assaulted.
To this day, the perpetrator has never been found. Tony Dapolito always thought he’d learn the answer that would finally bring justice for his young cousin he had to identify more than 45 years ago. He was a police officer and later an investigator for Mahoning County. “Every step of the way, just nothing,” he said. “A dead end. Every step of the way. There’s got to be someone out there that knows. And I’m hoping he…comes forward and drops a dime on the people that did this. It’s been a long time, maybe they’re dead. But it doesn’t matter. Someone knows.”
As often happens with cases that have gone unsolved for decades, there are some conflicting reports in the details. Because the investigation is still open, case files are closed, making it difficult to reconcile some of the facts.
The first questions that remain are who reported Brad missing and under what circumstances did he decide to leave and walk home from the Templeman house. Local newspapers have published that it was Brad’s mom Elisa who reported Brad missing when she came home from work. Articles state Brad was to stay at Don’s until 9:00 p.m., and it is unknown why he left early at 7:30.
Other news articles state that it was his sister Debbie who called police that Saturday afternoon.
The Coroner’s report states that it was his father Joseph who first called police. According to the Coroner’s findings, Joseph Bellino last saw his son Thursday, March 30 around 1:00 p.m., when Brad went to the mall. Brad asked permission to stay overnight at the Templemans and was to be home by 4:00 p.m. Friday. He later called his father and received permission to stay at the Templemans until 9:00 p.m. Joseph Bellino went out for the night Friday, and not realizing his son had not made it home, he went to bed around 2:00 a.m. Saturday. He then woke up around noon, and upon discovering his son wasn’t there, he called the Templemans. They told him Brad had left the night before, and they hadn’t seen him since 7:30 p.m. Joseph then went out searching for his son before calling the Boardman police to report Brad missing.
Don remembers that over that Easter break, he and Brad had been alternating spending the night at each other’s houses. On the Friday night before Easter, Brad called home and told his brother he’d be sleeping over at Don’s that night. About 20 minutes later, Brad’s dad called and told Brad he needed to come home instead. Following his dad’s instructions, he left at 7:30 without a ride.
Don says he went to bed when Brad left, and around 10:00 p.m., Brad’s brother called and asked Mrs. Templeman if Brad had left, because he never made it home. She told him yes, Brad had left hours earlier. Immediately concerned, Don’s mom woke him up, and they got in the car and drove the route Brad would’ve walked. They couldn’t find any sign of him.
It is unclear at this time what impact these discrepancies have, but the confusion surrounding the answers may help explain why it took so long for police to be called. Brad was the youngest of four children in the Bellino family, and the natural chaos of a household of six people, all on different schedules, likely contributed to the delay in reporting him missing.
The second remaining question with conflicting answers is when was Brad last seen. Early newspaper reports say that he was seen Saturday afternoon in multiple locations, playing basketball on Matthews Road near Don’s house, at the Southern Park Mall, and at the Dairy Queen near North Lima. Later reports say the sightings were unconfirmed and that witnesses may have actually seen Brad at those locations Friday. Since there was no school for the holiday, witnesses may have confused Saturday for Friday.
Retired Boardman Police Chief Jack Nichols said it’s unlikely Brad was seen Saturday, as the meal in his stomach at the autopsy was chicken and pineapple, the dinner he ate at the Templeman residence Friday.
Don says the reports that Brad was seen Saturday cannot be accurate. “That’s impossible…he was going home. If he had other intentions in mind…like I said, we spent almost every day together for 3 years. If he had ulterior motives, he would’ve told me. He wouldn’t have said I’m going home…that’s just crazy. He just wasn’t that way. If his dad told him to come home, he’d go home.”
It seems likely Don was in fact the last person, besides the killer, to see Brad alive. But if the Coroner’s report is accurate, where was he from 7:30 p.m. Friday until his time of death Saturday at 9:00 p.m.? That leaves 26 hours unaccounted for, which leaves the possibility of an unknown location where Brad was held or a second crime scene in addition to the dumpster.
Don Templeman’s Story
Trying to piece together what could’ve happened to Brad, Don recalls a brown van following him and Brad around the day Brad disappeared. The boys saw it three or four times in different locations. At first, they joked about it, but after the fourth time, they got scared and decided to go home to Don’s.
“And that’s what to this day I think happened,” Don said. “I think whoever was in that van waited until he was in a dark spot and took him.”
Don believes the reason this case has never been solved was because the perpetrator was unknown to Brad, his friends, and family. He remains hopeful he’ll get answers to who is responsible for this crime, which forever changed his life. “It’s something I wondered my whole life. I’d definitely want to know if it was knowable.”
Describing his best friend, Don said, “He was very outgoing. We were both risk-takers, but he was the one to come up with the risk, and I was the one to go along with it.”
Together, they would go to the Boardman mall that had just opened to meet their friends. They rode their bikes around town, and were both known to hitchhike, although Brad did it more frequently than Don. Near Brad’s house was a lapidary, a rock and gem shop, which the boys visited often, because they were both interested in rocks and liked to look at the geodes. On Friday nights, Don would usually sleep over at Brad’s house, and they’d walk over to the drive-in across the street from the lapidary to catch a movie. On Saturday’s, the boys would sleep at Don’s, then go to church on Sunday with his family.
Don remembers Brad’s dad as being a funny, nice guy who was close with Brad. He had a vintage MG-TC, an open two-seater sports car, and would drive the boys around with the top down.
While Brad was the youngest of four kids, having two older brothers and an older sister, there were five kids living in the Templeman household, including two young foster kids.
“I was more naive,” Don said, “and he was more worldly because of his older brothers I think. He would tell me things I didn’t know about life. I had two older sisters, and we were close, but we didn’t really talk about anything like that.”
After Brad went missing, Don spent the weekend searching for Brad before it was time to go back to school. What happened next was traumatizing and continues to haunt Don to this day.
That Tuesday, he said he was back in class and heard his math teacher in the hall talking to other teachers. She came back into the classroom and announced, “The Bellino boy’s been found.” He said all the students started to cheer, jumping up and down. And then she added, in a way he remembers as brutal and cold, “But he’s dead.”
Don doesn’t remember anything for the next hour. He doesn’t know if he actually passed out or just blacked out, but the next thing he remembers is going to the office and asking to go home.
Soon after, Don said the police brought him to the station with his dad. They showed him Brad’s clothing, asking him to identify if they were the clothes Brad was wearing when he left Don’s house. Don told them yes, they were. They next showed Don the belt found around Brad’s neck and asked him if it belonged to Brad. Don told them yes, it did.
The origin of the belt could be significant evidence, and police had hoped it would lead to a suspect. Police believe the belt was purchased at J.C. Penney’s department store but could never pinpoint which location. There are conflicting reports about whether the belt did in fact belong to Brad. The Bellino family could not confirm whether it was his. Some news reports say it belonged to him. Other reports say Brad’s belt was still in the waistband of his pants when he was found, indicating the belt around his neck belonged to someone else.
The Coroner’s report indicates the belt around his neck was size 22-24 and measured 1 ⅛” wide. Current online size charts show a size 22-24 belt is recommended for an average 5-6 year old. It’s possible the belt belonged to a younger child, but the Salem News reported that Brad was small for his age. The autopsy confirms this, with estimates of his weight at 80 pounds and his height at four feet.
Don finds it difficult to understand the police’s purpose in presenting the next evidence to him at the station.
“They showed me a stick that they said had been placed up his rectum,” he said. “Yeah, real nice for an 11-year-old…It was surreal, I thought, ‘Is this really happening?’”
Jack Nichols, the retired police chief who re-investigated this case in the early 2000’s, denies that there was a stick found. Glenn Bowers, also a retired Boardman police chief who was present at the scene but did not investigate Brad’s case, does not remember a stick. The Coroner’s report does not include the presence of a stick found with the body, but its findings do report anal lacerations and sperm in the rectal smear, confirming sexual assault.
Don attended Brad’s funeral, where he would see Brad’s dad for the last time. It was crowded, standing room only, as all the kids from school, their parents, and the teachers in town attended.
After this, the idyllic childhood Don had known was over and life would never be the same again. His parents wanted to get away from Boardman and moved him to Tennessee in June. They wanted to get away from a town they felt was unsafe for their children, and where there were too many painful memories. “I was very much more cautious. You thought everybody was out to get you. I became very paranoid,” Don said.
The Templemans didn’t keep in touch with the Bellinos. They didn’t know each other well, as they were a part of different social circles, with Mr. Templeman in the corporate world, and Mr. Bellino a blue-collar worker in steel.
The Templemans had different ways of coping with the situation.
“My mom just had tremendous guilt, because she feels personally responsible, because she…wasn’t there to drive him home…I always told her, ‘Mom, it wasn’t your fault, you didn’t know. He left on his own, and you didn’t know he was going,’” Don said. “My dad never ever talked about it. My dad took me to the police station when they showed me the evidence…he was there in the room, and he didn’t say a word the whole time I was being interviewed. Then we drove home, and he didn’t say a word all the way home. And he and I never talked about it… [my mom] would ask me every so often if I had ever heard anything, and I would tell her no. And she’d just say I just wish we could turn the clock back…But I don’t remember my dad and I ever talking about it at all.”
He said his dad was typically very open about everything, but this was too difficult.
“He took it really hard, he just didn’t show it,” Don said.
Don visited Boardman again only once as a child, coming back to Ohio about a year later, when his parents adopted foster children who had moved with them to Tennessee from Ohio. He had a reunion with the other boys that were part of his and Brad’s group of friends. “It was more joyous than you would have expected,” he described.
Don didn’t return to Boardman again for 25 years, as an adult living in California and running a company in Pittsburgh. He drove past Brad’s house, the mall, and Boardman Park where they played baseball.
Boardman detectives called Don around the year 2000 when he was on his way to Disney World with his wife and kids. Police were re-investigating the case. While his family went to the pool, he stayed in the room and talked to police for about an hour. It was the first he’d heard from law enforcement since 1972.
While he would eventually become police chief in 2009 and hold the position until he retired in 2017, Jack Nichols didn’t join the Boardman Police Department until 1978. But he grew up in Applewood Acres, the same neighborhood where Brad was last seen at Don Templeman’s house. Jack and his wife Diane were 14 or 15, just a few years older than Brad, when Brad was killed, and they remember it well. Diane had even been acquainted with Brad’s brother Ricky and remembers ice skating with him and a group of friends.
When Nichols was a detective, he estimates around 2007 or 2008, Jeff Patterson, then Boardman’s Police Chief, had an interest in cold cases. He reassigned three cold cases for reinvestigation: Brad Bellino, Thomas Beard, and David Evans, three boys who were all found dead in Boardman between 1970 and 1975. (More on these cases later.)
Chief Patterson assigned Brad’s case to both Jack Nichols and Bob Rupp, a detective who would soon be retiring. Det. Rupp had worked for the department in 1972, although not on Brad’s case.
The police department had drastically changed since 1972, when it was very small and didn’t have the advanced procedures and technology it would later develop. The detectives had to deal with volumes of paperwork and a massive quantity of loosely determined “evidence” collected in boxes.
“The police department wasn’t really sophisticated back then,” Nichols said, “and that kind of caused us some problems when we started to go through the case, because there were literally hundreds of people they had listed as suspects…People became suspects just by innuendo. They had not necessarily done anything to deserve being named as a suspect…. [Police] gathered a bunch of stuff. They interviewed a lot of people. But there was really not a whole lot of what was real evidence.”
The two detectives had their work cut out for them, but their efforts weren’t entirely fruitless. After sifting through the paperwork and boxes, Nichols and Rupp were able to identify seven persons of interest whose names came up repeatedly throughout the investigation. They didn’t have enough evidence to even consider the men as suspects, but the detectives were able to obtain search warrants.
While they didn’t have much to go on, Nichols explained that the courts are more lenient in writing search warrants when law enforcement is trying to obtain exculpatory evidence, or evidence to clear someone rather than to incriminate them. In this way, they were able to serve seven search warrants on the persons of interest and collect DNA samples of each.
Also, at this time, they managed to collect DNA evidence thought to be the perpetrator’s. “We exhumed the body, and we opened up the evidence packages, and we obtained a DNA sample that was not the DNA of Brad Bellino,” Nichols said.
Although Nichols wasn’t specific about the type of DNA or where it was located, it has been reported that it was bodily fluid collected from Brad’s pants or underwear. Now armed with current DNA technology, the detectives sent samples to the lab to look for a match, but they came up empty. There was no match, and all seven persons of interest were eliminated.
At this time, police also sent the belt found around Brad’s neck to a forensic dentist. The forensic dentist confirmed that the marks on the tag end of the belt were in fact made from teeth, but they could not develop the teeth marks to show a pattern. It was another dead end.
Nichols believes the perpetrator either died shortly after committing this crime or may not fit the profile of a typical sexual predator driven to kill, because there was never a hit in CODIS, even from another unsolved case.
“People that prey on and sexually kill young boys don’t do it one time and quit,” he said. “They do it and do it and do it and do it until they get caught.”
To examine the fact that there has never been a hit on the unknown suspect’s DNA in Brad’s case, and what that actually means, it is important to know when CODIS was created and how consistently DNA is collected.
According to fbi.gov, “CODIS began as a pilot software project in 1990, serving 14 state and local laboratories.” A national index wasn’t formalized until 1994.
As for Ohio, in an article on www.toledoblade.com, it states, “Ohio began collecting DNA from inmates sent to prison for felony convictions in the mid-1990s. In 2000, it joined CODIS…In 2011, a new state law went further, requiring that DNA samples be taken from all adults arrested for felony offenses.”
That leaves 39 years between Brad’s death and the consistent collection of DNA for offenders in Ohio.
Furthermore, DNA collection laws are not always strictly followed. In 2014, cleveland.com ran an article stating that, “The city [Cleveland] is letting people arrested on felony charges out of jail without having their DNA collected – contrary to state law.”
If one nearby northeast Ohio city has failed to consistently collect DNA samples, that affects the possibility of finding a match for the DNA sample in Brad’s case. And it leads to another question: are other locations failing to collect DNA too?
In 2018, The News-Herald posted an article stating that, “Thousands of DNA profiles legally required to be collected from adults arrested for felonies or convicted of some misdemeanors in Ohio are missing from state and national crime databases, according to a newspaper network’s investigation.”
Are other states, outside of Ohio, doing better, consistently collecting DNA? In 2017, forensicmag.com posted an article, “Hidden in Prison: 7 States Have Thousands of Inmates Not in DNA Databases.” The states include Nevada, Nebraska, Montana, Georgia, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Delaware. So if the perpetrator moved to one of these states, his DNA may not be in CODIS.
There are several reasons why DNA wasn’t collected on the inmates. Some states have no retroactivity conditions in their DNA laws, so inmates in prison before the 1990’s were never swabbed. Some prisoners refused to give samples. In other cases, logistical reasons prevented the testing, or there were delays in collection.
The article states, “experts agree: most of the long-term inmates who aren’t in CODIS probably have other crimes on their resume. And a significant number of unsolved mysteries could be cracked with a simple swab in a violent criminal’s cheek.”
In conclusion, it is not difficult to imagine that the perpetrator in Brad’s case could have been arrested, even since CODIS was created, and fallen through the cracks.
Jack Nichols pointed out that a forensically unusual part of the case is the fact that there were no signs of a struggle on Brad’s body. Nichols said in other strangulation cases he’s worked on, the victims had scratches and bruising showing they fought back against an attack.
To shed light on this, Susan Clutter, an Associate Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science at Youngstown State University, said, “Sometimes if you’re in for instance a sleep state, or you’ve been sedated, or you’re unconscious, there are no such signs of [a struggle].”
The Coroner’s report didn’t include toxicology results that might indicate if Brad was given any drugs to induce unconsciousness. Nichols didn’t remember what was included in the toxicology report at the time, but he said he assumes one was done.
Another factor that affects whether or not there’s a struggle in strangulation cases is what the actual cause of death is. “For instance, was he actually suffocated?” Professor Clutter asked. “Was this hypoxia? Or was this that the blood was cut off to his brain? Because in cases like that, then you have unconsciousness quite quickly. In a matter of seconds.”
When blood is cut off to your brain, there wouldn’t be much of a struggle. This is explained further in a report on uwmedicine.org, which states, “There are differences…in the effects experienced by the victim depending on whether the strangulation is predominantly vascular or airway. With predominantly vascular compression of the carotid arteries, such as occurs with the so-called carotid sleeper hold, unconsciousness develops relatively quickly, with little to no pain or panic experienced by the victim.”
The report continues, “Loss of consciousness may occur in as little as 10 seconds of cerebral hypoxia. After consciousness is lost, the victim is completely incapacitated and vulnerable to continued assault.”
The coroner’s report doesn’t specify which is the case in Brad’s death. Professor Clutter explains, “In 1972, forensic pathology was in its infancy,” and reports didn’t include all of the information that would be included in a report today.
“Usually when it’s a belt, the pressure is equally distributed around your neck,” she said. “But again that depends what kind of belt it was.”
So while we don’t know for sure, it is possible that the belt applied equally distributed pressure and cut off both the airway and the blood flow, leading to a quick loss of consciousness, and that could explain why there weren’t signs of a struggle.
The Security Guard
There was a security guard at the lapidary near Brad’s house, where Don Templeman said he and Brad spent a lot of time, whom many people in the community thought was the most likely suspect. At first, Don Templeman suspected him too.
The security guard liked to talk to the boys who would come hang out there to look at rocks and geodes. He had a criminal history, and according to Jack Nichols, he had a fascination with the police. He made it a point to befriend police officers. He went to the tailor in town who handmade the police uniforms and had a matching one made for himself, in the same distinct French blue color with navy epaulets. It was identical to the police uniform except for the law enforcement patches. He even bought his own car that looked like a police cruiser.
Law enforcement travelled to his current home in South Carolina to collect a DNA sample, but there was no match. He was eliminated as a suspect.
Jack Nichols discussed other rumors of men in town people called police to report as possible suspects. There was “Old Bob” who lived near Applewood Acres on the corner of Matthews Road and Glen Ridge, who kept cases of beer and marijuana that he’d give to young boys in the neighborhood, in return for sexual favors. He was arrested a few times and has now passed away.
“There were a lot of those types of things out there,” Nichols said. A projectionist at the theater in the Boardman plaza, near Isaly’s Dairy, chased around young boys. There was a pizza shop at Southern Blvd. and Indianola where a man worked and tried to trade pizza for sexual favors.
As for the brown van Don Templeman remembers following him and Brad around the day Brad disappeared, Jack Nichols said that there were hundreds of vehicles people reported in connection to Brad’s murder, including an orange corvette. None of the tips led to anything but dead ends.
Keep in Mind
Retired Boardman Police Chief Glenn Bowers was one of the first officers on the scene when Brad’s body was found. He was then a patrolman, and although he wasn’t in charge of the investigation, he knew what was going on at the time.
He was also aware of the re-investigation conducted in the early 2000’s and of the seven search warrants served at that time. Of one of the suspects, he said, “If you would’ve asked me 30 years ago, I would’ve said that was the person. I was pretty confident that was the person, and I’m just surprised…The issue, because his DNA wasn’t on that belt, doesn’t mean he didn’t participate in the event…I’m just saying if 2 or 3 people commit an offense. Let’s say you’re assaulted. And 1 person assaults you, and 2 people hold you down. They might not get the two people’s DNA that held you down, but they’ll have the DNA of the person that assaulted you.”
The Boardman Boys
When Boardman Police Chief Patterson assigned Brad Bellino’s case to Jack Nichols and Bob Rupp, he assigned two other cold cases as well. Before Brad was killed, 15-year-old Thomas Baird had been found on Lake Park Road in Boardman and died a few days later in December 1970. In February 1975, 13-year-old David Evans went missing for 6 days before he was found dead in a business parking lot near the corner of Market Street and Boardman-Poland Road. Police do not believe the cases are related.
No one has been charged in the death of Thomas Baird, but law enforcement thinks he got jumped by a group of teenagers and was beaten. He died days later of a brain injury.
David Evans went missing Friday, January 17th, 1975. Like Brad, he was a student at Boardman Center Middle School, where he played in the band and earned good grades.
He was last seen at 6:00 p.m. by his father in his neighborhood at Stillson Place and Withers Drive, just 25 houses away from his home on Ridgewood Drive. He told his dad he had checked out the ice on Boardman Lake to see if it was thick enough to skate on, but found it wasn’t, so he was on his way home.
When David’s parents became concerned that he hadn’t returned home for the night, they called the high school to see if he had gone to a basketball game. His dad called area hospitals, in case there had been an accident, then he drove around looking for him.
At 11:30 p.m., David’s red knit hat was found at Stillson Place and Withers Drive, where his dad last saw him. Snow was trampled in about a three-foot circle around it.
David was shy and reserved, especially with strangers, and his parents didn’t think he would willingly go off with a stranger. He wore a medical identification tag indicating he was diabetic. He would’ve been due for his next insulin shot the next morning at 7:30 before breakfast.
Also like Brad, David played baseball. He was born with a narrow hand with only two fingers and a thumb, and he spent an entire summer pitching a baseball onto the roof and learning to catch it in his left hand without the mitt sliding off. He had also had eye surgery to correct muscles when he was 6. He was diagnosed with diabetes at age 9.
For six days, volunteers and law enforcement searched for David, on the ground, and even in the air with a helicopter from the National Guard. Retired Boardman Police Chief Glen Bowers was in it and remembers overlooking the snow in Boardman Park and parts of Mill Creek Park.
The search ended Thursday, January 23rd, when Boardman realtor Hugh McCall and his wife found David’s frozen body in the bushes of a parking lot at the northeast corner of Market Street and Boardman-Poland Road, Routes 7 and 224 respectively. The location is less than ½ a mile from where Brad Bellino was found in the dumpster.
As the McCall’s were getting into their car, they reported seeing a knee sticking up in the snow in the bushes. The Vindicator reported his body was on his back, with one knee bent and one straight, his hands on his chest. His clothing was pulled up about his neck as if he had been dragged by the feet, McCall told police.
Coroner Dr. Nathan Belinky told the newspaper an X-ray showed David’s left wrist had been broken and a small, ½” in diameter and ½” deep, perfectly round puncture wound was found on his back, about 3 inches above the belt line. There was no matching hole in his clothing, but he was found fully clothed. There was little blood on his clothing or on the ground underneath the body. The autopsy showed minor bruising.
The cause of death was determined to be a diabetic coma. There were no signs of sexual assault. Dr. Belinky found no evidence of foul play. What caused the puncture wound was never determined. It was not consistent with a knife or an insulin injection.
Peter Evans, David’s father, believed his son was abducted, according to newspaper reports. His son had told him he was going home, and he was never seen again. David took insulin shots twice a day and was taught to keep his parents informed of his whereabouts.
Glenn Bowers was a Patrolman in 1972 and is pictured in a widely circulated photo standing next to the dumpster when Brad Bellino was found, waiting for the crime lab and coroner’s investigator. He did not investigate the Evans case but was aware of it.
He believes David Evans was an abduction. “Here’s the thing, in the Evans case, he had a broken bone that occurred after death,” he said. “So obviously, that alone. If I were to put you in a room and lock the door and not feed you or give you water, in time you would die of either dehydration or lack of food. Doesn’t mean that it still wasn’t some type of crime. I don’t think the young man wandered around on his own for that many days and then just died up there at Routes 7 and 224.”
“You don’t die and then break your wrist…At some point after he died, his wrist broke. Now if I had him in the trunk of a car, and I took him out of the car, out of that parking lot and let’s say, carried him over and dropped him. It could’ve happened then…. How it occurred, again, that’s speculation…but that alone would tell you that it wasn’t natural. It wasn’t just that he was diabetic and didn’t get his medicine…I think the Coroner didn’t argue that. He had to deal with the death and what occurred.”
David lived in his home with his mom and dad and brother John, 17, sister Eileen, 15, and little brother Tommy, 11 at the time. The family was polygraphed and ruled out.
Of Brad and David’s cases, Bowers said, “Is it possible they’re connected? Yes. But I don’t remember that there was any sexual assault in Evans’ case. So what’s the correlation?…There’s no family connection. Neighborhood-wise, it’s a fair distance…. One of the reasons it’s so difficult to solve is that you just have a lack of, you don’t have a crime scene. Where was he? We took his clothes and didn’t find anything dramatic…If you go through the list of problems, what’s the motive? Don’t know. Where did the crime occur? Don’t know. I mean you know after all the work and time and effort that some good people put into it, we don’t know a whole lot more than we did the day he was found.”
The Coroner couldn’t give an accurate time of death. The technology and resources just weren’t there in those days.
“Other than that, they were both young boys, males, I don’t see anything that tied them together. There was no strangulation, different cause of death, different location,” Bowers concluded.
The Alphabet Murders
Both Jack Nichols and Glenn Bower took criminal behavior classes with the FBI and discussed the profile of a predator who sexually assaults and murders a child. You’d expect someone who cannot stop and repeatedly offends. No other cases in the Boardman area have occurred, but spread the net a little wider to look for cases with similar circumstances in a drivable distance from Boardman, and other cases come up.
The most compelling is referred to as the “Double Initial Murders” or the “Alphabet Murders,” all occurring in the area surrounding Rochester, New York. Carmen Colon was the first victim, a 10-year-old girl who disappeared on November 16, 1971. Her body was found two days later in Chili. Next, in April 1973, 11-year-old Wanda Walkowicz vanished from her neighborhood and was found dead the next day in Webster. Six months later, Michelle Maenza, 11 years old, disappeared, and her body was located two days later in a town called Macedon.
Although they share many similarities with each other, it is still unknown whether these cases are in fact connected with one another, let alone with Brad Bellino. But like Brad, each victim had matching initials, which also matched the name of the town where their bodies were found. Each victim was sexually assaulted and strangled. Each was around the same age, and each was Catholic. Each case remains unsolved.
Although the victims in these murders are girls, it is commonly thought that predators who attack prepubescent children do not tend to show a gender preference.
What’s more, there is an Ohio connection. One of the suspects in Carmen Colon’s case, James Barber, had an outstanding warrant for assaulting and sodomizing a 15-year-old girl in Mansfield, Ohio. He had also been arrested for assaulting a young girl in the past.
Shortly after Carmen’s body was found, Barber fled the area, leaving his job without notice and leaving many belongings behind in his apartment. On the day that Carmen disappeared, Barber had penciled in his time card, rather than using the automated machine to punch in his time.
Barber is thought to have been away from the Rochester area when the other girls were killed, and he is now deceased.
On Friday October 5, 1973, 8-year-old Debbie Makel rode the school bus home in Rices Landing, PA, about a 2 hours’ drive from Boardman, Ohio. Her 11 and 12-year-old brothers decided to walk home instead to sell magazine subscriptions for a school fundraiser. Charlotte and Duane Makel were both at work, and when the boys arrived home, they found their sister’s books, coat, and house key on the table.
They figured she was outside playing with friends. But when it was getting close to dinner time, and she hadn’t returned, her parents started to worry. They made phone calls, drove around the neighborhood, and called police. Her disappearance was announced at the Jefferson-Morgan High School football game that night, requesting volunteers, and people started leaving the game to help in the search.
Two days later, two cousins who had come into town that morning to help search, discovered Debbie’s body near an old distillery foundation, less than 200 yards from her home. She was covered by branches and brush. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled with a piece of twine.
Marvin “Beau” King
On January 25, 1973, 12-year-old Marvin Lee King, known as Beau, called his mom Monica at work at a local bar in Springfield, Ohio. She told her son she was busy and when she called him back, she got no answer. She sent a friend to check on him, but the friend found the door to the trailer where he lived with his mom ajar, and there was no sign of Beau. It looked like he had been baking cookies.
His mom called the police to report Beau missing at 11:30 p.m. There were no signs of a struggle. A neighbor reported seeing Beau get into a dark-colored car, possibly a 1965 Chevrolet or Pontiac.
The next day, anonymous calls were placed to a local church, school, newspaper, and finally the sheriff’s dispatch, saying that a man’s body would be found in a field or ditch along the road in Springfield.
He was found just after 10:00 p.m. on January 26. He was fully clothed, except for a jacket. He’d been strangled with a nylon clothesline.
His murder remains unsolved.
Oakland County Child Killer
Four children were killed in Oakland County, Michigan, between February 15, 1976 and March 16, 1977. Despite many theories and suspects being named, they remain unsolved.
12-year old Mark Stebbins was the first victim. He was last seen leaving the American Legion Hall on February 15, 1976 to go home. His body was found February 19, fully clothed, in a snowbank in the parking lot of an office building. He had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
On December 22, 1976, 12-year-old Jill Robinson had an argument with her mother over dinner, packed a backpack, and ran away. The next day, her bike was found behind a hobby store in Royal Oak. only about 10 minutes away from where Mark Stebbins was killed. On December 26, Jill’s body was found on a snowbank, within sight of the Troy police station. She was fully clothed and died from a gunshot wound to the face. There is no evidence she was sexually abused.
On January 2, 1977, 10-year-old Kristine Mihelich disappeared, after last being seen at a 7-Eleven store buying a magazine. Her body wouldn’t be discovered for 19 days, in the snow on the side of a rural road in Franklin Village. She was fully clothed. Her cause of death was determined to be smothering, less than 24 hours before she was found.
Then on March 16, 1977, 11-year-old Timothy King disappeared. He was last seen leaving a drugstore where he purchased candy. There was a widespread search and heavy media coverage, before he was found on March 22 in a shallow ditch. He was suffocated and sexually assaulted with an object. His estimated time of death was around six hours before he was found.
Brad Bellino was last seen on Good Friday. In his book “The Kill Jar,” J. Reuben Appelman points out that Kristine was abducted the day after New Year’s Day. Mark was abducted the day after Valentine’s Day. Jill was found the day after Christmas. And Timothy went missing the evening before St. Patrick’s Day.
White dog hairs were found on the clothing of all four victims, tying them together. In 2011, mitochondrial DNA was obtained from hairs found on the body of Kristin Mihelich. They were matched to James Vincent Gunnels, who was 16 at the time of the killings. He was an associate of Chris Busch, a man who committed suicide on November 22, 1978. Busch was convicted of molesting Gunnels repeatedly. When police searched his apartment after the suicide, they found a drawing of a screaming child, many believe strongly resembles Mark Stebbins. Bloody ropes were also found, and it is known some of the victims were tied up.
Ties to Ohio
Chris Busch was the son of Harold Lee Busch, who served at the chief financial officer for General Motors’ entire North Atlantic division for more than 40 years. General Motors opened an automobile factory in Lordstown,Ohio, about a half hour’s drive from Boardman, in 1966.
On March 3, 1972, Lordstown authorized a strike, which reportedly cost GM approximately $150 million in lost sales. A settlement was reached by the end of the month. Is it possible that GM’s CFO might have been in the Lordstown area with his family during that time?
Another Ohio connection is Ted Lamborgine. In August 2005, police arrested Ted Lamborgine in Parma Heights, Ohio, an hour and a half from Boardman. According to clevescene.com, when officers pulled over his pickup truck, he said, “I knew my past would catch up to me.”
Around the time the child killings stopped in Oakland County, Michigan, Ted Lamborgine moved to the Cleveland area and got a job at the Ford plant in Brook Park. He started attending church and moved around from apartments, to a trailer, to a home in Slavic Village.
Law enforcement in Detroit had learned of a pedophile ring that began in the 1970’s in the Cass Corridor, an impoverished area where a circle of men found poor boys who would trade money and food for sexual favors. They brought the boys, as young as nine, to motels, dirty basements in their homes, or even to fancier suburbs to parties they’d organize at other pedophiles’ homes. The kids were sodomized, photographed, then washed off and sent back into the streets.
In 2005, Richard Lawson was arrested for an unrelated homicide. He told police that Ted Lamborgine was a part of this pedophile ring and showed him a photo of Timothy King.
Lamborgine was taken into custody, and according to clevescene.com, he agreed to take a polygraph test in Michigan stating that although he had been a pedophile, he had never killed anyone. He failed. But he could not be held simply on the basis of the polygraph, so he was allowed to return to Cleveland.
Nearly a year later, Michigan police arrested Lamborgine for the rape of eight children. He was offered a deal. Take another polygraph test in regard to the Oakland County child murders in exchange for a maximum 15-year sentence. He turned it down. Instead, he pled guilty to the rape charges, receiving three life sentences.
Current Boardman Police Chief Todd Werth said the department has sent a DNA sample out for familial DNA testing to help solve Brad Bellino’s case. This technology uses genetic material to find a partial match in public geneology databases, like GEDMatch, to locate relatives of suspects. Geneological researchers can then develop a family tree to eventually identify the suspects themselves. This is the same technology that famously allowed law enforcement to put the Golden State Killer behind bars last year.
Initial tests in Brad Bellino’s case were inconclusive, but more research is currently being done.
According to the Boardman News, Parabon Nanolabs has been hired to conduct a snapshot genetic analysis. Parabon can possibly create an image of what a potential suspect looks like.
Familial DNA research provides hope for the first time in many years of solving this case. But the police need help from the public as well.
Whether it’s the person who committed the crime or a witness, Jack Nichols believes whoever was involved, if they are alive, probably is thinking every knock on the door could be the cops. It is in that person’s best interest to come forward and explain what happened.
If you have any information on Brad Bellino’s case, please contact the Boardman Police Department at (330) 726-4144.
Carolyn Berardino is a freelance writer from Youngstown, Ohio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org