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Tony Lombardi

Tony Lombardi

Tony Lombardi

Tony Lombardi’s family believes he was murdered… police say it was suicide.

The Lombardis were a typical middle class family living in the Columbus, Ohio, suburb of Westerville.  But on August 30, 1990, Cheryl Lombardi, a housewife and mother, made a tragic discovery, one that would forever rip the family from the tranquility of suburban life.

Cheryl had come home at around midnight.  She assumed that her 22-year-old son, Tony, would also be home soon.  According to Cheryl, at around 12:45 AM, she heard a door closing and the sound of footsteps.  Cheryl went into Tony’s room to say goodnight.  It was there that Cheryl discovered the lifeless body of her son.  Police arrived shortly after at around 1:15 AM.  They discovered Tony’s car was missing from the garage, perhaps stolen by an assailant.  According to Sergeant Michael Hatzo, the investigation moved swiftly and by the book:

“Our normal procedure is to contact the detectives and have them come and we treat all death scenes as a homicide until we prove it otherwise.”

Inside, on the floor near the body, police found a .38 caliber semi-automatic pistol.  On the bed was a single, spent .38 shell.  Then, investigators found a drunk-driving citation in Tony’s pants pocket, which pushed the inquiry in an entirely new direction.  Two days before his death, Tony had been arrested for driving while intoxicated.  Detectives quickly solved the mystery of Tony’s missing car.  It had been impounded by Columbus police at the time of the arrest.  In addition, Tony had faced fines and possible suspension of his driver’s license.

To Sergeant Hatzo, a portrait had now emerged of a young man, stripped of his freedom and despondent over impending legal problems:

“Right now, everything that we have, any evidence that we have indicates Tony’s death was a commit suicide.”

A gun was recovered at the scene

A gun was recovered at the scene

But for Cheryl Lombardi, her son’s death was nothing short of cold-blooded murder:

“I believe that there was a struggle.  He had an inch and a half gash over his left eye.  He had a broken jaw, he had bruises.  And he was found nude.  He would never let anyone see him nude.  Those are all things that I think should have been looked into.” 

Based on her observations that morning, Cheryl believed that not only was her son murdered, but the killer was still in Tony’s bedroom, even as she moved about the house.  Her evidence is disarmingly simple: the light in Tony’s bedroom:

“Going up and down the steps you can see my son’s room and the door was closed and there was no light on.  Going up and down the steps as many times as I did, there is no way I could have missed the light being on.”

Cheryl assumed Tony’s light was turned off because he wasn’t home.  45 minutes later, she heard the door closing.  The light in Tony’s room was now on.  Cheryl assumed her son had finally come home:

“Then I opened the door and that’s when I found my son dead.” 

Who could have turned on the light?  Cheryl believed it was the killer who became trapped in Tony’s room when she arrived home:

“I believe that I surprised him, and then when I went to my bedroom to get ready for bed they thought that was a good opportunity for them to leave.  And I believe that’s what I heard, was someone leaving.”

To Tony’s parents, there was further evidence pointing to murder.  In the week before he died, Tony was the target of two different death threats.  A woman who lived next door witnessed the driver of a white pick-up truck screaming at Tony.  Tony’s father, Tony Lombardi Sr., overheard the second death threat just a few days later: 

“I was checking my messages and I heard this threat on our voice mail, of a gentleman, a young person, telling Tony that he had a gun and was going to use if it Tony didn’t stay away from his girlfriend.  And at that point I brought that up to Tony and he said not to worry about it.”

Tony’s best friend, Andy Royer, agreed to mediate:

“I told Tony that, I’d talk to the guy and see what the deal was on it, and he said to me that his problem was not with me, it was with Tony, and that he would take care of it.  Tony would get what was coming to him.”

Tony’s parents disputed the official conclusions drawn from some of the physical evidence.  For Cheryl Lombardi, a test that revealed Tony had recently handled a metal object was problematic:

“He worked on a can line, downtown at the Columbus plant.  He handled cans daily.  Naturally, you would have metal on your hands from working with that.”

According to Tony’s father, the position of Tony’s body and the trajectory of the fatal bullet were also subjects of bitter controversy:

“The bullet hole does not make sense to me, unless there was some pressure on top of Tony holding him down, the bullet would have been much higher in the headboard.”

Finally, Cheryl says the county coroner found bruises on Tony’s chest, directly under his clenched hands.  To Cheryl, that is proof her son was forcibly held down by an assailant.

The last minutes of Tony Lombardi’s life remain clouded by controversy.  As far as the police are concerned, the 22-year-old took his own life, a conclusion supported by the county coroner, the sheriff’s department, and the district attorney.  His parents will never agree with that conclusion.