Michael Rosenblum

Michael Rosenblum

Michael Rosenblum

A father’s search for his missing son leads him to believe the local police department covered up his death.

On April 2, 1988, 30 volunteer firemen gathered on a steep bluff overlooking the Monongahela River just south of Pittsburgh in Baldwin Borough, Pennsylvania. At the suggestion of a psychic, they were there to search for the remains of Michael Rosenblum, a young Pittsburgh man who had been missing for more than eight years.

For Michael’s father, Maurice, the search was another desperate attempt to find out what happened to his son, who disappeared on Valentine’s Day 1980, from a road that runs along the foot of the cliff. According to Maurice:

“There is not the slightest possibility in my mind that he could be out there alive. I pray that that one-in-ten million chance would happen. I guess you always have some hope.  As long as I don’t have a body, there’s always hope.”

During high school, Michael began experimenting with drugs and soon became a heavy user of prescription painkillers. His life spun wildly out of control, and his family struggled to help him get back on track. They insisted that he go to drug rehab.

On the night of February 13, 1980, a month after Michael was released from drug rehab, he began behaving oddly. His mother, Barbara, found a bottle of painkillers in his bedroom, and she kicked him out. Michael left with his girlfriend, Lisa, in her car. According to Barbara Rosenblum:

“I said to Michael, ‘Don’t come back until you’re completely off drugs, until you want to live your life the way you should. And that’s the way it is.’  I have always faulted myself for that. And I probably will ‘til I die, that I didn’t say, ‘Okay, well, we’ll try again, maybe tomorrow will be different.’”

But the next day wasn’t different. After a night of partying, Michael became extremely agitated. He insisted on driving Lisa’s car. Then he left her stranded at a local gas station.  Michael’s last words were, “Go to my parents’ house.  I’ll see you there in two hours.”  Michael’s father, Maurice, said he thought his son would return:

“I figured, ‘Well, he took her car and he took off for a day or two.  He’ll be back or he’ll call.’  We waited that night. There were no calls. I became seriously worried. My wife felt immediately that it was a terminal situation and that he was dead. I didn’t.”

Michael was never seen again

Michael was never seen again

Michael’s mother said it was not characteristic of her son to disappear:

“He would never have just left. When he left, there was money in his bank account. His clothes were in his closet, and if he was going to go anywhere, he would’ve said to us, ‘I plan to do such-and-such and I’m going to take my money and go.’ But his money’s still in his bank account.” 

The following day, the Rosenblums filed a missing persons report with the Pittsburgh Police Department. Private Investigator Stephen Tercsak was a detective for the department at the time Michael vanished:

“You need a starting point. In any homicide case, your dead body is your starting point.  In this case, the car would’ve been your starting point. So it’s important that we find the car as quickly as possible and then take the steps to notify the media for their help, and ask the general public if anybody saw the boy who was in the car, or if they know what happened to him.”

But after two weeks, they had found nothing. So Michael’s father began his own search.  He offered a reward for information, posted flyers, and traveled as far as California to find friends Michael might have contacted. Maurice said that he hoped to find his son and “put him on the right track again.”

Three months later, on May 21, 1980, police in a Pittsburgh suburb notified Lisa that her car had been found. Official records show that the car had been impounded on the very day that Michael vanished. Maurice said he was shocked:

“We couldn’t believe they had that car for 91 days. Absolutely couldn’t believe it. The Pittsburgh police had contacted every police department in this area looking for that specific car. And here that car was discovered in the police-bonded tow yard, less than three miles from where we’re sitting right now.”

According to police reports, just two hours after Michael left Lisa, a Baldwin Police unit found the car on River Road. Two of the tires were flat, the keys were gone, and the engine was cool. The car had been towed to the Baldwin Borough car impound, where it remained, resting on its bent tire rims, for the next three months.  According to private investigator Tercsak:

The car was towed and left for 3 months

The car was towed and left for 3 months

“If we knew that car was on River Road, the whole picture would’ve changed drastically.  If we had known that car was found in Baldwin that morning, within hours, I strongly believe we would’ve known by now what had happened to Michael.”

When Maurice found out that the police had found the car, he said that he immediately thought his son was dead. He demanded an explanation. The Baldwin police claimed that they’d mailed Lisa a letter the day after the car was found, saying they had impounded it.  Lisa says she never received it. They eventually produced a copy of the letter dated the day after Michael disappeared. But Lisa still insisted she never received a letter from the Baldwin police. Maurice Rosenblum suspected a police cover-up:

“In my opinion, they deliberately misled the Pittsburgh police in the search, assuming that my son was never even involved. Why didn’t they search for the young lady that owned the car? Because all this was done to cover a more sinister fact, that’s why.

Around that same time, Maurice claims that he received two anonymous phone calls:

“The first, they said that Michael was arrested. And I wrote it off as a crackpot. After the car was found, I received a second telephone call, just simply said that, ‘Your son was arrested by the Baldwin Police.’ Click. They were gone.”

Maurice offered a reward for information about Michael. But after five months, the only concrete clues were the discovery of the car and the two anonymous phone calls. Then, on July 15, 1980, a shocking turn of events: the Baldwin Police issued a warrant for Michael’s arrest. They claimed he was wanted in connection with a robbery that had taken place two and a half months after he had vanished. According to private investigator Tercsak:

“Now the big twist in this whole thing was that everybody that has talked to the people who were the victims of the robbery, they both told everyone from day one that the person that came in there was a white man and he had aviator mirrored sunglasses on that covered right above his eyebrows and down almost to the bridge of his nose. So the only part they actually could see would be the forehead and the chin line. But yet the composite was made without sunglasses. There was no doubt in my mind that this composite was made from that first flyer put out on Michael Rosenblum back in February.  It’s just too perfect.”

One week after it was issued, the warrant was suddenly dismissed. Something very strange was going on in the borough of Baldwin.  Were the Baldwin police working to solve this missing person case, or were they trying to hide the truth?  A full inquiry into the case cleared the department of any wrongdoing. But years later, new evidence emerged.

Six-and-a-half years after his son disappeared, Maurice Rosenblum received an unsigned letter. It urged him to talk to a former Baldwin police dispatcher named Margaret Haslett.  The tip ultimately led to accusations that the department, headed by Police Chief Aldo Gaburri, had mishandled Michael’s case. According to Margaret:

“Mr. Rosenblum showed me an anonymous letter that he had received indicating that if he contacted me, I had information regarding the vehicle that the Baldwin police towed.  I then told him that approximately two or three months after the vehicle had been towed, the chief of police ordered his clerk, Fred Cappelli, to type a letter notifying the owner of the vehicle, that it had been towed. And the letter was backdated to February 15, the day after the vehicle was towed.”

The chief’s former clerk, Fred Cappelli, confirmed Margaret’s disturbing story:

“Approximately May 20, the chief told me to type a letter in reference to the car that was towed from River Road. I never thought anything about it. I did what I was told to do.  You know, he’s my boss. So I did what he told me to do. And I didn’t question it.”

Fred claims that after he typed the letter, the Chief ordered him to sign the name of Chester Lombardi, the senior officer at the River Road scene that day.  Lombardi is now deceased.  According to Fred Cappelli:

“He had asked if Chester Lombardi had signed the letter, and Chester refused to sign it because it was backdated. So the chief told me to go ahead and sign Chester Lombardi’s name to it, but don’t mail it. Put it in the file. And that’s what I did.”

Based on these new revelations, Maurice wrote an angry letter to the Baldwin Borough Council, demanding an investigation into what he thought was a cover-up.  The Council held a hearing on the matter and dismissed Chief Gaburri for interfering with the investigation into Michael’s disappearance. But the Civil Service Commission voted to reinstate Gaburri as police chief, finding there was no misconduct. They have never published a transcript of their hearings, but clearly they didn’t believe Fred Cappelli.  Fred thinks it’s because the chief had friends on the commission.  At the time, the secretary of the Civil Service Commission was Robert C. McFall:

“There’s been some innuendos made about the way it was handled, and all I can say is this commission rendered its decision strictly on the evidence and the testimony that was presented at the hearing.”

In April 1988, eight years after Michael disappeared, a bone fragment and some scraps of clothing were found near River Road. The bone couldn’t be identified, but the pieces of clothing matched those Michael had been wearing. Maurice Rosenblum:

“I’d contended all along that something had happened. The possibility that I might have proof in my pocket makes you kind of sick.”

The final proof was discovered four years later. A hiker in the River Road area found a piece of human skull and turned it in to authorities. Tests confirmed that it belonged to Michael Rosenblum. After 12 years of searching and wondering, Michael’s parents were finally able to bury their son. But for them, the agony isn’t over. They still want to know how and why Michael died.