(No Literary Monday this week, since I only had time to finish one book.)
Sometimes when a person goes missing, the police have a set of baffling clues. In other cases, law enforcement is faced with the frustration of having almost NO clues.
Danielle Imbo and Richard Petrone disappeared on February 19, 2005 from a Philadelphia street. They were last seen leaving Abilene’s Bar & Restaurant on South Street around 11:45 p.m. and have never been seen or heard from again.
South Street is where the young and hip go to party in Philadelphia. The area is lined with restaurants and bars, trendy shops, and tattoo parlors. Danielle and Richard met two of Richard’s friends that night, Anthony Valentino and Michelle McLaughlin. Earlier that evening, Danielle had met her mother, Richard’s mother Marge, and Richard’s sister Christine Lavita at a restaurant for dinner. The women were close friends and met monthly for dinner. Richard picked Danielle up at the restaurant after dinner. They had drinks with friends at the restaurant and then said they were leaving to go to Danielle's home. Their friends stated that both seemed in a happy mood.
No one saw them walk to their vehicle, no one saw anyone approach them, there was no sign of a struggle, nothing was found near where the truck had been parked, no one saw the truck drive away. Richard’s truck, a black and silver 2001 Dodge Dakota pick-up, has never been found. Video cameras at highway toll plazas and river crossings have not picked up any images of the truck. Neither of the couple’s ATM cards and cell phones has been used since they disappeared, and the EZPass in Richard's truck has not been used on the highway.
Danielle and Richard had known each other since high school, as Richard’s sister Christine is a close friend of Danielle’s. Although Danielle had a crush on Richard, they did not date at the time, since Richard was caught up in playing sports, especially hockey. They became reacquainted several years later.
At the time of their disappearance, they had been dating for about a year. According to her friends, Danielle was having second thoughts about the relationship and was feeling pressured by both Richard and her estranged husband Joe. She wanted to break off the relationship with Richard to give herself some space from both men. She had also come to realize that she and Richard wanted different things. Richard wanted to marry and live in the city; Danielle wanted to move to the suburbs to raise her son and didn’t feel ready to marry again. Shortly before she told Richard she wanted to break up, Danielle had settled custody arrangements with her estranged husband Joe. Despite their impending break-up, Danielle agreed to go out with Richard on February 19.
Danielle worked from home as a mortgage processor while caring for her son Joseph Imbo III. Danielle and her husband were separated; according to one of Danielle’s friends, her husband had abandoned her and their child when he started an affair. She and her son lived in a condo in Mount Laurel, NJ.
Richard worked at his family’s bakery, Viking Pastries, in Ardmore, PA. He was known for his cake decorating skills and created all of the wedding cakes for the bakery. For several years, he lived with his daughter Angela in an apartment over the bakery. In 2003, Angela decided she wanted to live with her mother in South Philadelphia. Richard relocated to stay close to Angela. He and Angela’s mother had never married. Both he and Danielle were close to their families.
Danielle had an appointment for a haircut at a salon in Cherry Hill, NJ on February 20. Her friend Christine (Richard’s sister) works at the salon, and when Danielle didn’t show up, she called Danielle’s cell phone. Danielle didn’t pick up and Christine became concerned because it wasn’t like Danielle to miss an appointment without calling to reschedule.
Richard’s Marge Petrone mother tried to reach him at home and on his cell phone on February 20 but her calls went to his voicemail mailbox. Richard had told friends that he was planning to be home on Sunday afternoon watching the Daytona 500 on television. Marge thought it was odd that Richard would have turned off his cell phone, since he always wanted to be available for his daughter. Richard’s family says he would never have abandoned Angela.
Later that day, both families realized that it had been 24 hours since anyone had heard from Danielle or Richard. They contacted police departments in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, then put together a missing persons flyer featuring photos of Danielle, Richard, Richard’s truck, and the license plate. They made hundreds of copies and distributed them all over the South Street area. Despite the flood of posters, there were no tips from the public and none of the couple’s possessions were found and turned over to police. Police searched for the truck, including the parking lots at Philadelphia International Airport and a swampy area in Tinicum Township, eventually focusing on the Delaware River.
The Delaware River was searched for the truck, and while many other vehicles were submerged in the river, the Dodge Dakota was not found. A psychic contacted the families and told them that the truck was submerged near the Walt Whitman Bridge that connects New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but nothing was found in that area.
Joseph Imbo, Danielle’s second husband, says she was a good mother and would have never have gone off without their son. He says little Joe meant everything to her. Joe Imbo spent the night of February 19 in Toms River, NJ with his son and his parents at the home of a family friend (a retired law enforcement officer). He planned to bring his son home to Danielle on the afternoon of February 20 around 3:30 p.m. Joe says he has cooperated with police and even taken a polygraph, although police say the results were inconclusive. He says that for the past four years, when he has contacted police to find out about his wife’s case, he is told there is nothing new. Both families have accused Joe Imbo of being involved but he denies it. He says that although he and Richard had some heated conversations and that he wanted his wife back, he says he never threatened either of them. Danielle’s friends and family agree that Joe is not the type to harm Danielle or Richard. Their marriage fell apart after the birth of their son, since Joe was not ready for the responsibilities of fatherhood. But since Danielle’s disappearance, he has stepped up to care for his son.
Initially the families hoped that the couple would show up and that there would be a logical explanation for their disappearance. But as time passes, their hopes have faded and foul play is suspected. A reward that has grown to $100,000 has been offered, and Danielle and Richard’s information and photos is on a billboard facing I-95 in Philadelphia. Neither the police nor their families believe their disappearance was the result of kidnapping or random violence, and that one of the victims was the target. This belief has caused the two families to turn against one another. The Petrone family believes that Danielle’s husband is involved and that her family is covering up for him because of their child. Danielle's family believes that Richard may be responsible for Danielle’s disappearance, that he became angry with her over the break-up and accidentally killed her, then panicked and fled. Richard's family insists the break-up was mutual. Danielle’s family, the Ottobres, believe that Richard put Danielle in jeopardy through some illegal activity. Both families have accused members of the other family of being responsible for the disappearance. There is no evidence to support any of these theories.
Danielle Imbo is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighes around 118 lbs.; she has dark hair and hazel eyes, and there is a small gap between her front teeth. She wears little make-up but always has a manicure and pedicure and prefers designer clothing. On the day she disappeared, Danielle was wearing blue jeans, an off-white sweater, a dark jacket, and three silver rings, and was carrying a black double-handled purse. She smokes about a pack of Marlboro Light cigarettes a day. She is described as smart with a great sense of humor. She has a tattoo on her lower back that is the astrological sign Leo inside a horseshoe of flowers. She was 34 years old at the time of the disappearance.
Richard Petrone is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs about 200 lbs. with a stocky build. He has brown hair and blue eyes and wears glasses. He wears a goatee, and has two tattoos: on his right arm there is an image of clowns; on the left arm is the name Angela (his daughter’s name). At the time of the disappearance, he was wearing jeans, a gray Polo hooded sweatshirt, and sneakers. He was 35 years old when he vanished.
If you have any information, contact the FBI in Philadelphia at 215/418-4000, the Philadelphia police at 215/686-3013, or the Mount Laurel, NJ police at 856/234-1414.