Who was There at the Time

 It was 31 year ago that my friend, Tommy Genova, was shot down in theTOMMY GENOVA in his school director days street like a dog. He was late getting to a Scranton School Board meeting so the meeting started without him. Things happen, I thought, as I covered the School Board meeting for the old Tribune. Just on the other side of the building and three stories down lie Tommy Genova, shot and fighting for his life in the parking lot.

   For three decades, his family has lived inside a book with the final chapter unwritten. At this point, it is not even a question of retribution. It is just a question of what happened. Since then, Tommy's wife, Pudgy, has died, as has his son, Tommy Jr. The cops who worked that case are long off the force. The district attorney, Ernie Preate, who actually put someone on trial for the murder and then changed his mind, is still around but his prosecutorial days are behind him. The only thing that happens is that on a significant anniversary, like last year's 30th, a television reporter finds a few clippings in the file and puts together a "cold case" story to fill the airways on a slow news night.

SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION BUILDING: scene of the crime   When Tommy was gunned down, I was in the middle of my career at The Tribune. This was before I inherited the City Hall beat, so the murder was investigated by City Hall reporter Bob Reese and police reporter Bob McCarthy. I was on general assignment in those days, so anything fell my way. That night, in the middle of winter, it was my assignment to walk the block up to the School Administration Building to cover the School Board.

   This was a time long before cell phones had become the ubiquitous devices they have become. The only cell phones were huge devices bolted into your car with a whip antenna coming out of your trunk. So, in these primitive times, I was informed of the shooting by a copy boy that the newspaper had run up to the School Board meeting with the message that Tommy had been murdered just outside the building and to get reaction from the board. What reaction would that be, Mr. Editor? Would that reaction be the look of horror and disbelief on the faces of the men and women he worked with on the school board? News raced around that room as people hurried to telephones that were hardwired into the wall.

   By the time I left the building that night, the crime scene had been worked. It was still cordoned off and a few uniformed officers made sure the scene wasn't disturbed overnight. The ambulance had already taken Tommy to the hospital, and The Tribune's City Hall team had already been in and out of the Detective Bureau picking up those little tidbits that make for a great news article. We were good at that. Our stories were always jammed with details no one else seemed to get.

   We all wrote our stories and repaired to Andy Gavin's, that pub across from the county jail where Reese held court every night, attracting a who's who in valley politics. That night was no different. But the one question on everybody's mind was, "Who killed Tommy Genova?"

   Tommy and I were connected to another time and another world in Scranton. We wereGENOVA when he was lover not a fighter brothers of rock 'n' roll. Tommy was one generation older than me. While I was a pre-teenager listening to the Battle of the Bands at Rocky Glen Park, Tommy was one of those "stars" on the stage singing about love and love lost. His hair was combed in that Rebel Without a Cause style of the late 50s, with those pegged black pants you bought at those haberdashers on Linden Street. The ladies loved him. I wanted to be just like him but I knew it would never happen. Tommy was a teen heart throb. I was this nerdy frosh at Central High who couldn't sing and couldn't dance. Tommy had the wind in his soul. I was lucky to have the wind in my hair.

   Somewhere during my high school years, Tommy cut a record, The Lover. It was backed up by a doo wop group that I liked, The Precisions, which, at the time, may or may not have included Richard "Wattu" Plotkin. He was in and out of a bunch of bands, including The Precisions, the Magics and Dick & The Halos. For his record, Tommy was backed by Scranton's premier five-part harmony ensemble. The record was on the Bella label, which listed an address of 1515 Washburn Street in West Scranton. I don't know if that address was real, because today 1515 Washburn Street is the Washburn Street Cemetery. Tommy's record hit Number Two on the WARMland Charts but was buried in Scranton rock 'n' roll history along with his first record, Farmer John.

   All we know for sure is that rock 'n' roll didn't kill Tommy. But, then, again, who is sure of anything in this world.

   Tommy was shot in the back of the head with a special type of bullet that immediately suggested a gangland slaying. The fact that he was reaching for his briefcase while getting out of the car to race to the School Board meeting gave rise to the theory someone was lying in wait for him, somewhere.

   That somewhere could very well have been the roof of the Ukrainian Center around the corner. A lone gunman up on the roof would have a clear shot into the Administration Building parking lot. The shooter used a special accelerator bullet. He would have slipped a 22-caliber bullet inside a plastic jacket and then slid that into a 30-06, equipped with a scope.  That jacket allowed the shooter to increase the velocity of that .22 bullet, giving it the speed and accuracy of the 30-06. But that's not why the shooter picked that round. Hell, just use the 30-06 round in the rifle. Why go to the trouble. Using the accelerator round had one very important side effect. It eliminated markings on the bullet that could be used to match the bullet to the rifle, if that weapon could be found. It never was.

   Tommy was in the garbage business. He had a small waste hauling company and that was a world froth with danger. Law enforcement agencies were always hinting that a good deal of the waste hauling business then was controlled by organized crime. That, of course, was a euphemism for the Mafia. This wouldn't have been the first hit on a business rival who just wouldn't get out of the way.

   The second possible motive involved a lovers' triangle, or should I say two lovers' triangles. This theory jumped to Number One when Terry Moran was arrested for the murder and actually stood trial. The tongues in town wagged that after his big hit record, everybody called Tommy "The Lover," but not just because of his recording. Tommy may have been popular with the ladies, but I didn't know any of that. Moran had motive if it was true his wife was fooling around with Tommy.

   However, we never got the Terry Moran Story. Ernie Preate, in the middle of thisDA ERNIE PREATE sensational trial, abruptly dropped the charges when he discovered, at the last minute, that two of his central witnesses had changed their story. He knew he would never get a conviction. And he hinted he had a theory of who was, indeed, the real killer, but he didn't have the evidence.

   A second lovers' triangle surfaced when it was noted that Tommy's wife may have been having an affair with one of Tommy's employees, Joseph Cavezza. Cavezza was one of Ernie's key witnesses. But Cavezza wound up in prison on rape charges and decided to plead the Fifth Amendment instead of testifying. There went another angle in the case.

   The third theory was it was a political hit; someone or some people jealous of Tommy's rising popularity and his supposed fast track to the mayor's office. Tommy was the kind of a guy that did the job and that shook people up in this town. But there are so many cleaner ways of ruining someone's political career than by blowing off the back of his head.

   Everything about the case was tinged with something "wrong." I don't know any other word for it. Ernie calls off the trial in the middle. No one else is charged. Tommy's brother, Nicky Genova, who was a state trooper, was in the middle of the investigation despite the fact this was totally out-of-bounds for him. The state police and the FBI were called into the case but, still, nothing happened. Attempts over the years to return to the case stalled out each time. What was interesting was that each time the case was looked at, someone would say there were so many unusual twists and turns, some of which have still to be revealed publically. Yet it never moved a step closer than where it rested that cold night of January 26 in the School District parking lot.