Bernard Thomas Jr. was indicted in June for the 1975 murder of Michelle Dixon.
Derek Gee / Buffalo News

Thomas found guilty in Cold Case murder trial

Bernard Thomas Jr. was found guilty late Thursday of intentional second-degree murder for the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old Carl Street woman who also was sexually assaulted almost 35 years ago.


The jury verdict followed a two-week trial before State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Troutman. Thomas, 56, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison, will be sentenced on May 21.


The jury began deliberations about 1:40 p.m. Thursday. Thomas, of South Division Street, who was 21 when the crime was committed, has been jailed since he was arrested by Buffalo Cold Case detectives last May.


During the trial, Thomas insisted a now-dead friend, James Moran, shot Michelle Dixon after she and Thomas had sex in her bedroom on May 20, 1975.


Thomas, who has a record of 56 arrests, was linked to the crime through DNA evidence.


Prosecutors Gary W. Hackbush and Paul E. Bonanno presented evidence that the victim was shot nine times in the head and back and left in her bed face-down and covered by a blanket and a pillow.


The jury heard the anonymous 911 call that prosecutors proved was made by Thomas after he left the murder scene, reporting that he had just heard shots fired at the Dixon house at 52 Carl St.


In closing arguments, defense attorney Joseph A. Agro repeated Thomas' testimony, that he and a friend had been "partying" with drugs all night and had been having frequent sex with the victim, who, he said, also was addicted to drugs.


Prosecutors pointed out that Thomas gave police five different versions of the woman's death, and told Cold Case detectives last May that he accidentally shot her after sex.


Prosecutors also said an autopsy proved the murder victim was not a drug addict.

They also noted that Thomas told police at various times over the years that at least three other men could have killed Dixon.


On April 1, the former Rhonda Clark, now married and living out-of-state, testified she was Dixon's best friend and knew she had no romantic interest in Thomas, although Thomas was interested in her.


Clark testified that on the morning of the murder, she saw Thomas walking down Carl, looking "kind of scared or nervous."

Cold-case probe nets pastor in '98 slaying


Police say he admits shooting 17-year-old


By Lou Michel BUFFALO News Staff Reporter November 09, 2009, 11:27 PM /


Cold Case Squad detectives Monday arrested a West Side pastor in the fatal shooting of a young father in front of the victim's girlfriend and their infant son more than a decade ago.


Jose G. Figueroa, 31, of Carolina Street, was charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Alex Martinez, 17.


Several individuals broke down a rear door at 392 Grant St. at 12:30 a.m. Jan. 29, 1998, and entered the Martinez residence. Then, without saying a word, Figueroa allegedly fired a bullet into the victim's head.


At the time of the killing, then-Buffalo Homicide Bureau Chief Joseph Riga said it appeared that Martinez had been targeted.


"They didn't say anything. They just shot him in the head and left through the same door," Riga said then.


Figueroa, who described himself to police as a pastor and a full-time cleaner, was located after homicide detectives received his name from a tipster a few weeks ago.


When cold-case detectives went to Figueroa's home Friday, he was out but later contacted them and agreed to go to Police Headquarters on Monday for an interview.


"Within minutes after his arrival, he confessed to the murder of Alex Martinez," said Cold Case Detective Brian G. Ross. "I believe his strong faith and conscience led to his willingness to confess."


Figueroa explained to police that he had become a pastor since the shooting, though he did not identify the church.


"He was clearly a different person than at the time of the homicide and has taken steps to carve out a better lifestyle for himself and his family in the years since the homicide," Ross said.


As for Martinez's family members, they were notified Monday afternoon that the case has been solved.


"They are extremely grateful. They told me, "Now we can rest," Ross said.


As for a motive for the deadly shooting, the detective said that remains under investigation. The shooting originally was thought to be drug-related, but Ross declined to comment on that.


Assisting in solving the case were other Cold Case Detectives Charles Aronica and Lissacq M. Redmond along with State Police Investigator Geraldo Rondon.


"This is just an example of the outstanding police work done by our Cold Case Squad, which I believe is one of the best in the nation," said Deputy Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, who also credited homicide detectives for their help.


To back up his praise of the Cold Case Squad, Derenda noted that this is the eighth long- term unsolved homicide that has ended in an arrest this year. Last year, 18 cold cases were solved, and in 2007, 14 cases.

Cold Case team arrests suspect in ’93 slaying



Buffalo Cold Case detectives have made an arrest in the beating death of a 91-year-old woman in late 1993— a case that wasn’t ruled a homicide until two years ago.


Mabel I. Neuner, who had refused to move out of the Lang Avenue home where she grew up, was beaten to death inside her home with a blunt instrument during a burglary some time between Dec. 21 and 23, 1993, Buffalo police say.


On Friday, John Butler, 32, of Dartmouth Avenue, was arraigned on two second-degree murder charges before Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio. Butler has been in Marcy Correctional Facility on a parole violation, police said.


While police initially reported Neuner’s death as a homicide, the Erie County medical examiner’s office officially labeled the case as an “investigation pending” 15 years ago.

But a review of the case two years ago by Cold Case detectives led to the death being labeled a homicide.


“It was changed to a homicide based on the scene photos and the statements taken by police back in the 1990s,” Cold Case Detective Brian Ross said Friday.


Butler, who was 16 at the time, was known to homicide detectives investigating the incident 15 years ago, but detectives didn’t have enough evidence to build a case against him that could be prosecuted, especially because the death hadn’t been ruled a homicide.


Investigators were somewhat tight-lipped Friday about what broke open the case.

“It’s based on statements obtained from witnesses and other people that had been interviewed before,” Ross said. “Time allowed them to be more forthcoming, apparently.”


Law-enforcement sources said that a group of teens was burglarizing houses in the area at the time.


“This individual attacked her with a blunt instrument during the course of the burglary,” one investigator said, citing the evidence in the case.


Detectives would not comment on whether any other people could be arrested in this case.

Computer records accessed by The Buffalo News show that a John Butler with the same 1977 birth date has multiple local court convictions for crimes that include assault, weapons possession and reckless endangerment, among other charges.


Deputy Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda credited the Cold Case detectives who cracked the case: Detectives Ross, Lissa M. Redmond, Charles Aronica and Mary E. Gugliuzza.


“It’s another fine job by the Buffalo Homicide Squad and Cold Case detectives,” Derenda said.

Cold Case detectives last year solved 14 cases from previous years, including nine or 10 from 2007 and the others from previous years, Derenda said. So far this year, with Butler’s arrest, homicide detectives have solved three cases from previous years.


Neuner was killed at the end of a very violent year in Buffalo. At the time of her death, she appeared to be the 78th homicide victim of the year, police said.


A retired operating-room technician at the former Deaconess Hospital, Neuner, who lived alone, resisted the pleas of family members who urged her to move because the neighborhood was too dangerous.


Police said at the time that they believed Neuner opened her door to her killer or killers. She most likely was forced into the basement, before being bludgeoned with a blunt instrument and left lying there.


Neuner apparently wasn’t found until a day or two after her killing.

Ex-Buffalo man charged in 1984 cold case murder

Updated: BUFFALO NEWS 05/19/08 1:24 PM  

Cold case detectives from the Buffalo Police Department have arrested a former Buffalo man in connection with the rape and murder of a Willowlawn Avenue woman more than 24 years ago.

Edward Richardson, 55, a former handyman who lived on Crescent Avenue, appeared today before Senior Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico.  
An analysis of blood evidence from a nationwide DNA databank led to the arrest of Richardson, who was being held in a jail in the state of Washington on misdemeanor charges.  
He is accused of murdering Alma Strasner during a home invasion at her residence on Willowlawn on April 7, 1984, Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark said.  
Clark credited Detectives Charles Aronica and Mary Gugliazza of the Buffalo Police Cold Case squad with recently reopening the investigation and submitting blood evidence for a DNA analysis.  

At the time of Strasner's death, police said she was viciously raped and beaten in her home.

Assistant District Attorney Thomas M. Finnerty is prosecuting the case.  

He pleaded not guilty to murder charges before D'Amico today.

Col d Case Squad clears a dozen old murder cases in just two years DNA helps, but so do old-fashioned investigative techniques  


By Gene Warner NEWS STAFF REPORTER 01/21/08


Detectives solved one 33-year-old murder when the key suspect spit into a snowbank, and the detective scooped up the spittle, then compared it with the DNA on fingernail clippings taken from the homicide scene. It was a match.  


Another homicide, from 1994, was cleared when a reluctant witness agreed to talk about the shooting death years later — but only after the key suspect had been shot to death in a barroom brawl.

And Cold Case Squad detectives cracked one of their first cases two years ago, helped by lab tests on DNA taken from the stockings used to tie a 68-year-old woman’s wrists to a bedpost.


The Buffalo police Cold Case Squad is thriving.  

By definition, these detectives tackle the hardest cases, homicides lacking a smoking gun or a quick confession.  
Th e squad, with only three detectives, has cleared about a dozen old homicides since it was formed in March 2006. 
Advances in DNA technology, of course, have been the key.  
But detectives also rely on the more traditional gumshoe techniques — scanning databases of old homicides, rereading old case files, looking for new witnesses, re-interviewing old witnesses and resubmitting physical evidence to the Erie County Central Police Services labs.  
And, oddly enough, they rely on strong detective work and exhaustive police reports from their predecessors to provide them the leads they’re chasing years later.  
Detectives Lissa M. Redmond, Charles Aronica and Dennis A. Delano — and a former squad member, Detective Mary E. Gugliuzza — have shed new light on old cases. They’ve brought some comfort or closure to the families of Barbara Lloyd, Alvin Cosby and Sandra Hainesworth, among others.  
Now the families of Timothy Dzialak, Edward Myers Jr., Jermaine H. Lloyd and Journey W. Cooper III hope the cold-case detectives can help those four victims rest in peace also.  
“This is the last thing in the world I can do for my only son,” said Dzialak’s mother, Louella. “I want to go to Timmy’s grave and say they’ve been put away for what they did.”  
In all three of these cases, surviving family members have pushed hard for detectives to reopen their cases.  
“I call them every week,” Louella Dzialak said. “I’m like a thorn in their side. I don’t care. That’s my son.”  

Even armed with the new DNA technology, cold-case detectives still are stymied by the same problems that prevented homicide detectives from making an arrest immediately after any killing.

That’s the case with Timothy Dzialak, the victim of a particularly gruesome killing.  

‘It’s going on 10 years’  
On Nov. 8, 1998 , Dzialak’s body was found near railroad tracks in the city’s Black Rock section. He had been shot in the chest and his body set on fire.  
No physical evidence has been linked to a possible killer. No one has come forward to tell police exactly what happened. And at least one of the people last seen with Dzialak has refused to talk with detectives, on the advice of his attorney.  
Louella Dzialak is convinced that revenge was the motive. The father of two of his friends had stabbed Timothy Dzialak in the knee a few weeks earlier, police had charged.  
She believes that four or five young people her son was with the night before he was killed, including the two brothers, were “in the thick” of the events surrounding his killing.  
Cold Case Squad detectives aren’t so sure that there was any motive like that. They say Dzialak, 25, was involved in a couple of shoving matches that night while drinking with friends.  
“This group of people, on weekends, they would drink heavily, and it wasn’t out of the ordinary for them to get into confrontations with each other,” Aronica said. “The alcohol could have triggered the murder.”  
Louella Dzialak and the cold-case detectives agree that a larger group of people — including the killers’ friends and relatives — could help them solve the case.  
“Nobody wants to say anything,” Redmond said. “People definitely know who did what, but no one’s willing to take that leap and come forward and give us names.”  
In Louella Dzialak’s mind, that’s another crime that has occurred in this case.  
“In my heart, the people who know about it and haven’t come forward are just as guilty,” she said.  
To stir up new interest in the case, Buffalo police last week posted an item on their Web site, announcing an old $10,000 reward still in effect in the case. That came after some prodding from Louella Dzialak. Anyone with any information on this or any other case can call the department’s confidential tip line at 847-2255.  
In her many phone calls and meetings, Dzialak has gotten to know the Cold Case Squad detectives. She says she likes both Aronica and Redmond. But there remain tensions between a still-grieving mother and the detectives hoping to crack the case.  
“They say they’re working on it, but you wonder if they really are working as hard as they say they are,” she said. “It’s going on 10 years.”  
The Dzialak case shows one key principle guiding the Cold Case Squad — not getting blinded by focusing on one or two possible suspects.  
What about the possible involvement of the two brothers whose father was accused of stabbing Dzialak?  
“It’s a possibility,” Aronica said. “I’m not eliminating anyone [Dzialak] was with that night.”  
Advances in technology  
Focusing on one suspect is a cardinal sin in homicide investigations. That’s why family members sometimes are convinced they know who killed their relative, while police try to keep a more open mind.  
“The worst mistake you can make is to focus on one person, because then you rule out everybody else,” Redmond said. “You have to keep your options open, or you eliminate your investigative avenues.”  
Cold Case Squad detectives insist that no case has higher priority than any other one. They scan computer lists of homicides and reread old files, looking for cases that are solvable even after several years. Often they send old physical evidence back to the police lab, looking for DNA results that weren’t obtainable years ago.  
“They had no concept of DNA in the 1970s and ’80s,” Redmond said. “That was like ‘Star Trek.’ They didn’t save items we could get DNA off now, like a set of car keys found at the scene. Where they dusted for fingerprints, now we swab for DNA.”  
Redmond cited a key piece of evidence in the recent Bike Path Killer case to make a point about the new methods now available.  
“If we had told a cop in 1977 that in 2007 we could tell who committed a crime by a microscopic drop of sweat on a steering column, they would laugh at us,” she said.  
Similarly, Redmond pointed out that a dead end in a case today might not be a dead end two years from now, the way technology is developing so quickly.  
3 victims, 3 families  
Cold Case Squad detectives get to know many grieving families from old cases, like Dzialak’s — mothers and brothers and children of homicide victims who still are consumed by their loved one’s unsolved killing.  
The detectives mentioned their continuing investigations into the slayings of three other victims whose relatives have been pushing hard for the crimes to be solved:  
Edward Myers Jr., 29, whose body was found at Guernsey and Farmer streets Oct. 18, 1992 , with several stab wounds. Detectives believe he might have been involved in a fight at a bar on Hertel Avenue .  
“Once again, we have people of interest,” Redmond said. “We think there is more than one person involved.”  
Jermaine H. Lloyd, 29, whose body was found Nov. 4, 2001 . He was kidnapped, held for ransom and then found shot to death in a vehicle on Humber Avenue , police said.  
Detectives believe he might have been set up to be robbed in a drug-related crime. They also know that more than one person had to be involved in the plot.  
“We know there are people out there who know what happened, and we want to talk to them,” Aronica said.  
Journey W. Cooper III, 17, whose body was found in a Grant Street stairwell June 2, 2005 , after he had been tortured and shot.  
“We believe it’s gang-related,” Redmond said. “We have a number of people of interest. We just need a witness to come forward to tighten up the case.”  
Detectives would love nothing more than cracking these cases.  
“It’s very satisfying to solve it and call the family,” Aronica said. “The family never forgets.”  
Dzialak has another reason for wanting her son’s case closed. Not only does she want to go to her son’s grave and tell him his killers have been caught, she also wants to be able to answer the questions and concerns of Timothy’s son, William, 10.  
She said, “He tells me all the time, ‘The bad people should be put away for what they did, Grandma. The police should be able to get them.’ ”

Dedicated Cop Determined To Solve Bizarre Case


Dennis Delano is the Buffalo , N.Y. detective who recently helped solve a serial murder case that had been plaguing his community for years. 


Now, he and the cold case squad of the Buffalo Police Department are trying to unravel the case of Joan Giambra, a Buffalo area woman who was brutally killed 13 years ago. What's more: the killer left Joan's young daughter posed on top of her and left for dead. But she survived, and could now help Dennis and his team solve her mother's murder.


Dennis Delano is a local hero in Buffalo .  The 28-year veteran of law enforcement helped to solve the Buffalo bike path rapist and serial killer case and, in the process, set an innocent man free.

Detective Dennis Delano Homicide Cold Case Squad

Now he's on another mission. Every Sunday in church for the past year a woman named Trisha has asked him to look into her sister's murder from 1993.  He's been so busy with his serial killer case he hadn't had time.  Until now.  Now, he has grabbed ahold of a bizarre 13-year-old crime that he says, "I will solve."


He wants AMW viewers to help.

Joan Giambra was found murdered with her young daughter posed on top of her.


Thirteen years ago, A South Buffalo woman was found strangled in her apartment with her daughter lying on top of her,  mumbling incoherently.   The victim was quickly identified as Joan Giambra.   She was found dead on the morning of Sept. 9 1993 ,  inside of her Hillside Avenue home.   Two of her co-workers at the St. Simon's Episcopal Church food pantry went to check on her after Joan had failed to arrive for her 8:30 a.m. shift. The two workers found Joan's daughter Kathleen,  then 11 years old, lying on top of her.  Police say both mother and daughter were naked and the co-workers assumed they were both dead.   But when a firefighter climbed in through the window and touched the sixth grader, she opened her eyes.


Cops believe she had been strangled too, and left unconscious, but didnt die.  The nightgowns of both women were never found, but Joan's underwear was found near the back door.  The strange thing was, neither woman had been raped.

Homicide detectives determined that Joan Giambra had been bound and strangled and then untied.  Her daughter was taken to the hospital and stayed there for a couple of weeks of psychiatric treatment.  No suspects were developed at that time even though they did question Giambra's estranged husband, Samuel.


When Dennis reopened the case late last year,  he thought the divorced husband and father was a prime suspect.   When Dennis went looking for him,  he discovered that Samuel had remarried shortly after the murder, but had committed suicide after undergoing back surgery for pain.  Dennis obtained tissue samples from his autopsy and found out that his Dna did not match the Dna located at the crime scene so they eliminated him as a suspect. In fact, cops say they found DNA from three unknown males at the crime scene: one from the victim's fingernails, and two from cigarette butts found near the bodies


Donohue convicted of 1993 murder of South Buffalo woman


Could face 25-years-to-life in prison

By Matt Gryta NEWS STAFF REPORTER Updated: BUFFALO NEWS 05/1 3/08 7:43 AM

Dennis P. Donohue, a former Buffalo bartender linked to the deaths of three women since the mid-1970s, was convicted late Monday evening of strangling Joan Giambra in the South Buffalo housewife’s own home 15 years ago.


After about six hours of deliberations following a two-week trial before Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio, a jury of nine men and three women found Donohue, 55, guilty of one count of second-degree murder for the intentional killing of his paramour Sept. 9, 1993.


Jailed since his belated arrested last Sept. 17, Donohue, who did not testify or present any alibi witnesses, did not display any emotion as the verdict was announced at about 11:20 p. m.


Assistant District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III and prosecutor Kristen A. St. Mary said they will urge District Attorney Frank J. Clark to recommend the judge impose the maximum term of 25 years-to-life when Donohue is sentenced June 30.


As the verdict was announced, the victim’s three children hugged each other and about a dozen of their relatives and supporters who remained in the courtroom all day.


Joseph A. Agro, Donohue’s attorney, said the quickness of the verdict convinced him he was correct in seeking to have the trial moved out of Erie County to guaranteed Donohue a fair trial. Agro said there are “a lot of significant issues” upon which to appeal the verdict, including alleged news media coverage calling for Donohue’s conviction.


Moments after the verdict, Don Cormier, Giambra’s only son, and her two daughters, Jackie and Kathleen Giambra, called the guilty verdict the best Mother’s Day gift they and their mother could have hoped for.


Kathleen Giambra, who as an 11-year-old was found incoherent atop her mother’s naked corpse and who believes Donohue tried to strangle her as well, said she was glad “the man that did this is behind bars and he can’t hurt anyone else.”


The late-night verdict came after the jury had a readback of testimony about the DNA evidence linked to what forensic scientists determined was Donohue’s DNA under the fingernails of the 42-year-old victim.


Before Agro left the courtroom he said he is convinced that the jury “had its mind made up” before it heard any evidence at the trial based on all the negative publicity Donohue has been receiving over the past year.


Arrested and belatedly charged last September, Donohue was convicted of manually strangling the Hillside Avenue housewife early on Sept. 9, 1993 — his 41st birthday.


Donohue was living with relatives in Kenmore last September when members of the Giambra family urged the Buffalo Cold Case Squad to check into the possibility he was the killer.

BPD Homicide Cold Case Squad Solved 2005 Crime


Cold Case Squad convict gets life




John Henry Monk, the first criminal convicted through the work of the Buffalo Police Department’s Cold Case Squad, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for the brutal murder of a Goodyear Avenue woman.


Monk, 58, still maintains his innocence in the June 2005 throat-slashing of 68-year-old Sandra Hainesworth. He did not speak during Thursday’s sentencing, but he filed a motion demanding a new trial and complaining about the work of his attorney.

State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns rejected his complaints and called the evidence of Monk’s guilt “overwhelming.” 

Detectives Mary E. Gugliuzza

Monk, who has spent most of the past three decades behind bars for five earlier Buffalo felony convictions, scowled as he was led from the courtroom filled with friends and relatives of his victim.

A jury on June 14 found him guilty as charged on first-degree murder, burglary and weapons counts. Burns ordered him to serve a life sentence without the chance of parole.

After the court proceeding, Rudolph Lewis, the murder victim’s brother-in-law, spoke for the family and praised the work of prosecutor Thomas M. Finnerty and Cold Case Detectives Mary E. Gugliuzza and Charles J. Aronica.

Lewis joined Finnerty in scoffing at Monk’s trial testimony that his DNA was linked to the killing only because he had been sexually intimate with Hainesworth three days before her corpse was found bound to her bed late on June 24, 2005 .

Finnerty said that while the exact time of the killing was never determined, Monk stabbed Hainesworth nine times in the throat after binding her to her bed when she confronted him after he broke into her house. She knew him from the neighborhood, the prosecutor said.

“I hope he suffers every day” in prison, Lewis said. “She didn’t deserve to die that way for the money he never got.”

Monk wasn’t charged with the killing until after the Cold Case Squad was formed in 2006. Gugliuzza and Aronica traced him to the crime after he was arrested for threatening a girlfriend.

Defense attorney Paul Gordon Dell said he will appeal the conviction despite the written complaint Monk made to the judge about his handling of the case.









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