Debella's Estranged Wife Dead In Garage Annette Debella May Have Fallen Asleep With Her Car Running. Police Suspect That The Death Was Accidental.

Posted: October 18, 1992

Annette DeBella, 34, the estranged wife of popular WMMR-FM radio personality John DeBella, was found dead early yesterday in her car inside the garage of her Main Line home.

Details about the death were sketchy. Information pieced together from Lower Merion Township police and from a WMMR spokeswoman indicated that DeBella's body was discovered between 3:30 and 4 a.m. by a man who had moved into her house in recent weeks. The engine of DeBella's car apparently was still running.

Although police did not confirm it, the WMMR spokeswoman, Joanne Calabria, said police told John DeBella that they suspected the death was accidental, that she had fallen asleep in her car.

DeBella's body was taken to Bryn Mawr Hospital, where an autopsy was performed. Late yesterday afternoon, Montgomery County Medical Examiner Halbert Fillinger said the autopsy had failed to determine the cause of death. He said a ruling would be made after toxicology tests were completed, which could take two weeks.

John DeBella has not lived at the sprawling colonial mansion on Woodleave Road in Bryn Mawr since late February, when the couple separated. Both had said recently that they intended to divorce.

According to police, DeBella's body was discovered by a friend. Sources identified the friend as Jack Godwin, a landscaper and tree surgeon whom she had been dating in recent weeks. He is the brother of Pat Godwin, a sidekick of DeBella's on the WMMR morning show.

WMMR spokeswoman Calabria said yesterday that Annette DeBella had apparently gone out alone Friday night. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, she said, Godwin awoke and smelled gasoline fumes and went downstairs to investigate.

Neighbors, who asked not to be identified, said they were awakened about 5 a.m. by sirens. They saw an ambulance and four police officers outside the garage and, minutes later, a body bag being carried out.

"She was a reclusive person," said the neighbor. "We saw her twice in two years - rarely, rarely would you see her leave the house."

DeBella, whose former name was Alice Annette Gammon, was born in North Carolina. When she was 10, her mother remarried and the family moved to New Jersey.

She was an office worker when she met John DeBella shortly after he moved

from Long Island to take the WMMR morning job in 1982. They hit it off immediately, moved in together and were married four years later.

Two years ago, in better times, the two of them sat near the swimming pool in their back yard. "I live for this," said John DeBella, motioning toward their pricey home, "and for my wife's happiness."

But two years later, after six years of marriage, their relationship had come undone. John DeBella moved out. Both began dating.

Recently, upset by what she felt was financial pressure from her husband, Annette DeBella accepted $5,000 to appear on the morning show of arch-rival Howard Stern. She called it "cathartic" and angrily said that her husband had pushed her too far. Both on the air and in private, she talked about the tough times they'd had. But she also recalled the good times in the early days.

Through it all, John DeBella never fought back publicly. Yesterday, after spending the day with his wife's family in Turnersville, N.J., he issued a statement through WMMR.

"I was devastated to learn of my wife's death," he said. "Despite our recent differences, we shared many happy and loving times together. It is a terrible loss, and her family and I share it with the many people who knew her and loved her."

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