Escaped killer, now doo-wop singer? Authorities believe Danny C. Catalano, arrested in St. Petersburg, Fla., is Edward Elmer Solly, who escaped from a N.J. prison in 1974.

Posted: May 12, 2001

A man who authorities say escaped from a New Jersey prison in 1974 after serving four years for the beating death of a 2-year-old boy was in custody yesterday in Florida, where he made a living belting out doo-wop songs.

Danny C. Catalano, who claimed to be the former lead vocalist for Sha Na Na, was being held yesterday in Pinellas County Jail in St. Petersburg, Fla., after authorities revealed what they say is his true identity:

Edward Elmer Solly, wanted since his escape from Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, where he was serving a 20- to 25-year sentence for killing his girlfriend's 2-year-old son in Camden County.

Solly was convicted of murder in the July 1969 death of Christopher Welsh, whom police said Solly had beaten to death in a drunken rage.

The slaying occurred in the Runnemede apartment of Linda Welsh, the boy's mother and Solly's girlfriend.

The arrest of Solly, 55, on Thursday night while he was fishing off a pier near his St. Petersburg home may have ended one mystery.

But it opened a host of new questions about the bizarre life of a Florida entertainer who went by the stage name "Danny C." and said he was a Sha Na Na member who appeared to have died in 1974, but who, Catalano insists, faked his own death to "protect certain economic and personal relationships that were important to him."

Peter Erlendson, of Sha Na Na Productions in Encino, Calif., said yesterday that Catalano is a fraud who has never been a Sha Na Na member and whom he has considered suing.

Erlendson, who has been with the group for 20 years, said he first heard of Catalano several years ago when a club owner complained about booking him for an oldies act and then learning that he was never in Sha Na Na.

After viewing Catalano's Web site and learning that he also claimed to be Vinnie Taylor, the group's original lead guitarist, Erlendson said he e-mailed him and warned him to stop the imposture. He got back an e-mail from Catalano insisting that he was Taylor and that he had faked his death in 1974.

"I can promise you Vinnie is dead," Erlendson said. "He was a friend."

The arrest was announced yesterday by the U.S. Marshal's Office in Philadelphia and the New Jersey State Police.

State police spokesman John Hagerty said authorities would move to extradite him to New Jersey as soon as possible. How soon he returns depends on whether Catalano fights extradition, Hagerty said.

In July 1969, Linda Welsh had taken her son to the hospital and told doctors that he had lost consciousness while tumbling down the stairs. But later, hospital officials found numerous bruises on his body, and the medical examiner ruled that boy had died of internal injuries.

(It could not be determined yesterday if Welsh was still alive or living in the area.)

After holding Welsh as a material witness, police put out an arrest warrant for Solly. He turned himself into police the following day.

James N. Hogan, the Gloucester County clerk, was a Runnemede canine officer in 1969 and lived across the street from the small garden apartment complex where the murder occurred.

Hogan said he remembered that Solly was a large man whose double-breasted Edwardian-style suit made him look even bigger.

Officials said that after his conviction in 1970, Solly was sent to the maximum-security Trenton State Prison. He then began a lobbying campaign to be moved to a less-restrictive prison that would be closer to his ailing mother, who lived in South Jersey.

His efforts succeeded in getting him transferred to increasingly less secure prisons, officials said, until ultimately he ended up at Bayside State Prison in Cumberland County. There, he obtained a supervised visit to see his mother. During that visit in June 1974, he escaped from custody, officials said.

Although a fingerprint check showed that Solly, using the name Christopher McManus, was arrested in Philadelphia in 1975 and in Langhorne, Bucks County, in 1979, he eluded capture and then disappeared.

Hagerty said police believe that Solly kept in touch with his mother, Edna Bolt of Lower Township, Cape May County, but that she always refused to talk to authorities.

After Bolt died in March 2000, Hagerty said, state police approached other relatives and some said they believed Solly was in Florida and using the name Daniel Catalano.

Hagerty said authorities used Philadelphia forensic artist Frank Bender and a computer to enhance and "age" Solly's prison photograph to make him appear to be in his 50s and distributed it among law-enforcement agencies in Florida.

With that photo and the name given by relatives, authorities connected the two. Eventually, they spotted his Web site.

About 10 p.m. Thursday, as deputy U.S. marshals had Catalano under surveillance, they saw him walk from the pier to a minivan that bore the advertisement "www.shananadannyc.com" and moved in for the arrest.

Joseph A. Slobodzian's e-mail address is jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

Inquirer suburban staff writer Marc Levy contributed to this article.

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