Three years after slaying with Dove link, family waits for answers

Eileen DiFrancesco, mother of Leslie Delzingaro, holds a portrait of her with Delzingaro's sistsers Laura Davis (left) and Lisa Naughton.
Eileen DiFrancesco, mother of Leslie Delzingaro, holds a portrait of her with Delzingaro's sistsers Laura Davis (left) and Lisa Naughton. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 02, 2013

PHILADELPHIA The voice on the other end of the call that startled Eileen DiFrancesco awake that awful night three years ago belonged to a stranger.

The woman with the Spanish accent didn't offer her name, only life-shattering news.

"Your daughter's been shot," the stranger said. "They took her to Einstein."

Click.

Lost in shock, DiFrancesco, then 75, woke her husband, Angelo, 80.

It was July 1, 2010.

The Upper Dublin couple only knew that their daughter, Leslie Delzingaro, had an appointment for her decorative lighting business that night with an Olney bar owner.

They did not know that while she sat waiting inside J.J.'s Lounge at Second and Duncannon Streets, a masked gunman had burst in and opened fire at two men at a table by the door.

Delzingaro, 45, a mother of two teenage sons, died when a stray bullet pierced her heart.

At Einstein Medical Center, the panic-filled parents fought through the July Fourth weekend chaos. There were no police officers to meet them - something that struck them as wrong. All a nurse could tell them was that their daughter was dead, and then asked if they would like to view the body.

The DiFrancescos drove back home that night with no more understanding of their daughter's fate than the nameless caller - perhaps a bar worker who dialed their daughter's cellphone - had provided.

Three years later, the DiFrancesco family says it is still waiting for so many answers in Leslie's death - a nightmare, they say, compounded by the involvement of Homicide Detective Ron Dove, who was the lead investigator until October. That's when the Police Department began investigating whether Dove concealed information in three homicides, including Delzingaro's, and a man's disappearance.

Efforts to reach Dove were unsuccessful last week. He has told investigators that he committed no crimes.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey announced three weeks ago that Dove had been suspended from the force with the intent to dismiss.

Internal Affairs and an investigating grand jury are probing whether Dove broke the law by helping a girlfriend, Erica Sanchez, flee the state after she allegedly stabbed her boyfriend in September.

They are also scrutinizing Dove's actions in Delzingaro's case and two other homicide investigations involving Sanchez's boyfriend and family. J.J.'s, the corner bar where the bullet ended Delzingaro's life, is owned by Sanchez's father. Investigators are probing whether Dove may have suppressed evidence in the case, law enforcement sources say.

The possibility that the investigation into the death of their daughter might have been thwarted by the lead detective has been devastating, the DiFrancesco family says.

"I can't find the words to describe how I feel," Eileen DiFrancesco said. "Every normal word you would use - disgusted, shocked, angry - it's an understatement."

From the start, the DiFrancescos say, they felt their daughter's killing was being dismissed by the man tasked with solving it. And even with Dove under investigation by Internal Affairs and the District Attorney's Office, they still worry.

"My daughter hasn't been treated with respect," Eileen DiFrancesco said recently at her kitchen table, surrounded by her husband, two daughters, and Delzingaro's sons, Angelo, 19, and Anthony 21. "And we haven't been treated with respect."

They are angry that a homicide investigator temporarily assigned to the case after Dove's removal last month has been reassigned and the case handed back to Internal Affairs. They worry that too much time has passed for it ever to be solved.

They question how Dove was assigned to the case in the first place. They say they are considering a lawsuit.

When no one from the department visited or called in the days after the killing, Delzingaro's older sister, Laura Davis, and her twin, Lisa Naughton, started making daily calls to police.

"We'd never been in this position before and didn't know what to expect," Naughton said. "But we thought there at least would be a phone call from someone saying, 'This is the detective in your case. I'm sorry for what happened.' "

When they finally heard from Dove weeks after the murder, they say he told them little could be done, since the shooter had been wearing a mask.

"It was a painful conversation," Davis said. "I had to keep asking him questions. He wasn't saying a word. I felt like I was bothering him."

Angelo Delzingaro, 19, said the slow pace of the investigation "ate us up every day. It killed us, because we felt like we couldn't do anything."

Later, when the family members finally met with Dove, they say he told them the bar owner was a friend of his and described him as "a great guy."

After that, they say, they never heard from him again.

It angered the family to think that little attention was paid to the killing of a woman they knew as a cheerful, outgoing mother who enjoyed cooking and baking and adored her two sons. After being laid off from a job as a pharmaceutical firm, she was hopeful that her new business would take off.

"That morning, I said to her, 'It looks like things are really going to perk up,' " her mother said. "She said, 'God, I hope so.' "

A flash of hope came in early November when, the family said, Homicide Detective Philip Nordo called to say he had been assigned to work the case. (All of Dove's cases have been reassigned.)

Nordo drove to Upper Dublin the next morning and sat with the family in the kitchen for an hour and a half, "expressing his passionate condolences about how this could happen," Eileen DiFrancesco said.

The detective impressed the family, they said, laying out an investigative plan, saying he wanted to find and interview the two intended targets. He left a handful of business cards, saying he could be called at any hour with questions, and offering the family hope.

"He was on the ball," Angelo DiFrancesco said. "It was the first time we heard something good."

Days later, they say, the new detective called again, this time to say that Internal Affairs had decided to keep the case. Eileen DiFrancesco said she had since spoken with an Internal Affairs supervisor, but had learned little about the internal investigation into Dove - or the slaying of her daughter.

"We felt like we were back to Day One again," she said.

Lt. John Stanford, a Police Department spokesman, said Friday that he understood the family's anger and questions concerning Dove and the investigation into Delzingaro's death.

But he said that in "no way, shape, or form has the case fallen by the wayside."

Such investigations take time, he said, adding that the department was committed to "getting it right."

"That's what's owed to the victim," he said. "We are not overlooking their family member's death at all. That's part of this investigation - to determine who is responsible for the death of their loved one."

Until then, the family must wait.


mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759

 

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