A year later, questions remain about Bucks man's slaying

Joseph Canazaro , killed in his home last year. NBC10
Joseph Canazaro , killed in his home last year. NBC10
Posted: January 24, 2014

HILLTOWN TWP. Traces of Joseph Canazaro are fading from view - and almost no one wants to talk about it.

The 4,400-square-foot house with a pool he rented on 10 acres in upper Bucks County is for sale. Businesses he owned in Lansdale and Ambler have changed names or idled.

A year has passed since two masked men entered his home, tied up Canazaro's girlfriend and son, and stabbed the 48-year-old to death. The case stands as the only unsolved killing in the history of Hilltown Township.

The clues investigators have gathered - Canazaro's ties to illegal activities overseas, debts in the millions, a list of potential enemies - paired with unsubstantiated whispers about a van full of cash and unsavory characters has left a chill in the town. Few want to talk about the killers who, at least for now, got away.

In an interview last week, Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler acknowledged that the crime smacks of a contract killing.

"It could very easily have been hired," Heckler said. Canazaro, he added, "stiffed a lot of people one time or another."

Canazaro's ex-wife and the mother of his two sons, Valerie Canazaro, declined to discuss the crime, saying in an e-mail that she and her boys are trying to move on.

Other relatives did not respond to interview requests or declined comment, as did many of Canazaro's former neighbors and business associates.

Louis Busico, the attorney for Canazaro's girlfriend, said she was doing "as best as could be expected" since the traumatic experience. "She prays every day that these people will be brought to justice," Busico said.

How and why those people targeted Canazaro is unclear. But so, too, is their victim's background.

Canazaro grew up around Lansdale and had his hands in a number of businesses. He co-owned Finn McCool's Tavern in Ambler, owned several contracting companies, and had mortgages on properties including a Lansdale auto garage.

Outwardly, he flashed the trappings of success. Besides the house with the pool and floor-to-ceiling windows, his rental property included a basketball court and a barn.

He drove a Lincoln pickup truck and, records show, previously paid $1,700 a month to lease a Mercedes-Benz.

One local, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Canazaro once boasted of a meeting with a member of the Genovese crime family. The same man said he didn't know if the claim was true or if it was more of Canazaro's seemingly routine bluster.

Behind the facade, Canazaro had a troubled financial history.

Heckler said that investigators had connected Canazaro to illegal ventures overseas, though he declined to elaborate.

And bankruptcy court records show that Canazaro had claimed $10 million in debts as recently as 2008, with a list of creditors including the IRS, banks, and a labor union. He also racked up nearly $900,000 in debt to casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and Biloxi, Miss.

The bankruptcy was resolved by 2010, records show. It's unclear when he moved onto serene Swartley Road.

Authorities believe the killers had been watching the property on the morning of Jan. 18, 2013. After one of Canazaro's sons boarded a school bus, the suspects climbed through a first-floor bedroom window.

The intruders bound Canazaro's other son, who had stayed home sick, as well as his girlfriend. Then they ransacked the house, stealing guns and cash - though authorities never disclosed how many or how much.

Eventually, the suspects took Canazaro into the garage and killed him.

Police initially declined to say how he died. Bucks County Chief of Prosecutions Matt Weintraub acknowledged last week that Canazaro had been stabbed to death.

The killers fled in Canazaro's black Lincoln pickup, police said, and dumped it about 12 miles away, at the Quakertown Plaza shopping center.

They changed cars in the lot, police said, then fled north on Route 309 in a red Nissan sedan - likely an Altima or Maxima made between 2004 and 2008.

Meanwhile, according to police, Canazaro's girlfriend and son escaped and called 911.

Weintraub said investigators ruled out the woman as a suspect "pretty early on" in their probe.

About a month after the crime, detectives released security footage showing the suspects changing cars in Quakertown and hoped someone might recognize them.

"It did not bear the fruit that we had hoped for," Weintraub said.

Hilltown Township Police Chief Christopher Engelhart said that authorities were still "very interested" in information about the car.

Weintraub said investigators would reexamine every piece of evidence in the case, and that they welcome new information from the public.

Canazaro's contracting companies still have active corporate listings with the state, but it's unclear if anyone is actually operating them. The auto shop is running, but its manager declined to comment.

In Ambler, Finn McCool's reopened last summer as 34 East Tavern. During a visit last week, patrons and workers were mum about Canazaro.

The new owner could not be reached.

In her e-mail, Canazaro's ex-wife said she and her sons were doing well despite the circumstances of the last year.

"Our story is no longer about a murder," she wrote, "but about the healing through forgiveness."


cpalmer@phillynews.com609-217-8305

@cs_palmer

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