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Saturday, September 9, 2000

09/08/00 Analysis of a homicide investigation; where does the Matthew Margolies murder case go from here?

Police look for break in unsolved case
By Cameron Martin - Greenwich Time

Though the 1984 murder of Matthew Margolies remains unsolved, investigators need look no further than the case of Martha Moxley to know breaks can come years, even decades, after a crime is committed.

Retired Greenwich police Chief William Andersen, who initially headed the Margolies murder investigation as captain of detectives, says the recent developments in the Moxley murder case should hearten investigators frustrated by the Margolies slaying.

Andersen, who retired more than a decade ago, retains hope Matthew's murder will be solved and says his thoughts return regularly to the horrific crime committed Labor Day Weekend 1984.

Still, after 16 years, and countless leads and investigative interviews, Andersen and other officers familiar with the case say they share that common emotion: frustration.

"I certainly hope whoever is responsible, that it's weighing on their minds as much as the investigators,' " Andersen said.

Most Greenwich Police officers who were on the force in 1984, or have investigated the murder since, never knew Matthew Margolies. Lt. Ralph LoBalbo is an exception.

A patrolman assigned to the Glenville section of town from 1981 to 1986, LoBalbo was a familiar face to residents of Pemberwick, areas of which Matthew often fished with his grandfather, George Miazga.

Miazga, a longtime volunteer with the Glenville Fire Department, frequented the firehouse, often with his grandson in tow. LoBalbo said he knew them both, if only to say "hey."

"I knew who Matthew was, I knew he liked to go fishing," LoBalbo said. "When it was reported he was missing, I was concerned; he didn't seem the type of kid who would just run away."

Though officers say they considered the possibility that Matthew was distraught over the death of his grandfather, who died two weeks before Matthew's Aug. 31 disappearance, or, that he may have accidentally fallen into the water by one of his numerous fishing holes, they nevertheless say the search for a missing person was soon displaced by a notion of something more sinister.

"There was a collective thought throughout the community that something happened to the kid," LoBalbo said.

The night his mother reported him missing, even then Youth Officer Stephen Paulo suspected something far worse.

"When she called a little concerned, saying it was getting dark, I went right over," Paulo remembers. "It was a gut feeling with me."

Paulo said he immediately called the on-duty lieutenant and said, "Something's wrong with this."

From Aug. 31 until the afternoon of Sept. 5, Paulo, as youth officer, led the search for 13-year-old Matthew Margolies.

Scheduled to take a sergeant's exam the evening of Sept. 5, Paulo soon found his mind focused far from the prospect of promotion.

Notified in the afternoon that a body had been found in a wooded area on a hill overlooking Pemberwick Road, Paulo recalled, "I said, 'Well, let's go out and look.' "

Three weeks ago Paulo retraced the route he and other officers took Sept. 5, 1984.

"This was all undeveloped, all woods," he said, pointing to the apartment complex at 351 Pemberwick Road, just north of the crime scene.

Down the road a bit, hiking uphill through underbrush that has grown in since 1984, Paulo tried to recall the exact spot where Matthew's body was found.

What came to mind, instead, was the brutality of the crime scene.

Paulo had been searching the area with Fred Lambert and fellow Youth Officer Michael Panza. Lambert was the man who discovered the shoe and later the body of Matthew Margolies.

"After we saw the shoe, we said, 'Do you smell that?' I mean, you could smell (the decomposing body)," Paulo grimly recalls. "We knew we were close by."

And they were.

"Lambert says, 'Oh god,' " Paulo said. "Then we froze everything off."

There would be no sergeant's exam for Paulo on Sept. 5, 1984, as Greenwich Police undertook the investigation of the brutal mutilation murder of a 13-year-old boy.

"I was too wound up, (the investigation) meant a lot to me. I said, 'I'll take it next time.' "

Instead he was among the officers present when Maryann Margolies was told the fate of her only son and youngest child.

"I stayed there at the house for two days with her afterwards," he said.

Emotionally, officers have stayed with the case much longer. Though the two original detectives assigned to investigate the murder would not comment for this article, one of them, retired Detective Richard Haug, said in a May 1998 interview with Greenwich Time: "This case really affected me mentally - that a 13-year-old boy was brutally slain - and I really regretted it when I retired that we weren't able to solve it."

Andersen said he thinks about the Matthew Margolies case regularly,

"He's been in my prayers every Sunday since 1984," he said. "I'll never forget him, though I never met him."

Andersen now manages security for a local corporation. He was promoted to deputy chief soon after the murder and later rose to police chief - a path paralleled by present Police Chief Peter Robbins, who took over as captain of the detectives division after Andersen's promotion in Oct. 1984.

Round-the-clock commitment to the case equaled months of sleepless nights, the two recall.

The atmosphere was hectic at the police department in the months following the murder, Robbins said.

"We worked straight for four months, right through the holidays," he recalls. "We suffered a lot of frustration. We had 40 to 50 leads that looked like they had some potential. As you explored them, in time, they dissipated.

"We suffered a great deal of frustration, but you'd keep at it. We weren't sleeping much. It was 16- to 20-hour days right through the holidays that year. After we had just enough sleep we'd just get right back into it again."

The FBI drafted a psychological profile of the murderer of Matthew Margolies, concluding the assailant was someone familiar with the victim and the Pemberwick area. Robbins said the police department has conducted hundreds of interviews with that area's residents since 1984.

Is it likely the murderer was interviewed by police?

"It's possible," Robbins said. "I couldn't say with 100 percent certainty. We conducted hundreds and hundreds of interviews during the course of the investigation."

Confidence in finding the perpetrator has ebbed and flowed within the police department in the last 16 years, Robbins said. Right now he is balancing optimism with pessimism.

"I probably have a mixed feeling of confidence now. Unless some witness can come forth to point us in a particular direction, it's difficult to focus on a particular suspect, or suspects, but that doesn't mean we give up.

"We did everything that could possibly be done at that time, but it just didn't pull anything out of the woodwork, so to speak."

A Stamford judge recently decided Michael Skakel should stand trial for the 1975 slaying of Martha Moxley, both of whom were 15 years old at the time.

The judge's decision hinged upon the testimony of residents of an alcohol rehabilitation clinic Skakel attended in the years following the murder. Witnesses for the prosecution allege Skakel admitted to the murder, and a Juvenile Matters judge concluded there was enough evidence to proceed to trial, though it has yet to be determined whether the matter will be heard in juvenile or adult court.

Andersen said developments in the Moxley murder case, nearly a quarter century after the crime, provide hope that someone, "or someones," will ultimately be charged with the murder of Matthew Margolies.

"I have faith that someday it will be solved. The case is not going to go away. With the right breaks it will be solved.

"In situations like this you have to have faith, and I certainly do. I think we only need look into the recent past to see that that happens. Old cases are broken all the time."

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