Weeks before the three-year anniversary of Danielle Imbo and Richard Petrone's disappearance the FBI has released disturbing information.
The news confirmed what Richard Petrone Sr. knew in his heart all along: Somebody killed his son.
In late January, the FBI went public that the Feb. 19, 2005, disappearance of Richard Petrone Jr. and Danielle Imbo appears to be a murder-for-hire. In a case that made national news, the 35-year-old Petrone and 34-year-old Imbo vanished after leaving the bar/restaurant Abilene, 429 South St., at about 11:30 p.m. No trace of the couple or Petrone's black truck have surfaced since.
"From the very beginning, the FBI was active in this case because of the possibility it was a kidnapping or murder-for-hire," FBI spokeswoman Jerri Williams told the Review. "It never appeared to be a random act of violence. At this point, we have no evidence that this was a kidnapping, so now we are leaning toward murder-for-hire."
The investigation has expanded beyond Philadelphia and New Jersey into other states, but Williams said she could not reveal which ones or say if the FBI had a suspect or suspects or what evidence pointed the Feds to believe the two were killed for money.
"We do have some new leads and tips that lead us to explore that area [of murder-for-hire]. We're still very optimistic this will be solved," the spokeswoman said.
Petrone lived on the 1600 block of Snyder Avenue and Imbo was from Mount Laurel, N.J., where she lived with her toddler son Joe Jr. who now lives with his mother's estranged husband, Joe Imbo, in South Carolina. John Ottobre, Danielle's brother and the family's spokesman, declined to comment for this story.
The federal work on the investigation has little bearing on the Petrones' coping three years later.
"What it is is public confirmation of what we suspected all along and probably what [the FBI] suspected too," Petrone Sr. said. "We could not be more satisfied with the effort put forth [by law enforcement]. All you can expect from law enforcement is best effort and we're very happy."
Call it a mother's intuition, but from day one, Marge Petrone feared the worst.
"[Marge] felt it immediately, that Sunday. I held out for a couple more days. I said, 'Let's approach this logically and run through the scenarios of what could have happened,' but by the second, third day we knew something terrible had happened and we knew we weren't going to see him again," the victim's father said.
In addition to his parents and sisters Christine, 38, and Alisa, 19, Petrone Jr. leaves behind daughter Angela, 17. If time heals all wounds, it has bypassed this Cherry Hill, N.J., family.
"There is no day that is worse or better. The momentum of living carries you along, but the absence is never far from your mind," Petrone Sr. said.
So the ones left behind try to keep moving, because nothing is worse than having time to think.
"[Staying busy] is the great leveler; you're engaged," Petrone Sr. said.
For the owner of Viking Pastries in Ardmore, the worst part of Petrone Sr.'s day is the hour drive to work at 2 a.m.
"That's when it's the most profound," he said.
The Citizens Crime Commission's reward of $100,000 remains for information leading to the couple's whereabouts.
"We want to solve this thing so these families can have some closure. There's $100,000 on the table just for information. Just tell us where they are," Commission Vice President Santo Montecalvo said.
Petrone Sr. added, "We're hopeful that over the last three years relationships [in this crime] have changed. If they are classifying this as a murder-for-hire, you have the person who did the hiring and the people who did the murdering. I'm hopeful that some people on the periphery may come forward and say, 'Look, I didn't have anything to do with that, but I did this.'"