SLAIN DAUGHTER, FATHER FINALLY ARE REUNITED

STAMFORD ADVOCATE

By Angela Carella 08/24/2008

Father and daughter are together again.


They lie side by side. Felix's grave still covered with dirt and funeral flowers in their pots and ribbons. Joanne's grave seamless in the St. John Cemetery lawn.

They were separated 38 years ago by an act of insanity that terrified the city.

Joanne was 17, on her way to classes at Stamford High School, when she was attacked in the stairwell of Hanover Hall, the Bedford Street apartment building where she lived with her parents. She was stabbed 24 times, killed instantly.

Her father, a Stamford police officer, grieved for her from that day until he died Aug. 5 at Courtland Gardens Health Care Center. He was 86.

"Fiore," reads the gray tombstone, its edges engraved with roses. The name made daily headlines in The Advocate in 1970:

* Feb. 20 - "Police quiz over 700 in Fiore killing;"

* Feb. 21 - "Fiore death reward now up to $8,500;" and

* Feb. 26 - "Police seek man seen in hallway day before Fiore girl was slain."

There were no clues, and much disbelief. Who would kill Joanne? She was petite and sweet, friendly and kind, a good student who worked on the Stamford High yearbook. She had fair skin and long brown hair parted down the middle. She was by all accounts a lovely girl, close to her parents, their only child. Several thousand people attended her funeral Mass at St. John's Catholic Church downtown.

The summer before she died, Joanne told friends she thought someone was stalking her, said Debbie

Kutz, a classmate from Burdick Junior High School.

"She was the type of girl who befriended people. She was popular but never part of a clique, just the nicest person," Kutz said. "For a long time after she was killed I was frightened. A thing like that changes you."

That applied to no one more than Felix, a tough veteran cop who guarded his soft heart.

Jimmy Nestor knew Felix as a fellow World War II veteran. Nestor worked part time at Springdale Florist, across the street from where Joanne is buried.

"For years I would see him going in and out of the cemetery," Nestor said. "It broke your heart."

Fred Robertucci was a patrolman with Felix.

"I was working the day it happened. We were all shocked," Robertucci said. "Every time you saw him you'd think, he seems to be doing OK; I hope he's OK. We tried to stay close to him. He was a very good guy."

Police officers raised reward money for information about Joanne's killer and relentlessly tracked leads.

The case was a mystery for six months. Then, in August 1970, a 16-year-old student at J.M. Wright Technical School, who lived on Alton Road, a mile and a half from the Fiores, attacked a 13-year-old girl walking on Newfield Avenue.

The boy, Bruce Salamon, was spotted beating the girl with a two-by-four. He was caught, and during questioning he revealed details about the Fiore killing, broke down and was taken to a state mental hospital. He later was charged with murder.

"You feel different than what people think you feel," said Ralph Knapp, a retired Stamford police officer, who lost a teenage son to a car accident in 1973. "Felix was really well-respected. We knew it took a toll on him. He kept his daughter's car in his garage for many, many years."

Felix and his wife, Mildred, only recently sold the green 1969 Chevy Camaro. It was Joanne's dream car.

"Joanne had a job at Bloomingdale's, and we would pick her up. One day we pulled up in the Camaro. She jumped with joy," said Mildred, 84. "We got her one of those charge cards for gasoline, but she never used it. She paid her own way."

Bruce Salamon was in a mental hospital for two years, then released, Mildred said. Several years ago, she came across an obituary for Salamon's mother and learned that he was married and living in New Hampshire.

Mildred does not submit to hatred or revenge.

"The way I was able to accept Joanne's death is that I believe that when you are born, God gives you so long to live, and that's what you have," she said.

Her husband could not accept it. They were married "60 beautiful years," Mildred said, and Felix "could not have been a more perfect husband." But she said she believes the dementia that set in for the last half-year of his life took root Feb. 18, 1970.

"Grieving over Joanne all those years - he couldn't think of anything else - the cells in his brain just died," Mildred said. "His daughter was the world to him."

- Assistant City Editor Angela Carella can be reached at angela.carella@scni.com or at 964-2258.