Forty years later, Bonfiglio family still yearns for closure in couple's murder
Police thought they had identified the man who murdered Paul and Julia Bonfiglio in their Elkhart home, but he has not been prosecuted for the crime 40 years later.
Posted on May 28, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
ELKHART — On the morning of Tuesday, May 21, 1974, neighbors noticed that Paul and Julia Bonfiglio had not opened their confectionary shop, South Side Sweets, 813 S. Main St., at their usual time.
The neighbors contacted the couple’s son, Frank, and he headed over to their home at 107 Hickory St. (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) around 11 a.m. to check on them.
He found his mother, 71-year-old Julia, dead in the hallway near the living room on the first floor of the large, two-story house. She had been stabbed multiple times with a blunt object, possibly a screwdriver, and laid on her back, arms folded over her chest. The killer had straightened her clothes and put her glasses back on her face.
Paul, 78, was lying in a pool of blood at the foot of the stairs wearing his pajamas.
A month later, on June 20, 1974, police told Elkhart Truth reporters they were optimistic and felt they would quickly solve the case.
“There is no doubt in our minds the case will be solved,” Detective Cmdr. Thomas Snyder and Detective Lt. Billie Campbell said at the time. “It’s a question of getting to the right person and we have an idea of the type of person we are looking for.”
The file on the Bonfiglio murders is still open. It remains the oldest unsolved murder in the city of Elkhart.
The house on Hickory
Frank Bonfiglio’s daughters, Julie Galbreth and Lori Davis, have fond memories of holidays at their grandparents’ big old house on Hickory Street.
“We had cousins in Michigan and they’d all come down for the holidays and we’d go to grandma and grandpa’s house,” Davis said. “They’d fix a huge spaghetti dinner and that’s the memories I have.”
Galbreth said she still remembers her grandfather’s laughter.
“He had such an infectious laugh,” she said.
“He’d just get so tickled, and I get the same way,” Davis said. “And my dad, too. We’d get laughing and we couldn’t stop.”
The Bonfiglios were a very private couple. They went to work, went to church and went home, their granddaughters said.
Davis and Galbreth said that, decades later, they still have not been able to figure out why someone would want to hurt their grandparents.
“Why would anybody want to hurt those people? I just can’t imagine, in that brutal way,” Davis said. “Did they know something that they were afraid they might tell? That’s what I surmise in my mind because they probably saw a lot of dealings going on down there as that area had gotten more dangerous for them to live in. Or maybe they thought they had a lot of money. Then they didn’t find it. They didn’t really go looking too hard.”
In 1974, the neighborhood around the Bonfiglio’s home and sweet shop was becoming more dangerous, but despite their family’s urgings, the couple refused to move.
Thefts and broken windows became a common occurrence at the store.
Galbreth said the lot next door to her grandparent’s house was a pool hall that attracted some less-than-savory people.
“They needed to move,” Davis said. “That was just not a safe area, but you were not going to get them to move. That was their home.”
The Bonfiglio family was unhappy with the investigation from its early stages.
“They had Billie Campbell in charge of it but my dad was not happy with what was happening and so they brought a detective from Chicago to be in charge of it then,” Galbreth said.
The family was concerned with the way police gathered evidence at the crime scene on the first day.
Galbreth said there was a bloody handprint on the wall by the stairs. To collect the print as evidence, the police cut out a chunk of the wall.
There were handprints all over the banister, so they removed the whole banister as evidence.
“It was like they didn’t know how to lift fingerprints or something,” Galbreth said. “And then they sent it all to Washington and nothing came of it, so I think they destroyed evidence theirselves.”
While police initially suspected robbery as a motive for the killings, Galbreth said the house had not been ransacked and there was a bag of money sitting on a chair in the dining room that remained untouched. Julia Bonfiglio’s diamond jewelry, which was kept in a drawer in the same room, was also untouched.
The family found fingerprints the police missed on the top edge of the drawer, indicating that the killer had opened it, but nothing was missing, Galbreth said.
The only item missing from the house was Julia’s purse, police told The Elkhart Truth in 1974.
Volunteers from the community put up a $5,000 reward for information in the case and set up a phone tip line, but it got no useful tips.
John L. Anderson
In July 1975, more than a year after the murders, Elkhart police announced they had a suspect in the case.
John Leon Anderson, then 27, had lived across the alley from the Bonfiglios in the spring of 1974 and had been convicted of murder in June 1975 in the slaying of Isadore Goodman, who was beaten to death with a hammer in the basement of Rapp’s Sire Shop at 409 S. Main St. on July 24, 1974.
Anderson was sentenced to a prison term of 20 years to life to be served at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City for the Goodman murder and was charged in the Bonfiglio case later that summer.
He was arraigned on two counts of first-degree murder on Aug. 8, 1975, for the Bonfiglio slayings.
After a number of delays and continuances, however, the case against Anderson was dropped in March 1977 after the prosecution’s star witness vanished. Thomas Brown, then 31, disappeared on May 12, 1976, when he was allowed to return home from the county work release program to pick up work clothes, according to Elkhart Truth archives.
Brown and Anderson had been jailed together in Elkhart County and in Michigan City. Brown said Anderson had confessed to killing the Bonfiglios.
“Without Brown’s testimony the state has no case,” Elkhart County Prosecutor Michael Cosentino told Truth reporters.
Brown resurfaced in June 1977, but the prosecutor’s office never re-filed the charges against Anderson.
When Anderson became eligible for parole in 1996, he wrote a letter to Frank Bonfiglio swearing he had nothing to do with his parents’ murders.
Frank Bonfiglio responded by writing a letter to the parole board asking them not to grant Anderson’s parole.
The Bonfiglio family still hopes the murders will be solved, although that outcome seems less and less likely as the decades have passed.
Davis and Galbreth said their father even went to visit a psychic in San Francisco in hopes of gaining a new insight into the crime.
Galbreth and Frank Bonfiglio went to the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office in 2002 and discussed the case with Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill, then a deputy prosecutor.
“As time allows the case will be reviewed and someone possibly sent to Michigan City to speak to Anderson to try and obtain a confession,” Galbreth said, reading from notes she took at that meeting. “He could still be brought to trial but there is no physical evidence and no lab reports other than the blood type report. Jim Connor, now that may be the man from Chicago, doesn’t know what happened to all the evidence.”
Those blood type reports showed that both of the victims had type O blood, which is fairly common, Galbreth said. A screwdriver found at Anderson’s residence also had type O blood on it, but that screwdriver would be with the rest of the missing evidence.
The family thinks that Anderson is the Bonfiglios’ killer, but there may have been another person involved.
They insist that Julia Bonfiglio never would have opened the door for a man she didn’t know.
Galbreth said she would knock on the door and shout, “Grandma, it’s Julie!” when she went to visit. She said that someone at the pool hall next door could have overheard her on one of her visits and imitated her on the night of the murders to get the careful couple to open the door.
Galbreth, who says she has had premonitions in the past when family members were in danger, said she felt a sharp pain in her left arm the night her grandparents died. She had been trimming hedges earlier in the day and attributed the pain to overworked muscles and went to bed.
When she slept, she dreamed that a woman was standing on her grandparent’s porch, claiming to be Julie, asking to be let in.
"Grandma always used to call me when she couldn’t get a hold of dad,“ Galbreth said. She thinks her dream that night was Julia Bonfiglio reaching out to her for help.
Maybe, after all these years, someone will come forward.
“I’m sure there’s somebody out there that still may know (something),” Davis said. “They were maybe in their 20s then and now they’re in their 60s and they’ve been living with this for all these years. It’s never too late to come forward.”
Anyone with information on the Bonfiglio case is asked to call the Elkhart Police Department at 574-296-7070 or the Homicide Tip Line at 574-389-4770.