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CHAPTER 10 Kidnapping, Murder, and Assassination My almost three years as US attorney began with one of the most disturbing and heart-wrenching cases I have ever handled. It ended on one of the darkest days our nation has ever endured. In mid-November 1960, the nude body of Michael Condetti, a sevenyear -old boy, was discovered in a wooded area of Ardmore, a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC. The second grader had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Finding and convicting his murderer was among those cases awaiting me when I arrived as the federal prosecutor for Maryland the following spring. Ever since aviator Charles Lindbergh’s infant son was kidnapped and killed in 1932, the transportation of a kidnap victim across a state line had become a federal crime, potentially punishable by death. Condetti , who lived in Washington, was lured away from a shopping center near his home where he had gone to buy a book bag. His body was found in Maryland three days later. TheFBIlaunchedamassiveinvestigationtofindtheboy’skiller,interviewing thousands of people over six months, but they were stumped. The break came when FBI agents were referred to Ralph P. Oropollo, chief psychiatrist of Clifton T. Perkins Hospital, the maximum security psychiatric prison for Maryland. Oropollo helped the FBI develop a personality profile of the killer, and that profile turned out to be so accurate that one newspaper said it “proved a better match than many an artist’s sketch.”1 1. John P. MacKenzie, “Psychiatric Clues Linked Alvey to Boy Slaying,” Washington Post, February 18, 1962. 155 KIDNAPPING, MURDER, AND ASSASSINATION Oropollo told the FBI agents that the killer probably did not drive a car since that would have been considered too masculine; probably lived alone, or perhaps with his mother; was likely a heavy drinker with a criminal record, including prior sex offenses; and probably was not the killer type but rather someone who panicked when his victim resisted.2 In November 1961, Miami authorities arrested a forty-one-year-old Washington area auto body worker named Joseph H. Alvey and charged him with the boy’s kidnapping and murder. At his trial, which opened in late January 1962, testimony revealed that Alvey did not drive a car; lived with his mother; had a long police record, including serving five years for molesting a little boy; and was an excessive drinker. Even though Alvey pleaded not guilty, we were convinced he was because he had given the FBI a statement that essentially retraced all of the kidnapper’s movements in ways that only the real killer would have known. His confession, however, was inadmissible as evidence because the FBI had failed to warn Alvey that he had the right to remain silent. Dan McMullen, who was an assistant US attorney, and I tried the case together. Because we had access to Alvey’s inadmissible statement, we knew we could find witnesses to reconstruct and verify almost every step of the crime—from the store clerks who observed Alvey buying candy for the boy, to the two bus routes they took into Maryland, to the gruesome details of the murder. Forensic evidence showed the boy had been strangled with a small chain he wore around his neck, a chain that held, of all things, a crucifix . I came to believe that Alvey never intended to murder the boy. I think the boy struggled, Alvey grabbed the chain, perhaps to keep him from escaping, and the boy died. Scared, he left the scene and boarded a train for Florida. Alvey was slightly built, with graying hair and tattoos on his arms. He was described in newspaper accounts as “the black sheep of his wellregarded family.”3 He was examined by Dr. Manfred Guttmacher, one of the leading forensic psychiatrists in the country and the chief medical adviser to the state court in Baltimore. Guttmacher’s conclusion was 2. Ibid. 3. Jerry O’Leary Jr., “Alvey Goes before Court Tomorrow in ’60 Kidnap-Death of Condetti Boy,” Washington Star, June 28, 1962. 156 CHAPTER 10 that Alvey was a pedophile and extremely dangerous, yet not the type to commit murder. His opinion was that Alvey should not be executed, but imprisoned and never released.4 That decision, however, rested with the jury of ten men and two women, which was instructed that it had three options: find Alvey not guilty; find him guilty, but let Judge Thomsen decide his sentence; or find him guilty and sentence him to death. When...


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