By Joe Gorman
Cindy Michael thinks of what might have been. Rochelle Coandle thinks of what was.
Detective Sgt. Darryl Martin thinks not so much about what, but who — as in who did it.
What all three and others are thinking about are unsolved homicides, commonly known as “cold cases.” Michael and Coandle are family members of victims in cases where the murderer is still loose. Martin is a detective with the Youngstown Police Department who has two unsolved murder cases in particular that stick in his craw.
Michael and Coandle both have a Girard connection; Michael’s grandsons, Mason Cross, 5, and Christian Pizzulo, 1, along with their mother, 22-year-old Lena Cross, were killed in a fire at their Dearborn Street home in Girard on Sept. 13, 2005. Lena Cross had her throat slit, and her sons died in their sleep of smoke inhalation.
Coandle’s sister, Eileen Zarlenga, 29, of Girard, was missing for two days before she was found brutally murdered Jan. 30, 1988, on Gladstone Road in Jackson Township. The Mahoning County Sheriff’s office is the lead agency on the case.
Investigators at the sheriff’s office recently secured an indictment against 64-year-old James Ferrara for a Dec. 14, 1974, triple homicide on South Turner Road in Canfield Township where Benjamin Marsh, 33, his wife Marilyn, 32 and their 4-year-old daughter Heather were murdered. Their 1-year-old son Christopher was unharmed.
Ferrara, who is serving a sentence in the Marion Correctional Institution for a double homicide in Worthington in 1984, was arraigned in common pleas court on three counts of aggravated murder. They said they were able to match fingerprints collected at the crime scene in 2009 with Ferrara’s, then completed the investigation.
They have yet to announce a motive.
Martin has had a hand in investigating more than 200 homicides since he became a detective, but his second case is one that stands out the most: William Governor, 51, was shot and killed in a Market Street parking lot on Aug. 31, 1995. There are suspects, but not enough evidence to make an arrest.
He said he thinks about the case from time to time. At times when someone is arrested who may have information, he will ask if they know anything about Governor’s murder.
“We just don’t have the evidence,” Martin said. “We did everything we could at the time.”
Martin said he worked the case until all of his leads turned into a dead end. He said sometimes when working on a murder case, the decision to move on to another case is forced on him because of circumstances.
“The decision makes itself,” Martin said. “If I get a homicide and work it for two weeks, then I get another one, and I have to work on that one now.”
One of his colleagues, Lt. Doug Bobovnyik, still thinks about the Nov. 29, 1998, homicide of Michael Cusick, 44, who was found shot to death in a car on the far East Side on Nelson Avenue. There were no witnesses, and detectives followed the trail of physical evidence as far as they could, Bobovnyik said.
He said the case stays in his mind because it is atypical of most homicides in the city, where drugs are involved. He said Cusick was a worker at Schwebel Bakery and seemed to be a “victim of circumstances.”
Bobovnyik believes firmly in the rule that without a good lead in the first 48 hours of a homicide case, chances are the case will go cold. He said good evidence and witnesses usually clear a path to solve a case in a timely fashion.
Michael said she often wonders what would have become of her grandsons had they become older. Every summer she has an event for kids at a local park, where they play games, eat and receive free backpacks and other items for school.
The oldest victim, Mason, was always in motion, Michael said.“He was a very smart kid and very athletic,” she said. “He was like a cat. We always said Mason would be in sports.”
Christian was just beginning to show signs of his personality before he was killed, Michael said.
“We didn’t have enough time with him,” Michael said. “He was always happy, smiling.”
Coandle said she thinks about her sister every day, especially the horrific way she died. “I think about what they did to my sister,” she said. “It doesn’t leave me wherever I go.”
She had a private investigator look into the case three or four years ago, but he did not make much progress and he recently died. Her sister’s case is another that is assigned to Mahoning County because her sister’s body was found in North Jackson.
Coandle said her sister was a majorette in high school and well liked. She worked at a store before she was killed and had a young daughter who now lives out of state.
“She had everything going for her,” Coandle said of her sister. She added she has not had much contact with her niece in recent years.
“I always pray and I say, ‘please, God, let this case be solved,’” Coandle said.