The famous law enforcement line is that the window of solving a case narrows drastically after the first 48 hours. Memories are the freshest, leads are active; there’s less time for the covering of tracks. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost when that window closes.
A Pittsburgh home went from overrun with workmen to swarming with police when a backyard discovery made it the center of a major investigation. In the 50 years that passed since one family lived there, their lives were built on an unresolved question, and the brutal truth didn’t make their tragedy any easier.
In February of 2018, the owners of 5445 Black Street were in the thick of a major renovation. They planned to transform the two-story brick property from the inside out, and that included yanking up the old concrete patio slab in the backyard.
Workers cracked away at the concrete and pulled away the pieces. The damp ground beneath saw sunlight for the first time in over 50 years. A wave of dread enveloped the crew when they noticed, barely obscured beneath the soil, an unmistakable bone.
NY Daily News
Further examination revealed that the patio covered a rudimentary grave of a human skeleton. They didn’t know it yet, but they’d stumbled upon the final resting place for a person who had vanished without a trace decades before.
CBS Pittsburgh / YouTube
Back in 1964, 5445 Black Street was home to a family of four. Albert, a construction worker, his wife Mary, and their two children, Donna, 16, and the youngest, Michael, 15, lived a typical suburban life until a sudden disturbance raised questions throughout their community.
Without saying goodbye, or confiding in anyone about her plans, Mary suddenly vanished. According to Albert, his 36-year-old wife had abandoned her family and taken off with a man she’d been having an affair with. For those that knew Mary, that felt unlikely.
One of those people was the former first female assistant chief of the Pittsburgh police, Therese Rocco. At the time, she learned of Mary’s absence through her goddaughter, Mary’s daughter, Donna, who repeated the narrative provided by her father.
Years earlier, a teenage Therese knew Mary Arcuri as a friendly neighbor. It came as a surprise one day when Mary asked her to be the godmother of her baby girl. Totally flattered that to be considered, she excitedly accepted.
Nearly 16 years later, an older and wiser Therese consoled her goddaughter over her mother’s apparent desertion. She had no reason to question Albert’s version of events, though she remembered thinking it was peculiar for such a loving mother to abandon her children.
Therese Rocco / YouTube
It was an odd situation Therese remembered though nothing about it made her jump to an unsavory conclusion. She knew Mary and Albert as a couple, describing him as mild-mannered, stating, “I could never, never believe that this man had any involvement in her disappearance.”
Despite her position as the head of the local missing persons unit, Therese didn’t have an inkling that Mary’s departure was anything but voluntary. Not everyone was convinced though, including relatives of the Arcuris like Charles Sberna.
The great-nephew of Mary, Charles lived with his mother in an attached unit to the Black Street house. He remembered Albert working in the yard and installing a backyard terrace in the wake of Mary’s disappearance.
Another family member, Donna Cefalo, Mary’s niece, agreed with the notion that their marriage was a good one, saying, “Albert was a very happy person, always joking, never serious…I never heard them quarrel, never heard them having a disagreement.”
Still, Donna and her mother, Mary’s sister, were confident that something fishy was up. They attempted to file a missing person report but the house on Black Street was never searched; Albert never answered any police questions, nor did anyone else.
The flags could not be redder, and yet, the police just didn’t seem convinced. Not even when Albert pushed the credulity of events further by reporting that his home was burglarized right after Mary’s exit, mentioning specifically that the stolen property was a large freezer.
So in 2019, when a retired Therese was asked to help in the identification of the remains found under the Arcuri family’s old patio, her stomach lurched. She waited for the confirmation, but she was fairly certain who they’d found.
She connected police with her goddaughter Donna so the University of North Texas Center of Human Identification could determine if the remains were a DNA match to Mary. It was determined that Mary indeed was the person buried beneath the concrete patio.
Sadly, many of Mary’s loved ones were no longer alive to receive closure. It was chilling to think she hadn’t skipped town. All along she was resting in her own backyard. Now no one could ignore who was responsible for putting her there.
Pittsburgh CBS Local
When the forensic investigators unearthed Mary’s remains there was nothing left but bones. Realistically they expected that level of decomposition over 50 years after her disappearance. However, it complicated the ability to know exactly how her life had ended.
Determining the cause of death was impossible. No physical evidence of injury was visible on her bones leaving the investigator’s hands tied. No matter how obvious all the circumstances, Mary Arcuri’s suspicious death could not be classified as murder.
As far as closure goes, Mary’s remaining family was grateful to finally have some answers. Justice, though, would never come. Eight months after his wife’s disappearance, 40-year-old Albert had crashed his car into a brick wall around the corner from his home and died.
Whether it was guilt or karma that sent his vehicle off the road into a car dealership parking lot, there’s no definitive answer. Therese believes he took the cowardly way out, unable to live with the inner torment of killing his wife.
Find a Grave
No contact whatsoever from Mary for over 50 years told her family the sad truth — that she’d never return home. The probability of disappearing without a trace is extremely low. That sort of silence means a person fears for their life or they no longer have one.
Take, for example, Lucy Ann Johnson, who appeared to be a perfectly ordinary woman. An Alaskan native, she moved around quite a bit in her younger years before settling in a Canadian suburb in Surrey, British Columbia.
For several years, Lucy lived there with her husband, Marvin, and their two young children, Linda and Daniel. By all appearances, they were a happy, normal family—until one troubling day when that all changed.
In September 1961, when Lucy was just 25 years old, she disappeared without a trace. Stranger still, Marvin didn’t report his wife’s disappearance until almost four years later. Because of this, police had reason to approach the investigation as a homicide.
Everyone surrounding the home was questioned, especially Marvin, but leads didn’t materialize. He was never charged. There was no body. Lucy Johnson’s whereabouts remained unknown.
The intervening years were also filled with tragedy. Daniel drowned at the age of 20, and Marvin passed away in the 1990s. By 2013, Linda, then 59, felt she had no choice but to accept that her mother’s mystery would never be solved.
This all profoundly affected Linda. “I don’t remember much about my mother,” she explained to the Canadian Post. “When my father remarried, me and [Daniel] were not allowed to bring up [her] name. So all I was left with were two little pictures … and one bigger one. That is all I knew of my mother.”
Then, in June 2013, the cold case heated up. By a stroke of fate, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) happened to feature Lucy as part of a publicity initiative called “Missing of the Month,” which spotlighted missing persons cases dating back to the 1950s.
When she saw this, Linda was motivated to conduct her own investigation—which lead her to new pieces of information. One big clue was her parents’ marriage license, which informed her of Lucy’s former residency in Yukon…
“I am looking for my relatives,” she wrote in an advertisement in the Yukon News classified section. “My grandparents’ names are Margaret and Andrew Carvell. My mother’s name is Lucy Ann Carvell. She was born October 14, 1935 in Skagway.”
Amazingly, the ad worked! “We received a phone call from a woman in the Yukon,” said RCMP spokesman Corporal Bert Paquet. “[A woman] called and claimed that she had seen the picture of the missing person in the free newspapers, and said the missing person we were looking for was actually her mother.”
It helped that Yukon News was published in Whitehorse, the capital of the territory, where an important stranger happened to work. “[Linda] actually connected with a [half] sister,” Corporal Paquet revealed. “The stars aligned, the timing was perfect.”
Not only that, but the half-sister, whose name was Rhonda Glenn, claimed that Lucy was still alive! Apparently, she had moved back to Alaska and started life anew with another family. After remarrying, she relocated with her new family and had four new children.
Facebook / Rhonda Glenn
Linda was shocked, of course, but Rhonda was also shaken. “I didn’t know … that my mother was a missing person,” she revealed. “[I] always wanted an older sister. I am just happy Linda knows her mother is alive now. I feel so badly for her, for what she missed.”
This also meant a lot to the RCMP, which was able to close a cold case. “We are extremely happy about the outcome of our investigation,” Corporal Paquet said in an interview. The story wasn’t over just yet, however…
BC Local News
The biggest question that remained was: why? “As I got older, I thought she must be dead, maybe even murdered,” Linda admitted. After Rhonda passed along Lucy’s phone number, Linda realized there was still one thing that needed to happen.
Linda called her mother. Even though she’d been abandoned, she was grateful to speak to the woman whom she hadn’t seen in decades. “I am not angry with her… I cried when we spoke for the first time,” said Linda. “I called her ‘Mom.’ I almost didn’t know what to say.” Soon after they hung up, Linda knew she had one last thing to do.
That September, Linda flew to Whitehorse, Yukon, to meet several of her long-lost relatives at the airport—including her half-sister Rhonda and, most importantly, her mother. Lucy immediately recognized her daughter.
“I don’t know how to describe it—it was, like, surreal because I could see my face in her face, and her eyes in my eyes,” Linda said, before adding one major difference: “I wouldn’t take off on any of my kids the way she had to.” So, why did Lucy leave so many years ago?
In the week that she spent with her family, Linda had to reckon with some harsh truths about her mother. “She told me that my dad was really abusive to her, and that he was running around with other women,” she revealed.
John Morstad / National Post
“She said that [Marvin] told her to get out, and she went back to get us, but my dad said, ‘You’re not taking the kids’ and that was the end of that.” It was an emotional reunion, full of tears. Still, Linda left feeling positively about it; she even considered moving to Yukon.