“DO YOU KNOW WHO KILLED ME?”
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 “DO YOU KNOW WHO KILLED ME?”
Someone Knows Something!
~This article best says it all~
“DO YOU KNOW WHO KILLED ME?”
Like a ghost from a quarter century past, a woman’s face can be seen on a billboard overlooking Danbury’s busy route 37.
It is a greatly enlarged photograph of a middle-aged wife and mother. Motorists will note the dark brown hair falling to her shoulders, the firm set of her lips, and the piercing eyes that seem to ask, “Do you know who killed me?”
As the billboard proclaims, there is a “$50,000 REWARD FOR INFORMATION LEADING TO THE WHEREABOUTS OF MARY BADARACCO, MISSING SINCE AUGUST 20, 1984.”
“Tip lines” are provided: 800-376-1554 for the Connecticut State Police; 910-232-1687 for the CUE Center for Missing Persons in North Carolina, the sponsor of the project.
I am no fan of billboards, preferring to see the scenery, but I make an exception for highway alerts that save a life or solve a crime. In this instance, I gave a whoop of delight when Mary Badaracco’s daughter, Beth Profeta of Torrington, told me about this latest creation in her crusade to bring her mother’s murderer to justice.
I had followed the tragedy for years, knowing it to be the most puzzling, frustrating and poorly investigated of Connecticut’s long list of cold cases--a huge law-enforcement embarrassment. Pretending at the start that the almost certain slaying was just another missing-person problem of no great urgency, the cops did little even after it was labeled a homicide years later.
Only recently has the public learned that a vigorous state police major crime investigation is finally underway. Reporter Brigitte Ruthman’s long report in the Sunday Republican of August 24, “Into Thin Air,” provides the single best account anywhere of the mystery that was never really a mystery.
The person most likely to have caused 53-year-old Mary Badaracco to vanish from her Sherman home has always been in plain sight. But there also has been a background of organized crime influence and reported threats, perhaps silencing those who know the truth. Even so, $50,000 for a breakthrough lead could prove tempting in these hard times.
The novelty of a justice-seeking billboard is not new to me.
In the 1990s, as an investigative journalist, I was deeply involved in the Michael Pardue “wrong man” saga in Alabama. Pardue at age 17 had been wrongly imprisoned for three separate murders in 1973. His convictions were based not on evidence but on a trio of false confessions coerced by Mobile police during a four-day interrogation-room ordeal.
A decade later, Mike and his wife Becky, whom he had married in a brief prison ceremony, launched a seemingly impossible struggle in state and federal courts to overturn his convictions, one by one. Astonishingly, they succeeded a decade later. Yet Mike was still doomed to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Why? Because he had foolishly fled three times from the prisons where he did not belong in the first place. Escapes are crimes, even if briefly and nonviolently committed by an actually innocent inmate, so Mike became a victim of the state’s “three strikes” law designed to punish habitual criminals.
Alabama officials were unmoved by the injustice of it all—not until 1997 when Becky Pardue raised $2,000 to rent space on a billboard. Travelers on the highway leading into Montgomery, the state capitol, saw the prisoner’s handsome face and the huge words: “WRONGLY CONVICTED: MAY 1973” and “ALABAMA, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.”
The existence of the billboard became nationally known through a photograph in People magazine after I persuaded the editors to do a long article on this “Misguided Justice.” The publicity set off a wave of national and international protest about Pardue’s plight.
This headache for Alabama’s political and legal establishment led to the prisoner’s release in 2001 after twenty-eight years of unjust confinement. The Mike and Becky love story is on track for a motion picture by “Sling Blade” producer David Bushell.
Will the Badaracco billboard be just as productive? Could be. Last year, a billboard put up in North Carolina by the Cue Center for Missing Persons sparked action by police in locating the remains of a 26-year-old mother of four who had vanished three years earlier. The man arrested for her murder is now awaiting trial.
One thing I do know for sure: In many cases of the disappeared, whether a “wrong man” like Mike put behind bars for life or a mother like Mary sent into oblivion, love in its purest form makes an appearance. Countless innocent prisoners have been rescued, and missing-person cases solved, only because of the astonishing, unstoppable devotion of at least one person whose every action is a billboard-sized proclamation: “I AM NOT GOING AWAY!”
Donald S. Connery of Kent is an author, independent journalist and advisor to the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School.