The Lone Killer
Prosecutors convinced a Cayuga County jury that Thomas Bianco killed Julie Monson. The four-week trial included forensic evidence, eyewitness testimony and several of Bianco’s friends, who said Bianco admitted he was responsible for the girl’s death.
Then-District Attorney Paul Carbonaro laid the case out like this:
Tom Bianco briefly dated Julie Monson in high school — a relationship that started on a class trip, but ended shortly afterward. Julie’s friends said Bianco seemed hurt by the breakup. Years later, on the night Monson disappeared, Bianco and Monson were both at The Stockade. Monson left alone that night, taking her parents’ Chevette.
Bianco flagged Monson down on Prospect Street, and convinced her there was a problem with her car. She accepted a ride from Bianco.
Prosecutors believed Bianco made sexual advances, and when Monson refused, he became violent. Prior to the trial, prosecutors alleged Bianco raped Monson, but without physical evidence to support the allegation, those charges were dropped.
Monson escaped, the prosecution said, but Bianco ran her down, hitting her with his car. He stabbed and possibly strangled her. He put her body in his trunk. He later moved her to Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, where she was found some 18 months later.
Possibly the most damning evidence against Bianco came from friends and acquaintances, some of whom testified against Bianco at his trial. Among them, Thomas “T-Bird” Calescibetta, who said Bianco admitted to the killing. Calescibetta said he was at the North Forty — a bar in Lansing — with Bianco and other friends in the summer of 1982 when Bianco shared with him the grizzly tale:
“He told me he was with Julie Monson that night and he wanted to get laid,” Calescibetta told the jury. When his advances went awry, Bianco ran Monson down, “then he jumped on top of her and started stabbing her in the chest… He told me if I ever said anything, he’d deny saying it to me and I’d go to prison and he’d get off because he’d been in an institution.”
Bianco had been in an institution — a short stint at Hutchings Psychiatric Center. But before he checked in to the hospital for treatment, Bianco told others of his involvement.
Long-time friend John Bazarnik also testified, saying Bianco told him “I think I killed her.”
Bazarnik said that on May 2, 1983, Bianco told him the story: How he’d pulled Monson over on Prospect Street, talked her into his car and attempted to force her into performing oral sex on him. Bianco said Monson kept trying to escape, to find help. He eventually wrestled her to the ground, but Bianco said she may have hit her head, Bazarnik testified. Bianco told Bazarnik he flagged down another driver, who he asked to bring Monson to Cayuga Lake State Park. But Bianco claimed he didn’t have enough gas in his car to make it there, so he went home.
Mark Anderson, a roommate of Bianco’s, testified that Bianco was drunk April 9, 1983. It was Bianco’s birthday, and friends had gathered to celebrate when Bianco began talking about the Monson case. Bianco had just learned Monson’s body was found, and he joked about his involvement, saying “Well, I’m not stupid. I raped her before I killed her.”
At trial, the Bianco defense team didn’t deny their client made those statements to his friends. Lynn told jurors, “We don’t deny that on or around May 8, 1982, Thomas Bianco made certain remarks to his friends.” But, he added, jurors should “carefully scrutinize the atmosphere and circumstances in which those statements were made ”
Jurors never heard the testimony of Mary Katherine Wilson, a former girlfriend of Bianco’s, who called Auburn attorney David Weinstein with specific directions on where police could find Monson’s body, months before it was discovered. Wilson didn’t give her name, and police wouldn’t track her down until after Bianco’s trial ended.
Weinstein passed the tip to police, but to no avail. When the body was found a few months later, investigators realized the woman’s tip had been correct.
In Wilson’s statement to police, she said Bianco pointed the spot out to her once as they were driving the New York State Thruway. Wilson also said she’d left the Auburn area to escape Bianco, who she said was physically and sexually abusive toward her.
In addition, eyewitnesses at trial — William and Andrew Komanecky — testified the man they saw talking to Julie Monson outside their home the night she disappeared looked like Bianco. And the car was the same color: a dark green.
Forensic evidence presented at the trial seemed to corroborate the testimony. Pathologists testified Monson’s leg was broken, possibly by being struck by a car. And her bra had cuts and holes, consistent with knife wounds. Tire tracks were found in the wildlife refuge, leading to the spot where Monson’s body was found, and the approximate 60-inch spread between tire tracks was about the same as Bianco’s 1972 Buick Skylark.
Jurors didn’t hear that a small amount of blood was found in Bianco’s trunk, on a grocery store shopping bag. The trial judge suppressed that evidence, after the defense team complained the warrant under which it was obtained was overly vague.
Bianco’s conviction was tainted by prosecutorial misconduct and dishonesty, and an appeals judge released him, nullifying the guilty verdict and setting Bianco free after he’d served about six years in prison.
The judge’s decision centered around 30 lines that had been deleted from an early police report — lines that pointed to another man, an ex-con named John Grossman, as the killer:
1:40 p.m. Detailed to Old Columbian Rope Company to meet Officer Malone. On arrival was shown a 1973 … station wagon 4725AAB owned by John Grossman of 15 Fort St., Auburn, NY, a real light green wagon. (not beat up, but had a few rust spots on same). Went into the American Challenger Corp, and did talk with John Grossman and he said he was living with his girlfriend at 15 Fort St. and was with her the weekend, and that he will be moving to 4 Garfield Place after the 1st of the month. His girlfriend is Patricia Barto. Later went to Prison and did pick up photo of Grossman, an ex-con. As Sgt. Komanecky thought that this could be the man, as subject had attended CCCC.
But the community doubted Bianco’s guilt long before his conviction was overturned.
Perhaps most suspicious was the prosecution’s reliance on Thomas Calescibetta’s testimony. Calescibetta was first called to testify before the grand jury investigating the Monson case in October 1984. But a former girlfriend, Bonnie McGohan, told authorities Calescibetta admitted he lied to that jury, and didn’t tell everything he knew. He also incriminated himself, saying “If Tommy goes to prison, I’m going too.” He would only admit that he lied about whether he knew Carole Hickey, a friend of Julie’s.
In June 1985, Calescibetta was charged with first-degree perjury and criminal contempt. Those charges were later dropped, and Calescibetta delivered the damning testimony against Bianco. McGohan testified at Bianco’s trial, but was not allowed to answer a question about whether the charges against Calescibetta were dropped in exchange for a second appearance before the grand jury. Several years later, Calescibetta recanted his testimony altogether.
But there were other problems. Two witnesses testified they never saw Bianco the night Monson disappeared. In fact, nobody testified having seen Bianco at the bar at all. And his car? It was a Skylark, not a Cordoba, as witnesses believed they saw. Komanecky originally told police Monson’s assailant “towered over her.” She was 5 feet, 7 inches tall, and wore a three-inch heel that night. Bianco was 5 feet, 8-1/2 inches tall. The eyewitnesses told police they never saw the face of the man who abducted Monson, but during trial, they noted his high cheekbones.
Even the forensic evidence brought questions. That broken leg? An expert for the defense said it looked more like an animal had chewed it than a break caused by blunt force. And the defense argued the holes in Monson’s bra weren’t knife wounds at all — and as proof showed there was no blood around those holes.
And then there were the rumors, the inconsistency in Bianco’s statements to friends, and even a jailhouse confession from another man, Mark Sweeting, who offered a completely different theory of the murder.