The Tragic Party
The plot of perhaps the most enduring theory of the Monson case sounds straight from a movie:
Thomas Bianco brought Julie Monson to a party being thrown at the South Street home of County Judge Peter Corning — a party thrown by Corning’s son, John. Monson left the party with John Corning and two other men: Thomas Calescibetta and James Vasile. The four went to Vasile’s house, where the men raped Monson in front of a video camera.
The group left Vasile’s house and was driving on Old County Line Road when Monson leaped from the car, breaking her leg. She tried to run away, but was tackled by Corning and Vasile and stabbed repeatedly until she was dead.
Her body was brought back to Vasile’s home and buried under a shed there. She was later moved to Montezuma Wildlife Refuge.
Why Corning, Vasile and Calescibetta?
The story of the tragic party can be traced back to Mark Sweeting, who claims it was told to him by Thomas Calescibetta, who was in jail at the time on perjury and contempt charges, accused of lying and withholding information when called to testify before the grand jury investigating the Monson case.
Sweeting’s story was never heard at trial; it was related in an appeal defense attorneys filed after Bianco was convicted. At a hearing to determine whether Bianco should be given a new trial in 1991, Sweeting’s story was backed up by Ricky Lee Winters, who said he overheard the conversation between Sweeting and Calescibetta. Carbonaro said at the time that Winters’ testimony was merely a ploy to get back at Peter Corning, who had sentenced Winters to prison time shortly before the hearing.
The Sweeting story didn’t end with the involvement of a powerful judge’s son; it hinted at corruption of every power broker in the Cayuga County justice system. Sweeting claimed he told then-District Attorney Paul Carbonaro about Calescibetta’s confession. But Carbonaro, Sweeting said, “told Sweeting he was not to mention John Corning’s name before either Judge Corning or the grand jury. Soon after Sweeting cooperated with … Carbonaro, Carbonaro helped obtain Sweeting’s release from jail under the guise that Sweeting’s safety may be in danger,” according to the defense’s motion.
Carbonaro never shared Sweeting’s story with Bianco’s defense team. But at trial, some forensic evidence supported it. Dr. Dudley J. Raynal, a professor at the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse testified that plant material growing through Monson’s remains and clothing indicated the body was moved to the site between September 1981 and spring 1982. And FBI Agent Ronald Rawalt testified that he found “fine, sandy soil” that stuck to Monson’s sweater during decomposition. That soil did not match the “silty, medium-fine soil” of the wildlife refuge.
The death of James Vasile makes the story evermore sinister. Vasile, who had testified before the grand jury in the Monson investigation, died of a gunshot wound to the midsection. His death was ruled a suicide. But many, including family members, believe he was murdered — potentially to keep him from telling all he knew about Monson’s death. Rumors have circulated that Vasile had at least one video tape — either of the Monson rape or of himself speaking about her death. Some rumors say he turned the tape over to Carbonaro. Others say he hid them.
Calescibetta recanted his testimony against Thomas Bianco and, according to a taped interview of former girlfriend Bonnie McGohan, told her he lied about Bianco to protect himself; he feared he’d be charged with Monson’s murder.
Calescibetta was sentenced to weekends in jail for six months after fatally shooting long-time friend Jerry Sylvester while hunting in 2003.
Robert Schillagi, an amateur investigator who has long needled authorities with claims of corruption and coverup in the Monson case, claims Sylvester contacted him in 2003, claiming he had information about the Monson case. Two weeks later, Sylvester was dead at Calescibetta’s hand. Calescibetta was convicted of criminally negligent homicide, and served weekends in county jail for six months. His hunting license was suspended for 10 years.
In more than 30 years, Sweeting is the only one to openly admit any knowledge of the alleged party — and that knowledge was second hand. No one else has publicly come forward to say they attended the party, or talked to anyone who had. Peter Corning has denied vehemently that any party took place at his home. In an interview prior to his retirement from the bench, Corning said his son was only 15 at the time of the murder (he was, in fact, 17) and would not have been left home alone.
Vasile’s death is indeed tragic and curious. But police records preceding his death weave a story of a troubled man. He had recently led police on a high-speed chase that ended in Aurelius. He was sent to Hutchings Psychiatric Center after threatening to “get people” he thought were implicating him in Monson’s murder. Joseph DeVoe, who discovered Vasile’s body the day after Thanksgiving 1984, said Vasile suffered from depression. And his death was likely heard by a worker at a battered women’s shelter, where Vasile called, demanding to speak to his wife and threatening to kill himself. The worker said she heard a “pop” sound come over the phone line, then nothing but the sound of the television in the background. When DeVoe discovered Vasile’s body the next day, the telephone was still in his hand.
Bianco and his defense team never presented the theory of the tragic party at trial. If, as Sweeting claimed, Bianco had brought Monson to the party, his testimony to that effect would have been damning for Calescibetta, the prosecution’s star witness, who testified Bianco had admitted to killing Monson.