May 14, 2017

The Murderous Assaults of Peter and Joan Porco


In the gruesome world of murder, there is nothing worse than family members who turn on each other and kill.  For family members who do so over greed, it's even more repulsive.

The Porco case is a particularly disgusting one, not just in how the victims were attacked but also in what the assumed motive was.

In November of 2004, Peter and Joan Porco were like so many other middle aged, middle class Americans. They lived in Delmar, New York in a comfortable two-story home and worked for a living. Peter was an appellate court clerk and Joan worked as a speech pathologist.  They had been married for thirty years and had two sons.  Peter was very responsible and reliable so when he did not show up for work on Monday, November 15, 2004, a court officer was dispatched to the Porco residence on Brockley Drive to check on his welfare.
The Porco family in the 1980s; Christopher is on the left

The officer was horrified to discover Peter by the front door, where he had apparently collapsed.  He lay in a huge pool of blood and had endured a vicious assault to his head.  A blood trail was noticeable from where Peter had died to the front door, the kitchen, the hallway and up the stairs.

The local police were notified immediately and searched the home. They found Joan in the blood drenched bedroom, lying in bed and, remarkably, still alive.  She too suffered the same grievous injuries to her face and head that her husband had endured - - a portion of her brain was actually exposed - - but she was conscious.  Detective Christopher Bowdish of the Bethlehem Police Department worried, and even expected, that Joan Porco would not survive her injuries and asked her if she knew who had attacked her. Using a nodding or shaking motion of her head, along with moving her hands, she indicated that a family member had attacked her.  She shook her head "no" when asked if it was son Johnathon; she nodded her head "yes" when asked if it was son Christopher.  This exchange occurred in front of the paramedics, as they would later testify.

Once Joan Porco was taken to the hospital, where she would undergo emergency surgery and then be placed into a medically induced coma, the police began their investigation. They quickly discovered that the home's alarm system had been smashed, the telephone landline had been cut and a screen to one of the windows had been slashed.  However, nothing appeared to have been stolen from the residence. Neither Peter's wallet nor Joan's had been taken nor rifled. Joan was still wearing jewelry. None of the electronics had been touched.  They also found a fireman's axe in the bedroom; the weapon belonged to the Porcos.

The blood patterns and trail from the master bedroom to and through the downstairs and out the front door indicated that, unbelievably, after suffering his wounds, Peter had risen from the bed in shock and had moved about, getting ready for his work day, as he often did - - from stepping into the bathroom to starting the coffee in the kitchen, preparing his lunch and beginning to unload the dishwasher. Only after stepping at or briefly out the front door - - either to check for a paper or leave - - did his wounds overtake him and he collapsed.

With his father dead and his mother terribly injured, Christopher Porco received a call from a newspaper reporter, looking for a comment about the murder. Chris was then a twenty-one year old student at the University of Rochester, some 230 miles from Bethlehem. He called police to inquire what had happened at his parents' home and was informed that his father had been killed but his mother was still clinging to life.  If you can listen to the recording, I suggest that you do. Chris is so detached, so emotionally cut off from what has happened, the guy might as well be calling to order a pizza.  Heck, I think most people have more emotion doing that.  I also think it's interesting that, at least from the portions I heard, that Chris doesn't ask how his parents were attacked or anything like that - he's very controlled.

Meantime, the Bethlehem Police had issued an all-points bulletin for Chris Porco.  This would later be criticized by the defense as the police having tunnel vision (but remember that Joan did identify Chris as her attacker.)

However, the police were checking out other leads as well. A tip came in that an unhappy litigant may have taken issue with the outcome of a custody case and had threatened Peter; the investigation into that was a dead end as the man had a solid alibi.  Peter's great uncle Frank had ties to the Mob and was known as "the Fireman."  Detectives wondered if Frank had threatened to talk to authorities and his associates had sent a message to him by killing Peter - - and with a fireman's axe.  That theory fizzled though when they discovered Frank incarcerated specifically because he refused to cooperate with authorities and rat.

One person they couldn't seem to clear, though, was Chris Porco.

For years Chris had been telling friends and classmates that he came from a wealthy family. He spoke of real estate holdings and vacation homes, something the Porcos did not have.  When the same friends would ask to see this magnificent home or one of the vacation homes, Chris would always have an excuse as to why they could accompany to him to one of the properties.

There had also been tension between Chris and his parents with regard to finances and Chris' tendency to lie.  He had taken out a loan, ostensibly to pay for his tuition at Rochester, but had used nearly $17,000 of the loan to finance a new Jeep Wrangler.  He had also done poorly at school, resulting in the University suspending him.  He went to a local community college but fared no better there.  He was touring Europe with friends when his parents found out he was flunking out of community college as well. He managed to get readmitted to Rochester the following year - - the fall of 2004 - - by forging transcripts from the community college.  He told his parents that he was readmitted because a professor had misplaced his final exam from the previous year and because of the University's mistake, his tuition would be covered.  Chris covered that lie by forging his father's signature on loan documents.  He also opened a line of credit with the bank, again forging his father's signature as co-signer, in order to go toward the financing of his Wrangler.

In addition to the acts above, Chris was also stealing property. His roommate's laptop was stolen and Chris suddenly turned up with the exact same make and model of computer. His parents' home had computers and cameras stolen from it in the summer of 2003 and they suspected that Chris was involved.

Chris had devised a scheme on eBay to scam persons out of money.  He listed the very computers and cameras he had filched from his parents for sale and collected payment for them but had no intention of mailing the items out. When he received emails about the items not being shipped, he posed as his older brother Johnathon, and stated that his younger brother Chris, who had listed the items for sale, had died and he did not know where the items were nor did he have any way to refund the purchaser their money.  Johnathon, a Naval officer whose career could be impacted by this type of behavior, attempted to reach his younger brother by phone more than 40 times. Chris did not bother returning a single call.
Chris with his infamous Jeep

Things came to a head around two weeks before the murder, when Peter Porco was notified that the loan Chris had taken out was delinquent. It was then he found out that Chris had forged his signature, not just on the loan for tuition but also on a line of credit.  He also found out that Chris had not been his tuition with the ill-gotten loan proceeds. Both Peter and Joan attempted to contact Chris by phone; their various phone calls were not returned by him.  Peter sent his son an email in which he berated him for the dishonesty and told him that if Chris were to do any more such things, Peter would be forced to file forgery affidavits with the bank.  He also told his son that Chris was welcome back into the family home to resolve the matter and while he and Joan were disappointed with Chris' actions, they still loved him and cared about his future.

It was also around this time that Chris met with an investment professional, seeking financial advice.  He told the counselor that he was coming into some money.

With no other legitimate suspects, the police zeroed in on Chris.  His alibi was that he had been at school in Rochester, sleeping on the evening of November 14 and waking November 15 to find out about the attack on his parents by the phone call from the reporter.  The police believed that he had driven the three hours to his parents' home, attacked them and then returned back to school, without anyone in the dorm being the wiser. They obtained surveillance video that showed a yellow Jeep leaving the University dorm area around 10:30 p.m. on November 14 and returning at 8:30 a.m. on November 15.  They also discovered that while the Porcos' burglar alarm had been smashed, it was broken after it had been manually deactivated.  Given this information, they believed that Chris had left Rochester around 10:30, driven to Delmar, deactivated the burglar alarm at 2:14 a.m., attacked his parents, cut the phone line at 4:59 a.m. and headed back to school, returning at 8:30 a.m.  At some point either before or after attacking his parents, he cut the window screen to make it appear as though there was a break-in. With a three hour travel time each way, this was absolutely doable.

Chris' brother Johnathon, an officer in the U.S. Navy who was in South Carolina at the time of his father's murder, said only a few people knew the code for the burglar alarm system and Chris was one of them.  The police theorized that Chris smashed the alarm panel, hoping that would obliterate the fact that the code had been entered (it obviously did not.)

To no one's surprise, Chris Porco was arrested for the murder of his father and the attempted murder of his mother.  The trial took place in July 2006 with the defense arguing that the prosecution had no forensic evidence linking Chris to the crime, save a tollway ticket with his DNA on it. They asserted that whoever attacked the Porcos would be bloody and no blood was found in Chris' vehicle, nor were any bloody clothing recovered.  No fingerprints were found on the axe used to bludgeon Peter and Joan.

Some of Chris' fraternity brothers testified that he was not asleep in the dorm lounge as he had stated and a neighbor testified that he saw a bright yellow Jeep in the Porco driveway on the evening/early morning of the murder. Toll booth attendants that had worked in the "cash only" lanes said they recalled seeing a yellow Jeep like Chris' passing through that evening with who they thought was Chris Porco in the driver's seat.

Although there was no direct evidence putting the axe in Chris' hands or putting him in the Delmar home during the time of the attacks, the jury found him guilty of second degree murder and attempted murder.  He was sentenced fifty years to life on each count, which was a minimum of fifty years in prison.

Chris Porco showed no outward reaction during the verdict or the sentencing, although some said that his neck flushed red.  He said nothing but in the recording of the verdict the sound of the handcuffs being locked on his wrists is very audible.

Joan and Chris, heading into court together
One of the more surprising and heart wrenching aspects of this case was that Joan Porco stood by her youngest son during the investigation and trial.  She had survived the brutal assault that killed her husband; she lost her left eye and a portion of her skull but she had survived. After she awoke from her medically induced coma, she claimed to have no memory of the attack nor of telling Detective Bowdish that Chris was responsible. She asked the detectives and investigators to leave her son alone and accused them of botching the investigation. She got together the $250,000 needed for his bail when he was first arrested and the two attended the trial together, walking into the courtroom hand in hand.  She spent six hours in the witness box, recanting the twisted path of Chris' lies and actions, the childhood he had with his brother Johnathon and denied that he was mentally ill.  She also testified that she had been frightened on two occasions in the month or so prior to the attack by the presence of a stranger in her driveway; one time at night and once during the day.  She stated that the police never followed up on this or questioned her about it.

I think Christopher Porco did it.  I think he killed his father and meant to kill his mother. Peter Porco sustained sixteen blows from that fireman's axe; blows that penetrated his skull and took off part of his jaw. He bled for hours after he was attacked before he succumbed. Joan Porco's skull was split open, her left eye was lost and her right so damaged that she required a magnifying glass in order to read following the assault. That is tremendous rage and resentment.

It's clear that Peter and Joan were attacked in their bed. That fact, along with nothing being stolen from the house, seems to discount a burglary gone bad.

Chris' attorney would argue that Peter would often turn off the alarm late at night to let the dog out and forget to turn it back on and that it may very well have been Peter who disabled the alarm that murder morning.  That could be true.  But no burglar would smash an alarm box or touch it if there was no reason to.  And why wouldn't the dog bark or give an alert if a stranger were in the house?

Why would Chris Porco's toll road transponder be found under the front passenger seat when authorities searched his vehicle?  Possibly because he thought if he put it away or covered it, it wouldn't "ping" going through the toll booths and provide proof that he was not in Rochester during the crucial hours?

August 10, 2006.  Guilty.
I think the time frame is of crucial importance. Just that two weeks prior to the murder Chris Porco's house of cards came tumbling down.  He had screwed over his parents and his brother. They had all reached out to him but he had cut himself off.  It was November. The school semester would be ending shortly and surely Chris would be kicked out of the University.  He had not paid his tuition and he was flunking out. He would have to explain this to his parents, the one thing they may not have yet been aware of  - - that his tuition was not covered by the school and had not been paid.

What did Chris do with the money?  He used a portion of the funds to purchase the Jeep but I have to wonder if he was using drugs. He appeared to be partying and drinking.  Before the attacks, Joan had found out that Chris was using a Mobil card for snacks and food instead of gasoline, which was what the card was for.

I think Chris wanted to remain at the University of Rochester, not because he was an outstanding student but because he had freedom there he didn't have at home and he was partying. His parents reportedly had a two million dollar life insurance policy that would pay out if both of them were dead.

I believe that Chris decided to do away with his parents before the end of the semester. He expected to collect that life insurance policy, at least half of it (as the other half would have gone to his brother.)  He also would have been free to sell the family home and collect half the proceeds on that.

As a killer, Chris was about as adept as he was a student. He didn't manage to kill his mother and his father lived for several hours after the attack, even getting up and stumbling about the house.  He also used a brutal, unwieldy weapon that belonged to the Porcos.  Something a burglar likely would not know they owned.  He smashed the alarm box after the alarm was disabled. He cut the screen, despite the killer entering the home through the front door and with a key. (The key was found by the front door, likely dropped in error and without the killer's knowledge.)  He didn't expect the toll booth operators to remember him, nor for a neighbor to notice his Jeep. He didn't expect for nine of his dorm mates to recognize that he was not in the dorm that evening or early morning.

While no blood was found in Chris' Jeep or on any clothing he had at the dorm, I agree with the prosecution's theory that Chris was probably wearing scrubs from the veterinary office he worked at during the assaults. It would have been easy for him to take those off and dispose of them somewhere along his route back to Rochester, leaving his clothing underneath unsoiled.

As an interesting footnote to this case, Lifetime TV put a made for television movie into production on the Porco case.  Surprisingly called Romeo Killer: The Christopher Porco Story, Lifetime portrayed Chris Porco as a ladies man who was as sociopathic in his romantic relationships as he was in everything else.  Chris had not seen the movie but sued Lifetime.  A judge issued a ban on the movie days before it was to premiere. An appellate court, however, issued a stay on that order and the movie was allowed to be broadcast.  Eventually Chris' case was dismissed.  Not so fast!  In March of this year, a New York Court of Appeals judge reversed the dismissal.  Is your head spinning yet?  And Lifetime is arguing that their program is a fictionalized account of Christopher Porco and so his argument that his privacy has been violated does not stick.  It's an interesting argument from Lifetime's perspective as the movie could hardly be subtitled The Christopher Porco Story if it's a fictionalized account.

In the meantime, Christopher Porco remains incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York. He will be eligible for parole in 2052.  His mother still believes in his innocence.

The murder weapon

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