Saturday, April 17, 2010

Remains believed to be those of Gary Westerman may hold many clues, says forensic expert Dr. Michael Baden

Organized-crime investigators likely found a fully-clothed skeleton when they uncovered in Agawam 10 days ago what are believed to be the remains of an ex-convict missing since 2003, a renowned forensic pathologist says.

Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno- Even years after their demise, the dead can talk, says Dr. Michael M. Baden. Baden has served as the forensic expert in high-profile criminal investigations, including the O.J. Simpson case and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“The dead can say a lot. They can tell us what happened to them and who it is who may have killed them,” Baden said during a telephone interview this week.

FBI agents and State Police organized crime investigators on April 5 closed in on a wooded area behind a home at 160 Springfield St. in Agawam, bringing with them excavation equipment and other tools.

They remained there for four days, working into the night under blazing lights towards the end of the search. A medical examiner’s van ultimately carted away what are widely believed to be the remains of Gary D. Westerman, a 49-year-old Springfield man who vanished in late 2003.

Dr. Michael BadenThe dig came seven years after Westerman’s whereabouts had been labeled a missing-persons case. Westerman, who had a string of criminal convictions dating back to his teen years and strong ties to organized crime, was believed to have been killed by rival gangsters. However, his body had never surfaced.

The excavation in Agawam came just days after reputed Genovese crime family captain Anthony J. Arillotta – charged in federal court in Manhattan with the 2003 murder of his predecessor Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno – dropped out of sight in the federal prison system.

That particular vanishing had all the marks of a turncoat, but law enforcement officials have refused to confirm or deny it.

Authorities also have refused to officially say they were searching for Westerman, but sources close to the investigation say they were led there by someone with knowledge of Westerman’s whereabouts.

Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said it appears Westerman was shot twice in the head at the site, and then buried a short distance away in a hand-dug grave approximately 8 feet deep.

Baden said that, depending on the quality and dampness of the soil, there could be a complete loss of soft tissue but that investigators would likely find bones, bullets, hair, teeth and some personal effects of the deceased.

“Of everything in the body, the teeth stay the longest,” explained Baden, who still acts as a forensic consultant to the New York State Police in addition to his cases across the country and around the world. He is not a consultant in the Westerman case.

“If they were looking for somebody in particular they probably could make an identification within minutes from dental records,” he said

Baden also said most clothing holds up well, particularly cottons and other natural fibers. So Westerman could have, for example, been unearthed in the same jeans and sneakers he was wearing on the night he was allegedly killed.

“The nature of the clothing can be important if they had a snitch who told them what kind of clothing he was wearing when he died,” Baden said.

At such exhumations, Baden said, a forensic anthropologist is typically summoned to the scene. The digs are painstaking and mostly done through gentle sifting by hand of the soil around the remains.

Ballistics tests will ensue, according to Baden, along with an examination of entrance and exit wounds if the victim was, in fact, shot to death.

“They’re also looking for any other kind of information in the area . . . fibers of clothing on the surrounding brush .¤.¤.One time we found a boot print in a grave that was helpful in identifying the digger,” Baden said.

He added that though identification through dental records is quick and decisive, investigators will almost certainly send the remains for DNA testing also.

“They may not make any official announcements until they get the DNA results back, which usually takes about a week,” Baden said. “It’s not even really necessary but juries expect DNA evidence.”

The final step will be a criminal prosecution of those believed to have been involved in the killing. Prosecutors have refused to say when charges might come in connection with the Westerman case. However, federal court filings have stated investigators believe that at a minimum, Arillotta, who also was Westerman’s brother-in-law, and Arillotta enforcers Fotios and Ty Geas, brothers, had a hand in Westerman’s death.

Gary Westerman arrives at Springfield District Court September 13, 1974, to be arraigned on a burglary charge.Fotios Geas, 43, is Arillotta’s codefendant in the Bruno murder case – part of a broad racketeering indictment out of U.S. District Court in New York. Ty Geas lives in the area since he was released from jail in 2007 after an assault conviction.

State Police investigators have said previously that Arillotta, backed by the brothers, went on a short but violent reign to unseat Bruno as the region’s mob boss and that Westerman may have been part of that campaign.

Westerman served a 10-year state-prison sentence beginning in 1988 for his involvement in a Florida-to-Massachusetts cocaine trafficking ring that was tied to organized crime. A witness at his trial said Westerman used to tote kilos of cocaine stuffed in the legs of baggy pants.

While out on parole, he was convicted of a 1996 truck heist with Fotios Geas, when the two made off with furniture and computers. The Geases and co-defendant Arthur “Artie” Nigro, the reputed onetime head of the Genovese crime family – which mob investigators label the most feared of ...

Even at 19, Westerman was in 1973 charged along with two others with robbing Eastfield Mall vendors for jewelry, fur and leather coats, $28,000 in prescription drugs. Police said the men crawled in through the roof and slithered into the stores through air conditioning vents.