Gangland killings often involve pistols, which though compact and lethal, still need to be disposed of to prevent being traced. I would favor slipping the guns into a crucible of molten steel or iron, but such hot metal is seldom available and other methods must be found.
The Scene of the Crime
In this case the reputed leader of the New England La Cosa Nostra allegedly ordered two subordinates to kill an individual, one Raymond Curcio. The intended victim was lured into a car to assist in a burglary. Instead, he received two bullets in the back of the head and his body was left in the car.
There was no prosecution for 15 years until police divers recovered two pistols from Canada Pond in Rhode Island. The police were acting on testimony from one of the killers who was apparently trying for a reduced sentence.
Divers brought up the two pistols that had allegedly been used in the murder. One was a .32-caliber automatic and the other a .38-caliber revolver, both of which supposedly spent 15 years at the bottom of the lake. I was asked to determine whether the weapons had indeed been in the lake for 15 years.
I examined the guns at a police station, along with an electron microscopy expert, Lennie Sudenfield. Sudenfield and I have worked together on many cases. See “The Case of the Shortened Shotguns.” He made rubber replicas of the insides of the two gun barrels for study under the scanning electron microscope.
The inside of the .38-caliber pistol was badly corroded. The inside of the .32-caliber barrel was nearly pristine, as shown in the photo of the replica, below. The rifling is in such good shape a bullet could have been fired through the barrel for ballistic tests.
The determining factor in corrosion rates of steel is not temperature, acidity or saltiness. The composition of the steel is only a minor factor (except for stainless steel). The oxygen content of the water is the crucial factor. At my request, divers measured the oxygen content in the region where the guns were found. The water was found to be saturated with oxygen, so the corrosion rate of the steel could be estimated at about 1/100 inch per year.
The Smoking Gun
The guns had supposedly been freshly fired when thrown in the lake, so the insides of the barrels would not be covered with oil or other preservative. Such preservatives would delay the onset of corrosion and make estimating time of immersion difficult. I concluded that the badly corroded .38-caliber gun had spent 10 or 20 years in the lake. I estimated the .32-caliber gun had spent, at most, about a year under water.
The state's star witness was thus perjuring himself, as often happens in criminal trials. These witnesses are rarely the pick of the parish and often use their testimony to settle old scores, to protect friends or to simply save their own hides. Joseph “The Animal” Barboza is an excellent example of such a witness.
I was all geared up to present my findings in court but the judge disallowed the testimony because my presence had not been made known in a timely manner. The defendant was convicted but the conviction was overturned on appeal. The appeals court ruled I should have been allowed to testify.
I was told by defense counsel the state might let the case drop, which is what happened. The guns had been eliminated as credible evidence and what was left apparently did not justify a new prosecution.