A True Cold Case Crime Book

“The Family Debt” Arrives At Bookstores Worldwide!

The original file on the murder of my father, Jack Bianco, stayed at the bottom of a musty, cardboard banker’s box in Gary, Indiana, for almost thirty years. There was no denying that his case was cold—the leads within were as dead as many of the police detectives who had worked the original investigation.

The term “cold case” sounds so uninviting and final, and the prospects of reopening Dad’s case seemed equally bleak. But despite all this, in 1993, I called a retired police officer I knew, to help me find my father’s file. He asked for the assistance of his fellow officers to locate the Bianco file.

Every month for six months, I would call Jerry and ask what progress had been made. His answer would always be, “We’re still looking but cannot seem to find it.” Frustration started to build with my constant question:, “Why can’t you find my dad’s file?”

As we were going into the seventh month of searching for the file, I started to believe it did not exist. I made another call to Jerry. After all these months of supposedly searching for it, I was told the file on my father’s murder was lost in a fire the department had some years past. I asked the question that never would be answered: “When did the fire occur and why did it take you seven months to find this out?” Needless to say, I was not convinced his file was burned in a fire!

Then, a call to the offices of the Gary Public Library—where I could order reprints of old newspapers—helped to fill in some of the crucial blanks of that tragic day in August 1970. The librarian was of great assistance. While I was waiting anxiously on the other end of the phone, he was searching for the articles on microfiche. At first he wasn’t able to locate them, thinking they did not exist, but as we went over the dates again, there they were.

I received the articles about four days later in the mail, three consecutive days of the story. The first one, dated Monday, August 31, 1970, was on the front page of the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana, the day following his murder. The headline read, “Owner of tavern linked to gambling gunned down here.” Linked to gambling? What was that about? As far as our family knew, my father was a legitimate businessman with no ties to gambling—we were enraged! We do know that my father’s half brother Tony Penzato—who was regarded by federal investigators as a top man in the Lake County gambling business—was regularly in the media. The only involvement we knew my father had was to help his brother get out of his unlawful practices.

Who would care about the 1970 slaying of a man from Gary, Indiana, with Mafia connections? His daughter for one. This was the culmination of a lot of sleepless nights and worry-lines. For over twenty years, I had harbored resentment and anger that these killers had escaped punishment, after taking away a father, a husband, and a good man.

I was just fourteen years old—a week shy of beginning high school—when the doorbell rang in the middle of the night, as I waited for my daddy to come home from work, but it wasn’t Dad. He would never come home again.

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