DOYLESTOWN, Pa. — A day after a man here confessed to his role in killing four Pennsylvania men whose disappearances set off an intensive search, questions remained Friday about what unfolded in the rolling hills north of Philadelphia.
The mysterious case of the missing men — all between the ages of 19 and 22 — has transfixed this region since all four vanished last week. Even as the investigation stretched on for days, centering on a farm not far from the Delaware River, the Bucks County district attorney said he clung to hope that the men would be found alive.
That all changed with a pair of stark revelations Thursday. Matthew Weintraub, the district attorney, announced early in the morning that investigators had found one of the bodies of the missing men — along with other human remains — in a 12-foot-deep “common grave” on the farm.
On Thursday evening, another dramatic development: Cosmo Dinardo, the 20-year-old man named as a person of interest in the case, confessed to “his participation” in the killings of the four men, his lawyer said.
Dinardo, whose parents own the Solebury Township farm being searched, was already in custody after being accused of stealing and trying to sell a car belonging to one of the missing men. Standing outside a courthouse here, one of his attorneys said he had made the confession to avoid a death sentence. (Pennsylvania does retain the death penalty, though executions are rare and the governor has imposed a moratorium on them.)
“He confessed to his participation or commission in the murders of four young men,” Paul Lang, the lawyer, told reporters. “In exchange for that confession, Mr. Dinardo was promised by the district attorney that he will spare his life by not invoking the death penalty.”
Still, other uncertainties swirled around the case even after Dinardo’s confession, including whether anyone else participated in the slayings. Weintraub’s office said he had “no response” to Lang’s statements, and a briefing set for Thursday night was canceled. Another news conference scheduled for Friday morning was postponed and scheduled for a government building in Doylestown early Friday afternoon.
At a briefing before Dinardo’s confession, the prosecutor declined to say whether he believed Dinardo had help. Weintraub’s office would not confirm or deny media reports that Dinardo had implicated a co-conspirator and that someone in Philadelphia was taken into custody late Thursday night. Weintraub will lay out the case in detail Friday afternoon, according to a spokesman.
DiNardo confessed in return for no death penalty, defense attorney said. pic.twitter.com/NbxSO1pHXI
— James Boyle (@jamesboylejr) July 13, 2017
On Friday, even with Dinardo in custody, the extent and conditions of his apparent plea deal remained unknown, and he had not been charged in connection with the killings.
Dinardo was briefly seen in public after the confession when he left the courthouse in Doylestown. When reporters asked Dinardo — wearing glasses, an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs — what he would say to the relatives of the victims, he responded: “I’m sorry.”
Authorities have said that Dinardo has a history of “severe mental illness” and had been committed to a mental health facility after an episode in which he fired a shotgun.
An attorney for Dinardo did not respond to a message seeking comment, and no one answered when a Washington Post reported visited the address listed for the 20-year-old in court filings.
The search has focused on the extensive property — owned by Dinardo’s parents, Antonio and Sandra, according to prosecutors — in Solebury Township. Not far from the farm, shops line Route 202, with signs advertising fresh eggs and organic food, and a few miles away sits historic New Hope, a popular tourist spot.
Inside the farm, investigators have been at work digging deep into the ground. Aerial footage shows teams searching under a large tent, and Weintraub has said they are enduring stifling heat as they painstakingly search the property. The FBI has sent an evidence response team to help with the investigation and is helping local detectives manage incoming tips.
On Friday morning, a heavy law enforcement presence remained at the entrance to the farm amid heavy rain.
Bucks County District Attorney’s Office photos of the missing men. Top row: Dean Finocchiaro, 18, left, and Tom Meo, 21. Bottom row: Jimi Patrick, 19, left, and Mark Sturgis, 22. (Bucks County District Attorney’s Office via Reuters)
Officials have publicly said they identified the body of Dean Finocchiaro, 19, found in the common grave. Finocchiaro, along with 21-year-old Thomas Meo and 22-year-old Mark Sturgis, has been missing since July 7. Jimi Patrick, a 19-year-old who just finished his first year at Loyola University in Baltimore, vanished two days earlier.
Meo and Sturgis are good friends and work together, according to court records. Local media reports say that Dinardo and Patrick attended the same preparatory school in Bensalem, Pa., while Dinardo and Finocchiaro had both posted on a Facebook page for buying and selling all-terrain vehicles.
Another vehicle helped authorities put Dinardo behind bars while they investigated the case. Meo’s girlfriend last heard from him in a text message on July 7, according to court records, and he did not show up for work on July 8. Neither did Sturgis.
Cosmo Dinardo seen being escorted to a police vehicle on Thursday after his apparent confession. (Matt Rourke/AP)
The next day, Meo’s mother reported him missing. Cars belonging to Meo and Sturgis were then found about two miles apart, and Bucks County detectives interviewed a man from Bensalem, Pa., who said that Dinardo had offered to sell him an older model Nissan Maxima for $500.
Investigators say this is Meo’s car. When they found it, Meo’s insulin kit — needed to treat his diabetes — was found inside. Officials say Meo could not survive without the kit.
The property being searched in Pennsylvania. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
Residents expressed surprise at the mystery unfolding around them, something highly unusual in this area. James Jackman, a 19-year-old who works at Antiques at the Old Church, right next to the farm, said that for this part of Pennsylvania to have a homicide investigation is “definitely out of character.”
Neighbors on the cul-de-sac where Dinardo lives in Bensalem described him as a good kid who went out of his way to help others, such as volunteering to shovel them out during snowstorms and refusing payment.
“Beautiful family,” said a neighbor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I don’t know what went wrong with the kid. Great kid. Just saw him last week. Never a sign of problems.”
Berman reported from Washington. Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.
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