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Unsolved, unforgotten

Family of Walpole woman strangled at home in 1996 remains frustrated by the lack of a suspect and asks what happened to evidence that might yield clues

Marcie Fusillo Martini, a 32-year-old woman who was murdered in her Walpole townhouse on July 10, 1996. Her murder remains unsolved. She is shown with her dog, Rocky. Marcie Fusillo Martini, a 32-year-old woman who was murdered in her Walpole townhouse on July 10, 1996. Her murder remains unsolved. She is shown with her dog, Rocky.
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / June 19, 2008

On July 10, 1996, Marcie Martini was strangled in her Walpole home. No one has ever been charged in her death, and police are still looking for leads. As the 12th anniversary of her murder approaches, her family grows increasingly frustrated and wonders if justice will ever be served.

"This is a case that should have been solved," said her younger brother, attorney James J. Fusillo. Investigators "didn't do a lot of things that they could have done. I don't understand why they didn't treat the crime scene as a homicide until it was too late."

Fusillo believes the investigation was botched from the very beginning, because, he said, the crime scene was never secured properly and investigators jumped to the conclusion that the death was a suicide after being called to the scene by Martini's ex-boyfriend, who told investigators that he discovered her body. Fusillo said he remains puzzled by the investigators' initial decision to call the death a suicide. "I don't know why they did, but they did," he said. "Their choice flew in the face of facts. . . . It wasn't treated as a homicide scene right away."

Walpole Police Detective Jim O'Connell describes the case as "extremely frustrating." O'Connell wasn't working for the Walpole Police Department when Martini was murdered, but has been investigating the case for the past 10 years. The lack of physical evidence and eyewitness testimony from the initial investigation, coupled with inconclusive lab results, "kept us going in circles," he said.

"There is no statute of limitations on murder, and we take that seriously," said Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating. "Every unsolved case of this nature is frustrating. If anyone out there has firsthand information, or even secondhand information, they should contact us."

Marcella (Fusillo) Martini - who always went by her nickname, Marcie - was a relative newcomer to Walpole. She had spent most of her life in the suburbs west of Boston; she graduated from Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in 1981 and later attended Regis College in Weston. She moved to Walpole in 1993 as a newlywed. She and her husband, Robert Martini, settled into a new town house on Teal Circle, a cul-de-sac in a condominium community called Swan Pond. But their marriage didn't last. Robert eventually moved out. She stayed in Walpole and continued to live in the condo with her dog, Rocky.

The first half of 1996 had been a tumultuous time for Martini. She was 32 years old and in the process of filing for divorce. Her dating life wasn't going well, either. That spring, she got a restraining order against her boyfriend, Brian J. Bowler. She had been dating Bowler for a while, and family members say their relationship was fizzling.

"She had packed his bags," said her brother. "They were pretty much done."

Several bags filled with Bowler's clothes were found at the scene, according to O'Connell, and it appeared that Bowler had been staying in a guest bedroom.

At one time, Bowler and Martini both worked at the same office, at Executone in Westwood. By the summer of 1996, Martini quit that job and began looking for a new one.

The evening of July 10, 1996, seemed like any other day. It was Wednesday, and the weather was hot. Swan Pond was quieter than usual, because some residents were away on vacation. Around 5 p.m., Martini stopped at an ATM in Norwood, then headed home to Teal Circle. A little after 6 p.m., a neighbor saw Martini walking on the sidewalk near her home. They waved to each other.

A few hours later - sometime between 8 and 10 p.m. - Martini was murdered.

Walpole Police received a 911 call from Martini's condo at 1:48 a.m. On the other end of the line was Bowler, who told police he had come home and discovered his girlfriend on the floor of her bedroom, and she wasn't breathing.

Police officers found Martini's body on the floor of her bedroom, clad in nothing but a T-shirt. An empty bottle of her prescription antidepressant medication was nearby, and the pills were scattered all over the floor. Steve Foley, a rookie Walpole police officer, took a few photos of the scene. A representative from the state medical examiner's office, listed as Dr. Barrera, determined that Martini had been dead for some time, apparently the victim of an accidental overdose or suicide.

At 3:30 a.m., Martini's body was quietly wheeled out. The police cleared the scene at 3:47 a.m. It seemed like an open-and-shut case, just another tragic overdose.

To her family, Martini's death didn't make sense. Just two days before, she sounded upbeat, not suicidal.

An autopsy was conducted that Thursday afternoon. Dr. Stanton Kessler of the state medical examiner's office called the Fusillo family at home to break the news: Marcie died from blunt force trauma to the neck, or strangulation. There were no drugs or alcohol in her system.

Suddenly, the Walpole Police Department had a homicide investigation on its hands. The next day, police returned to Swan Pond and began interviewing people. Most residents of Teal Circle weren't even aware that Martini had died. The news of her murder rocked the peaceful neighborhood.

During the investigation, police questioned several men who had relationships with Martini, but none was ever named as a suspect. Martini's estranged husband, Robert Martini, was out of state on July 10, and witnesses corroborated his whereabouts.

Bowler told police that he had been working late in Westwood that night. Immediately after work, Bowler said, he went to a Chinese restaurant in Norwood, and then stopped by the Rebel Restaurant (now known as Finnegans Wake) in Walpole before arriving at the condo, where, he told police, he discovered Martini's body in her room.

Police checked out Bowler's story, O'Connell said, and corroborated his account with witnesses. Efforts by the Globe to contact Bowler were unsuccessful.

O'Connell noted that there was no sign of forced entry or a struggle, or reports of Martini's dog barking on the night of her death.

"It was someone she knew," he said.

In 1999, O'Connell started working with detectives from the State Police cold case squad, which has since been disbanded, and reviewed the police reports from the initial investigation. The only photos of the crime scene were the few snapshots taken by Foley. The detectives rounded up what physical evidence they could - some sheets, blankets, and clothing that had been collected from the scene - and had it tested for DNA evidence.

In an effort to find new DNA evidence, Martini's body was exhumed in April 2005. Authorities removed her fingernails, in case there were trace amounts of evidence on them from fighting off her attacker. They were sent to a laboratory for testing, which took more than a year to complete. In June 2006, the lab results came back as inconclusive.

O'Connell continues to investigate, and authorities remain hopeful that someone who knows something or saw something that night will come forward.

Martini's friends and family - her parents, who live in Lincoln, and her sister and two brothers - still have many unanswered questions. Over the years they have peppered police, the district attorney's office, and even victim rights advocates with calls in a futile effort to get answers.

Marcie's mother, Connie Fusillo, wants to know what, if any, forensic evidence has been saved from her daughter's autopsy in 1996. At the funeral, she viewed Marcie's body and noticed that her daughter's nails had been cut very short. "She always wore her nails long," said Fusillo. "What happened to those clippings?"

Jamie Fusillo said he has received two different explanations regarding the fingernails: A State Police trooper told him that his sister's nails were never cut during the autopsy; but then a prosecutor in the Norfolk district attorney's office once told him that her fingernails had been cut and the clippings had been lost.

According to Keating's office, Martini's autopsy report lists several items that were kept for testing. "It doesn't include any mention of fingernails," said a spokesman for the Norfolk district attorney, David Traub.

Deacon Michael A. Iwanowicz of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Sharon, the neighbor who waved to Martini on the last afternoon she was seen alive, still wonders why it took so long for the homicide investigation to begin, and why her murder didn't receive as much media attention as other area homicides.

William Delahunt, who was the district attorney at the time, never called any press conferences or issued any statements to the neighbors about the murder investigation, according to Iwanowicz. Most of the neighbors who lived on Teal Circle in 1996 have since moved, he said.

Iwanowicz has stayed in touch with the Fusillo family over the years. He has also written several columns in the local newspaper to remind readers about Martini's unsolved murder.

"What did really happen and why did the investigation remain so quiet and uneventful?" he wrote in The Walpole Times in 2005. "Why was the community at large not informed about the status of the situation? What was so unique about this homicide as to cloak it in secrecy? . . . I ask, who remembers Marcie Fusillo?"

Anyone with information regarding the case is asked to contact the Walpole Police Department at 508-668-1095 or State Police at 508-820-2121.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com.

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