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Mother keeps vigil for slain daughter

Continues her efforts to solve baggage handler’s ’92 slaying

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / September 13, 2009

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Susan Taraskiewicz was feisty. After she became the first female baggage supervisor for Northwest Airlines at Logan Airport, she was targeted by bullies who spray-painted obscene graffiti about her on cargo holds, vandalized her car, and drew a coffin with her name on a bathroom stall.

She stood up to them by showing up for work every day - even after superiors allegedly ordered her to empty airplane toilets in response to her complaints about harassment. Standing about 5 feet 7 and weighing just 115 pounds, she once jumped in to break up a fight between much bigger male colleagues.

On Sept. 13, 1992, Taraskiewicz, 27, took sandwich orders from co-workers and left for an early morning food run. She never came back. Her body, badly beaten and stabbed, was found 36 hours later in the trunk of her blue Toyota Tercel in the parking lot of a Revere auto body shop.

Investigators have long suspected that her killing was linked to a major stolen credit card ring that was operating out of Northwest Airlines, yet no one was charged with the slaying.

Today, the 17th anniversary of her daughter’s death, Marlene Taraskiewicz will mark the day as she does each year, with a solitary vigil at Logan Airport. She will carry a sign reminding people of the young woman who was last seen alive at the Northwest terminal, and advertising a $250,000 reward for information leading to the killer’s arrest.

“I know there are people who know what happened to her,’’ said Taraskiewicz, 67, of Peabody. “I will get my answer. I need them to know that until her murder is solved, I’m not giving up.’’

State and federal authorities, who conducted separate probes related to her slaying over the years, are not giving up either.

“Susan’s case is open and it will stay open until the day we finally hold someone accountable for her murder,’’ Daniel F. Conley, the Suffolk district attorney, said during a phone interview last week.

“We always hold out hope that one day someone will have the courage or the compassion to break their silence and tell what happened because someone knows. We’re pretty sure of that.’’

The slaying is currently being investigated by State Police and a prosecutor assigned to Conley’s office.

Marlene Taraskiewicz said she has been assured that the trail is not cold.

“The State Police still get information about her,’’ said. “Things are still happening on her case.’’

She remains convinced that people involved in the stolen credit card ring in the early 1990s “had something to do with Susan’s murder.’’

The month before the slaying, several Northwest baggage handlers were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the theft of hundreds of credit cards that were manufactured in the Midwest, shipped east on Northwest Airlines flights from Minneapolis, and pilfered from mailbags upon arrival in Boston. The Secret Service, the FBI, and US Postal Inspection Service were involved in the investigation.

Scammers with fake Massachusetts driver’s licenses that matched the names on the credit cards were using the cards to buy jewelry and get cash advances in casinos and racetracks in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Foxwoods in Connecticut.

Taraskiewicz said she was assured by the FBI years ago that her daughter was not involved in the credit card scam and was not cooperating with authorities. But court documents revealed that some of the men who had been accused of harassing her on the job feared that she might aid investigators.

While working an overnight shift at Northwest Airlines on Sept. 13, 1992, she collected food orders for a Revere sandwich shop. Before she left, around 1 a.m. Taraskiewicz received a telephone call from an unidentified person who wanted to meet her.

“I think somebody definitely set her up,’’ said her mother, speculating that the call was from someone her daughter trusted, who lured her to a meeting with her killer.

Co-workers never reported Taraskiewicz missing. Instead they punched her time card, making it appear she had returned, and then checked her out at her usual time. Her parents learned she was missing and rushed to the police station to report her disappearance on the morning of Sept. 14, 1992, only to learn her body had just been discovered in her car on Route 1A in Revere.

In a diary discovered after her death, Taraskiewicz detailed sexual harassment she experienced at work.

Over the next few years, 37 people, including 10 Northwest baggage handlers, were convicted on federal charges of participating in the stolen credit card ring. Among them was Joseph Nuzzo, now 49, of Peabody, who was described in court as the “initiator’’ of the credit card theft scheme and was sentenced in 1995 to three years in prison for his role. He was also one of several men who were accused of harassing Taraskiewicz, according to court documents.

In 1998, another former Northwest baggage handler, Robert Brooks, 49, who relocated from Massachusetts to Minnesota, was convicted of obstruction of justice for lying to a federal grand jury that was investigating Taraskiewicz’s death. Brooks admitted he lied when he denied talking to Nuzzo on the day of Taraskiewicz’s death, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

A federal appeals court ruling in Brooks’s case revealed that investigators had targeted Nuzzo in 1998 as a possible suspect in Taraskiewicz’s slaying. The ruling cited evidence that Nuzzo allegedly blamed Taraskiewicz for disciplinary action taken against him years earlier, allegedly vandalized her car, vowed to get revenge against her, and allegedly accused her of being a “snitch’’ in the credit card investigation.

Nuzzo did not return calls from the Globe. After pleading guilty to the credit card fraud charges in 1995, he told reporters that he had nothing to do with Taraskiewicz’s slaying and never harassed her.

The federal grand jury investigation into Taraskiewicz’s slaying ended years ago. Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly said the case still haunts investigators, and federal authorities would give Conley’s office any assistance he might need.

“This was a horrible crime and we certainly remain interested in helping to resolve it,’’ Kelly said.

The years of waiting for justice have taken their toll on Marlene Taraskiewicz, who admits that her legs now get a little tired as she stands outside the airport with her sign. But travelers and airport employees stop to offer water, coffee, and support.

“We do what we have to do,’’ said Taraskiewicz, adding that maybe her determination will inspire others, just as other grieving parents have inspired her by never giving up hope.

“I do know that my daughter’s murder will be solved. I will get the peace I want.’’

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com.