The remains of a Marine recruit were found last Wednesday, more than three months after the 21-year-old from Winthrop was reported missing to Boston police.
Joseph Brancato was living and training with a Marine recruiter in Roslindale when he disappeared in November 2017. His remains were spotted by a motorist in the brush off I-95 in Canton last week.
As of Tuesday, no arrests had been made in connection to his disappearance or death. Authorities have named the recruiter, Frank Lipka, as a “person of interest.”
Funeral services for the 21-year-old are being held by his family Tuesday in Winthrop.
Here’s what we know about the young man who dreamed of becoming a Marine and the investigation into his disappearance and death.
Who was Joseph Brancato?
Brancato, known as “Joey” by his loved ones, studied welding at a vocational high school in Winthrop, where he lived with his mother and grandmother before he moved to Roslindale, The Boston Globe reports.
His mother, Kim Brancato, told the newspaper that he “was like the mayor of the city.”
She said her son worked as a fisherman but desperately wanted to be a Marine.
“My question is why? Why would somebody do this to someone? My heart is broken,” Kim Brancato told CBS Boston. “I don’t know how I’ll go on without him. He was a good kid. He wanted to be a Marine. That’s all he wanted to do. He wanted to fight for this country, but instead he’s found on the side of the road. I don’t know what else to say.”
Funeral services for Brancato are being held Tuesday in Winthrop. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“Joseph loved fishing and enjoyed spending time at the Winthrop Yacht Club to fish,” Brancato’s relatives wrote in his obituary. “He also enjoyed skiing and dirt bike riding. Just prior to his sudden passing, he had enlisted in the U.S. Marine [Corps], and was waiting to report to Paris Island for basic training.”
The 21-year-old’s aunt told the Globe that her nephew had been rejected from the Marines at least twice and moved in with Lipka in September with the goal of getting into shape to pass the required physical tests for joining the Marines.
“He’s always helping people, and he felt like that was his place to help the country,” Andrea Brancato Walke told the newspaper.
In January, police searched the area near Turtle Pond in Hyde Park’s Stony Brook Reservation for the missing 21-year-old on multiple occasions.
According to WCVB, the 39-year-old Marine recruiter who Brancato had been training and living with was charged with drunken driving and leaving the scene of a crash with property damage related to a Jan. 27 single-car crash on the Jamaicaway in Boston.
A month later, Lipka was taken into military custody in South Carolina on charges that authorities said were unrelated to the Winthrop native’s disappearance. The Globe reported that Lipka, who was the sole recruiter at the Roslindale office where Brancato’s application was processed, was held on charges related to drunken driving, an altercation with two Marines in his unit, and an absence without authorization from work.
Lipka, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was released from military custody on March 21 and “separated” from the Marines by the end of the month, the Boston Herald reports. He was then arrested at Logan International Airport the week of his release for allegedly threatening a pizza deliveryman with a gun last September.
On March 26, Lipka was arraigned in West Roxbury for assault with a dangerous weapon and unlawful possession of ammunition in connection with that incident. His attorney in that case, Timothy Bransfield, did not respond to a request for comment.
The pizza delivery driver told police he was standing at Lipka’s door in September when he heard the recruiter yell “I can’t stand this guy anymore!” and “the distinct sound of a gun slide being racked,” the Globe reports.
He told police he apologized to Lipka for being late when he opened the door and saw what appeared to be a gun on the staircase, according to the Globe. Lipka allegedly yelled at the driver about not paying the bill before eventually signing the receipt. Lipka later went to the pizza shop where he screamed at employees about missing sauces and challenged a worker to a fight, authorities said.
According to the Globe, police executing a search warrant of Lipka’s home on Dec. 2 found dozens of airsoft and replica guns, as well as five cartridges of .40 caliber ammunition in a firearm magazine.
What authorities are saying
Lipka was held on $10,000 cash bail and ordered to surrender his passport and wear a GPS monitor at his March 26 arraignment. He was also ordered to remain drug and alcohol free, according to the Suffolk District Attorney’s office.
While authorities say the charges against him are unrelated to Brancato’s disappearance and death, Lipka is being described by the Suffolk District Attorney’s office as a “person of interest” in the case.
The district attorney’s office said the assault charge against Lipka “came to light” during the investigation into the missing Marine recruit.
According to the Herald, Lipka had been working as a Marine recruiter in Boston since 2015. He returns to court on April 24 for the charges related to the assault, and, in the meantime, the investigation into what led to Brancato’s disappearance and death continues.
Authorities said an autopsy performed on Brancato’s remains “did not immediately establish cause or manner of death.”
“Cause and manner of death remain undetermined and under investigation pending further testing,” Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said in a statement. “The matter remains under active investigation by Massachusetts State Police detectives attached to the Norfolk District Attorney’s Office working with Boston Police detectives.”
Boston police are urging anyone with information to contact the department’s homicide unit.