PHILADELPHIA — Two cousins charged in a gruesome crime spree that ended with police unearthing the bodies of four young men buried on a family farm started off committing small crimes.
But authorities don’t know why the 20-year-old suspects escalated from offenses like break-ins and jewelry heists to allegedly killing their victims and burying them in two pits so deep beneath the ground that a backhoe and dozens of people were needed to sift through the dirt.
Police found the missing men after a grueling, five-day search in sweltering heat and pelting rain.
For Cosmo DiNardo, whose lawyer said he confessed to all four killings in exchange for being spared the death penalty, brushes with the law began in his early teenage years.
He was about 14 when the Bensalem Police Department first had contact with him. He had more than 30 run-ins with its officers over the next six years, department director Frederick Harran said, although court filings reflect only the minor infractions and traffic stops that came after age 18.
DiNardo enrolled at Arcadia University in Glenside in the fall of 2015 with hopes of studying biology and had an eye on international travel, according to a blog post announcing the incoming class.
“I’m going to go overseas, hopefully to Italy and the rest of Europe,” he is quoted as saying.
However, his time at the school was short. After making comments that unnerved several people on campus, public safety officials contacted the local police department. The university sent a letter to DiNardo’s parents saying said their son could face trespassing charges if he returned to the school, a person aware of the contents of the letter said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss it.
A year and a day before he admitted to killing the missing men, lighting three of them on fire and using a backhoe to load the charred bodies into an oil tank that he buried more than 12-feet (3.7-meters)-deep on his parent’s farm, a family member had DiNardo involuntarily committed to a mental institution, Harran said.
Details of his institutionalization remain unclear, but he was barred by law from owning a firearm afterward. Nonetheless, when Bensalem police responded to a report of gunfire in February, an officer found DiNardo in his truck with a 20-gauge shotgun and extra ammunition. He acknowledged his history of mental illness, Harran said.
“A year later, here we are,” Harran said Friday. “The system is broken.”
Despite the mental health commitment and frequent interactions with police, DiNardo still managed to sell guns and marijuana in the area, according to a source familiar with DiNardo’s confession who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
A police affidavit confirmed the source’s story — DiNardo lured each of the victims to his family’s 90-acre (36-hectare) Solebury Township farm under the guise of marijuana deals.
His first victim was set to buy $8,000 worth of marijuana but arrived with only $800, DiNardo told police, so he brought the 19-year-old Loyola University student to a remote part of the farm and shot him with a .22 caliber rifle. He buried Jimi Taro Patrick in a hole he dug with a backhoe. Yellow ribbons now line the Newtown street where Patrick lived with his grandparents.
Monsignor Michael Picard watched Patrick grow up at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Newtown, where he attended school and regularly attended Mass with his grandparents. The priest described Patrick as a very shy, very bright boy who won an academic scholarship to Loyola.
“Jimi may well be an example to other young kids to stay careful and cautious,” Picard said “I think the sad thing with our young people today is they get involved with other kids before they know much about them and they can get into trouble.”
According to the police affidavit, DiNardo enlisted his cousin, Sean Kratz, to help him rob 19-year-old Dean Finocchiaro, 22-year-old Mark Sturgis and 21-year-old Tom Meo after Patrick’s killing.
The three victims were shot, placed with a backhoe into an oil tank that had been converted into a cooker that DiNardo called a “pig roaster,” and then lit on fire, according to the affidavit. He buried the drum deep under the ground on his family’s farm.
Court records show Kratz was previously arrested on two separate burglary charges in Philadelphia for thefts in June and December of last year where he reportedly stole $1,000 in tools and $450 worth of jewelry.
A week before the second theft arrest, Kratz was picked up for shoplifting $200 worth of clothing at a Macy’s near Philadelphia. Police say Kratz had been using pliers to cut off security tags. He pleaded guilty in June to retail theft after more serious charges were withdrawn.
With the Philadelphia cases still pending in January, court records show Kratz skipped bail and went to Illinois. That prompted a judge to issue a bench warrant for his arrest. Out on bail again, a prosecutor said Friday, Kratz became a killer.
Kratz, who said he works at a tiling company, did not have a lawyer with him at his arraignment. Clad in a blue jumpsuit and flanked by detectives, he told a judge that he has trouble walking because he’d been shot three months ago. Kratz’s mother, Vanessa, declined to comment.
At a press conference Friday announcing that police had recovered all four previously missing bodies, a reporter asked Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub why DiNardo felt the need to kill the young men.
“I’m not really sure we could ever answer that question,” he said.