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New Jersey woman hoping for answers in mother's cold case killing 22 years later

Cold Case with Alice Gainer: Who killed Gertrude Bizzaro?
Cold Case with Alice Gainer: Who killed Gertrude Bizzaro? 13:26

CLIFTON, N.J. -- It has been more than two decades since 72-year-old Gertrude Bizzaro was found dead inside her home.

CBS New York's new series "Cold Case with Alice Gainer" takes a closer look at the investigation. 

In her first television interview since the shocking crime, Bizzaro's daughter sat down with Gainer to share her anguish and her message to anyone who may know something. 

New series "Cold Case with Alice Gainer" premieres Wednesday morning 03:13

The year was 2001, three months after the 9/11 terror attacks. Home security cameras were not common back then.  

"I never thought I'd read about my family in an article like this," Terri Caron told Gainer. "It's been 22 years, and we really, really, really need some answers."

Detectives said it was a bloody crime scene, and Bizzaro's cup of tea was still warm when they arrived.

"My dad was absolutely a total wreck. My mother was the love of his life, and she was gone. He couldn't do anything about it," she recalled. "All he kept saying was, 'You're supposed to be here with me. Why aren't you here with me?'"

Caron is now the only living member of the Bizzaro family.

"I keep thinking mom's gone, dad's gone, brother's gone, brother's gone, sister's gone, and I don't know what happened to my mother, and that's really hard," she said.

Her father and siblings all passed away never knowing who killed their mother. Caron hopes she will finally get an answer.

"I always felt safe in that home"

CBS New York's Alice Gainer takes a closer look at the cold case investigation into the murder of Gertrude Bizzaro in Clifton, New Jersey. Photo courtesy Terri Caron

"I always felt safe in that home. They didn't feel unsafe in it," Caron told Gainer. "I felt very warm and loved in that place."  

Caron described life in the Dutch Hill section of Clifton, New Jersey for the Bizzaro family under the loving care of parents Gertrude and Cesaro, affectionately known as "Chet."

"My parents were in the American Legion for as long as I can remember," she said. "Mom was a county officer several times... Raised in a very patriotic-type family. My dad was a World War II Navy veteran. Mom also was a member of the Columbiettes, the Deborah Heart Fund... They were always doing fundraisers and charity events, so a lot of our family gathered around that.

"They were the kind of couple that they were so very married it was not even funny. I mean, there was never a question the sun rose and set on my mother, as far as my father was concerned. They celebrated their 50th anniversary in May of 2001.

"To have someone come into their home and murder a woman who had worked so hard her whole life to live, it was just almost unbearable," she said.

Family was set to spend Christmas together

CBS New York's Alice Gainer takes a closer look at the cold case investigation into the murder of Gertrude Bizzaro in Clifton, New Jersey. Photo courtesy Terri Caron

A three-time cancer survivor and a woman who once fought off a purse snatcher, Bizzaro was a fighter. 

But Caron said her mother's health was becoming worrisome, so Bizzaro's children and grandchildren were all planning to go see her for Christmas. 

"We were concerned that it might be the last Christmas we would have with her, because of her health," said Caron.

But a week before Christmas, on Dec. 18, 2001, Caron got a call from her sister-in-law.

"She told me that my mom was gone. Well, because of the health, that's where my mind went initially. I thought, OK, it finally caught up with her, she couldn't handle it anymore," she remembered. "And she said, 'No, you don't understand.'"

"She was stabbed multiple times, and she was also punched in the face, as well," said Clifton Police Det. Lt. Robert Bracken.

Police said Bizzaro was home alone after her husband and adult daughter, June, went out to run errands sometime around 9 a.m. When they came back an hour and a half later, they found her in the living room. She had been stabbed in the chest and neck. 

"My sister went in the front door, and my dad was around the back side of the house trying to bring the trash can in... normal household duties there. And she hollered to him and said, 'Mommy's on the floor!'" Caron said. "Well, being a diabetic and a brittle diabetic, having her be on the floor was not an uncommon thing, so immediately that's what they thought. And they couldn't wake her, so they called 911."

"Once the police arrived, they found drawers taken out and stuff strewn about the floor, objects and items strewn about the floor - Christmas presents thrown around. They found some items kind of stacked up by the front door that were left by the suspect or suspects," said Bracken.

Detective describes initial investigation

CBS New York's Alice Gainer takes a closer look at the cold case investigation into the murder of Gertrude Bizzaro in Clifton, New Jersey. Clifton Police Department

Bracken walked Gainer through photos of the crime scene, which he described as "bloody" and "messy."

Gainer: "Detectives arrive on scene, and what is the theory about what happened?"

Bracken: "They know that there was possibly a burglary gone bad or an attempted sexual assault. It was, at that point, at that time, it was really unknown... Really was no immediate M.O... Either someone rang the doorbell, tested to see if someone was home, she didn't get to the door in time, they thought no one was home and entered -- or, they just entered. There was no forced entry at the residence."

Gainer: "Did they lock the door?"

Bracken: "They didn't, it was unlocked."

Gainer: "Are police looking, at that point, do they know for one suspect or two or more than that?"

Bracken: "There's probably a better indication of it being more than one, but it's possible that it's one."

Gainer: "Was anything taken?"

Bracken: "There was items that were gathered to take and then they were dropped."

Police said the weapon was a kitchen knife from the Bizzaro home, though it's unclear where the knife was taken from -- a drawer or somewhere else.

"She would have a cup of tea and a roll, and she would've had the knife to use to cut the roll, and it would've still been on the table, because she hadn't picked up everything from her breakfast yet," said Caron.

Who killed Bizzaro?

CBS New York's Alice Gainer takes a closer look at the cold case investigation into the murder of Gertrude Bizzaro in Clifton, New Jersey. Photo courtesy Terri Caron

Gainer: "Were there any suspects right away?"

Bracken: "There were."

Gainer: "There were burglaries in the area, right?"

Bracken: "There were a lot of burglaries in the area. There were a lot of burglary suspects that lived in the area. At the time, we were probably experiencing 40-plus residential burglaries a month, easy."

Police collected DNA and fingerprints from the scene. Family and people close to Bizzaro were ruled out, and investigators believe the crime was committed by someone she did not know.

Bracken said some of the burglary suspects in the area at the time were caught for those crimes and also eliminated from their list of murder suspects. 

"You're talking about most of the burglars at the time feeding a drug habit. Whatever they're doing, they're just trying to get in the house. They don't want a confrontation, they just want to get in, get the the stuff and get out," said Bracken. "Once they hear an elderly woman has been murdered, there's been a few of them that have actually volunteered to help us try to get information off the streets, genuinely."

He said Bizzaro's body had no obvious indication of sexual assault, but they could not rule out whether that was the intent. Because police couldn't pin down a motive right away, he said the pool of suspects grew larger, with quite a few twists and turns. 

"At the time, we had people actually trying to implicate ex-boyfriends or ex-husbands in the matter. They had to dispel a lot of reports that came in to kind of get back on course," he said. "People were calling in false tips or just maybe just hunches, a lot of hunches came in."

Still looking for answers, 22 years later

CBS New York's Alice Gainer takes a closer look at the cold case investigation into the murder of Gertrude Bizzaro in Clifton, New Jersey. CBS New York

Now, 22 years later, Bracken is the only detective still on the force from that time. Gainer asked him what progress has been made to find whoever was responsible. 

"The best thing I could say to date is we have been able to eliminate people, which is always a good thing, because it narrows the suspect pool," he replied.

To date, hundreds of people have been ruled out, with detectives even traveling to Boston and Florida to interview people. There are still people of interest out there, and police have a direct message for one in particular.

Bracken: "There's residential burglars, and then you had this sexual predator that lived in the area, as well."

Gainer: "Was that person ruled out?"

Bracken: "No, and he actually knows, and I don't even care, he actually knows who he is... We'd love for him to come in and have a conversation with us."

Gainer: "Did he give a DNA sample?"

Bracken: "Yeah, he did. It was done through a court order, but it wasn't enough to do anything. We actually needed to have a conversation with him to completely rule him out. But he was uncooperative, remains uncooperative. Not saying that he was the guy, but he knows who he is and, to this day, all he has to do is come in and, if he didn't have anything to do with it, have a conversation, and we can finally rule him out, but he refuses to do that."  

Bracken said new tools, like advancements in DNA technology, may help in the search for answers.

"You hear it on TV all the time about using the genealogy type places -- Ancestry, etc. -- that they got hits on relatives of people that they've had a sample on," Caron said.

Gainer: "Do you think that, potentially, the person or persons who did this, they may no longer be alive, themselves?"

Bracken: "There's a possibility, but my gut feeling is that they are still here and they just were able to evade capture this whole time. But at some point, we're hoping that we can finally call the remaining victim's family and tell her we've made an arrest finally."

He and Caron shared their message for anyone out there who knows something or for the person or persons responsible. 

"If you know something, if you know someone at the time that you were friends with or dating or married to, and maybe now the relationship has gone away and, you know, do the right thing and give us the information you have," said Bracken.

"Our family has struggled with this, it's been a cloud that has hung over us for all of these years - everybody wanting, needing to know what happened and not having any answers," Caron added. "We lost our family, my father lost his heart, and we really, really need to know."

Police are offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest. Tips can be made to the Clifton Detective Bureau at 973-470-5930.

The Passaic County prosecutor's office is also investigating. 

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