A Brutal Murder, a Wearable Witness, and an Unlikely Suspect

 
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Original Article: A Brutal Murder, a Wearable Witness, and an Unlikely Suspect

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Old acquaintances and neighbors were abuzz, wondering why Adele was standing by her husband. (“If you killed one of my children, you'd have to prove to me you didn't do it,” one told me.) But if the air kisses hadn't shown it, Adele made it clear to Karen's former coworker how she felt. “My husband is such a sweetheart,” she said plaintively. “They got along so well.”

Looking at Adele, the woman warily mused, “That's just strange. That's very strange.” Adele didn't say it then, but she believed the murderer was still at large, and no fancy heart-tracking device was going to change her mind.

Anthony Vincent Aiello was born in Chicago in 1928, one of seven children. His family moved back to Sicily when he was a toddler, and after fifth grade he left school and started helping out in the family's olive oil factory. In his late teens, he heard murmurs about being drafted into the Italian army. “Within a week, I was on a boat” back to the US, he said. He served in the US Army during the Korean War and afterward settled in San Jose, where his sister lived.

Tony found a job at a Del Monte pickle factory, got married, and later joined his brother-in-law to run a small grocery store on a rural road serving the local Italian and Portuguese farmers. While a family member says he was always a droll jokester with a “sparkle in his eye,” some people who knew him said he could be overbearing: “He was superior, and the boss.” One woman who worked for him as a teenager remembers thinking he was “creepy.”

The Aiellos had two kids, and by the late 1960s they were able to buy a home for about $37,000. Sprawl was fast churning orchards into suburban enclaves like theirs, and after his grocery was torn down to make way for a bigger road, Tony opened a deli in a strip mall an eight-minute drive from his house.

The whole family pitched in, and Tony, dressed in a white apron, presided over a long display case filled with lasagna-to-go and deli meats. He would chat with customers under the hanging mortadella and prosciutto. “He was a scrappy kind of guy, a don't-mess-with-me kind of guy,” one regular remembers. Over the years, Tony lost most of his native Italian and would sprinkle his English, a language he'd only started speaking as a teenager, with movie-like quips—“You betcha” and “What's up, doc?” He and his son, Tony Jr., started a towing business in the 1980s. “I love to work,” Tony would later tell interrogators. For a hobby, he hunted deer and boar; the walls of his converted garage were mounted with taxidermied game heads.

A 10-minute drive from the deli, Adele and Dominic Navarra lived with their two children, Stephen and Karen, in a ranch house in a subdivision called Warner Heights. Dominic, too, had his own business, a pharmacy, where Karen—people called her Cookie—took prescription orders, her hair pulled back into a long brown ponytail. She was pleasant, reserved, “the kind of girl you could tell a secret and she wouldn't tell anyone,” said Therese Lavoie, who remained friends with Karen through their twenties. Lavoie said Karen's brother, Stephen, was the outgoing one—much like their “jovial, larger than life” dad—while Karen took after Adele. “They were like the perfect family,” added Lavoie, who sometimes visited the Navarra home or went for a spin in Karen's sporty Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Karen studied science at nearby San Jose State University for three years, moved into her own apartment, and became a pharmacy tech at a regional hospital.

In the 1970s, Lavoie recalls, Stephen died in a motorcycle accident, an event that “cha...

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