The whispers about Keith Palumbo’s whereabouts kept leading his worried relatives to Mount Moriah Cemetery in Southwest Philadelphia. If he ever were to go missing, Palumbo once told a relative, start the search there.
Palumbo, 36, a Delaware County musician and artist, was reported missing by his family to Upper Darby police in February.
Two months later, after volunteers combed the cemetery and relatives posted about their missing loved one on Facebook, Philadelphia police found Palumbo’s body on April 3 inside a crypt in the closed cemetery. He had been shot in the head, police said.
Also inside the crypt was the body of a second man, whose identity and cause and time of death remain under investigation.
Philadelphia homicide detectives say they have an arrest warrant for Michael DeLuca, 38, in Palumbo’s killing, but won’t say much else.
DeLuca, also of Delaware County, has been in custody since April 2 — the day before Palumbo’s body was found — when he was arrested in Cheyenne, Wyo., after a loaded handgun with an obscured serial number was found in a car he was driving during a traffic stop. Philadelphia police are working with Wyoming authorities to have him brought back to the city, a police spokesperson said.
In 2013, DeLuca, a member of the Warlocks Motorcycle Club, was arrested by Upper Darby police after he shot his then-19-year-old girlfriend in the head, nearly killing her, former Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said. Chitwood, who retired in December, said Monday that he has no current information on DeLuca, but described the Warlocks — considered an outlaw motorcycle gang by law enforcement — as “violent predators.”
Police Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt, who took over from Chitwood, said Monday that he couldn’t confirm whether DeLuca is still a Warlocks member. Delaware County has not had a significant Warlocks presence during his 23 years in law enforcement, Bernhardt said, with only reported attempts to reorganize the former Chester club.
Philadelphia police said Palumbo’s shooting stemmed from an argument, but declined to comment on other possible suspects or whether his death was connected to the Warlocks.
To Palumbo’s relatives, the news that DeLuca is wanted in the killing is “devastating,” one relative said. The family doesn’t know who killed Palumbo, and police have provided no information, the relative said.
The relative, who asked to remain anonymous because of safety concerns, said in interviews that Palumbo and DeLuca knew each other as kids in Drexel Hill. “They were childhood friends” who lived near each other, hung out together, attended each other’s birthday parties, and were thought to have remained friends, the relative said.
DeLuca was like family, and if he shot Palumbo, it would greatly hurt the family, the relative said.
Palumbo was never a member of the Warlocks and had no interest in joining, the relative said.
Palumbo, a musician and tattoo artist who taught himself to play guitar as a child, became a guitarist for the heavy-metal band the Return at age 14, and before his death was a guitarist and lead singer for the heavy-metal band Closed Casket, the relative said.
Palumbo’s relatives last saw him Feb. 6, when he returned home and told his mother to call if she needed him, the relative said. Then he went back to his silver Mazda, where passengers were waiting inside. Four days later, his family reported him missing.
‘Keith left a trail’
But “Keith left a trail,” the relative said, adding that the family knew of no reason why anyone would want to kill Palumbo.
Kevin Ryan, a private investigator hired by Palumbo’s family, said: “We pretty much knew from Day One that Mount Moriah Cemetery was going to be in play.
“That cemetery’s been rumored as a dumping ground for years,” Ryan added. He said a lot of pressure was mounted on Facebook to get people who knew Palumbo to talk to police.
Chris Johnson, who runs Philadelphia Search and Recovery with a team of volunteers and his Belgian Malinois dog, Jax, said Monday that he went to the cemetery three times last month to search for clues to Palumbo’s whereabouts after getting permission from the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, a nonprofit formed to preserve the cemetery, which closed in 2011.
“The family was so persistent that Keith was in that cemetery, I was looking for clues,” Johnson said. “If there was a surface body or corpse, the dog would sit or bark.” When a possible clue was found, Johnson said, he alerted police and they pursued it.
The volunteers didn’t find Palumbo. Philadelphia police eventually did, but declined to comment on the details.
Ryan, who does not know in which crypt Palumbo’s body was found, said the crypts in the cemetery are old, eight feet long, and about 18 inches above ground. "They’re marble, very heavy,” he said.
“It would take probably six people to get that lid off there,” said Ryan, estimating the lid weighed about 1,500 pounds. “There had to have been. Not one person could do this by themself without a hydraulic hoist.”
A Wyoming traffic stop
On the evening of April 2, DeLuca was driving a black Cadillac with a Pennsylvania tag in Cheyenne and was stopped by a police officer who saw a temporary registration in the rear window but couldn’t make out the details, according to court documents. DeLuca was nervous, spoke in a shaky voice, and initially gave a false name.
Police found a loaded .40-caliber Kahr Arms pistol under his driver’s seat and determined that he was on parole in Pennsylvania in a prior case of being a felon in possession of a weapon. They took him to the Laramie County Detention Center in Cheyenne.
Capt. Don Hollingshead of the detention center said Friday that federal authorities charged DeLuca in the gun case. DeLuca was removed from the detention center last week and taken into custody by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Hollingshead said.
Hollingshead confirmed that Philadelphia police have issued an arrest warrant for DeLuca on charges of murder, conspiracy, obstructing justice, and abuse of a corpse, and that he is awaiting extradition.
In a virtual detention hearing Monday afternoon via FaceTime, DeLuca did not contest his detention in the Wyoming case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart Healy said. DeLuca could face a July trial, said Healy, who said he expects Wyoming to “take care of him first, then ship him out to Philadelphia.”
DeLuca was paroled from a Pennsylvania state prison last May in the 2013 shooting of his then-girlfriend. He had been charged with attempted criminal homicide and related offenses, but ended up pleading guilty to aggravated assault and gun charges, and was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison, plus five years’ probation.
Palumbo was buried at Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill on April 20. Because of the coronavirus, the family couldn’t have a real funeral, his relative said. While the immediate family stood in the cemetery, hundreds of friends and other relatives drove around the cemetery to pay respect.
“It was very emotional,” the relative said. “It was beautiful.”