Investigators on Wednesday found human remains buried deep on a sprawling Bucks County property and said they believed the dead included at least one of the four men whose disappearance last week set in motion the biggest search in recent county history.
District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said the victims found in a 12-foot grave on the Solebury Township tract include Dean A. Finocchiaro, 19, of Middletown. No charges had been filed in connection with the grim discovery. But the remains comprise multiple bodies and investigators are still examining evidence to identify the other victims.
"This is a homicide, make no mistake about it," Weintraub said at a midnight news conference, stressing the "painstaking" search for clues would continue. "We're not done yet."
Still, it seemed to be the biggest break yet in a case that had gripped the region and drawn national attention to search for the missing men — and aimed an intense spotlight on the property owners' son, Cosmo DiNardo.
The 20-year-old, who Weintraub had earlier termed "a person of interest" in the case, was charged Wednesday afternoon with stealing a car belonging to another of the missing men, Thomas C. Meo, and jailed with bail set at $5 million.
Weintraub said prosecutors were considering murder charges.
"We bought ourselves a little bit of time by charging Mr. DiNardo with the stolen car case today," he said.
As to whether others could be implicated, he said he could not say. "All the leads we've been pursuing are hot," Weintraub said.
Neither DiNardo nor his parents, Antonio and Sandra DiNardo, have spoken publicly about the case. In response to allegations from prosecutors at his arraignment Wednesday that DiNardo was "a dangerous person," his attorneys said he was being shamed for having had mental-health struggles.
New crews gathered Thursday morning at the Bucks County Courthouse in Doylestown in anticipation of a reported appearance by DiNardo's parents before a grand jury.
Finocchiaro disappeared Friday along with Meo, 21, of Plumstead, and Mark R. Sturgis, 22, of Pennsburg. Another young man, Jimi Tar Patrick, 19, of Newtown, went missing two days earlier. All appeared to have some connection to DiNardo.
On Finocchiaro's brother's Facebook page, condolences poured in after the news conference in comments under a photo Anthony Finocchiaro had earlier posted of himself and his brother. Another relative of posted on Facebook minutes after the announcement. "You would never think something like this would happen to your own family," wrote Johnny Finocchiaro.
DiNardo, of Bensalem, is charged with stealing — and trying on Sunday to sell for $500 — a car owned by Meo. The car was spotted following a DiNardo family vehicle on Friday night, court records indicated. While prosecutors have not accused DiNardo of any violent acts in the case, they said he is dangerous and unstable, has schizophrenia and is a flight risk.
At an afternoon arraignment in Doylestown on the felony theft charge, District Justice Maggie Snow had justified DiNardo's high bail, calling the young man "a grave risk… given the gravity of what's going on here right now."
DiNardo, wearing a blue tank top and eyeglasses, appeared by live video from the Bensalem Police Department, but said nothing beyond routine responses to question from the judge.
At his news conference, Weintraub did not give details about the condition of the remains, except to repeat that they were found in a deep hole that had to be excavated. Investigators used cadaver dogs to find the bodies, the prosecutor said.
"Those dogs could smell those poor boys 12-and-a-half-feet below the ground," he said.
The district attorney's midnight announcement at Logan Square Shopping Center, near New Hope, drew about 50 to 60 spectators. Few of them knew the four missing men personally; all lived nearby and said they were shocked at what happened in their backyard and found it impossible to stay away.
Three young women, however, drove from Flemington, N.J. They said they had become friends with Patrick, 19, a classmate of theirs at Loyola University.
"It just doesn't seem right," said Lauren Morello, 18, whose Loyola roommates — Vanessa Almeida, 19, of Green Brook, N.J., and Nicole Anderson, 18, of Trumbull, Conn. — were staying with her this week in Flemington. "Jimi was such a people person and when I think what may have happened to him in the last week…"
Weintraub had said earlier Wednesday he had "no doubt" investigators were going to find something. Police and state investigators — with FBI agents and U.S. Marshals — used brooms, shovels, metal detectors, and a backhoe to dig, sift and collect potential evidence at the DiNardo property, in what became the largest such hunt in recent county history. Some wore protective clothing and foot coverings at what appeared in aerial photographs to be a key search site, where several portable tent canopies have been erected.
As a flurry of late-night activity occurred at the site Wednesday, the families of the four men continued to keep vigil, remaining there into the evening, though they were not present after Weintraub's news conference.
Authorities were still requesting tips Wednesday afternoon about the four men and DiNardo. But some links connecting the men had emerged by midweek:
A Bensalem friend of Meo's, Eric Beitz, said that DiNardo aggressively sought new customers for his marijuana and firearms dealings. Beitz, Meo and Sturgis reportedly first met DiNardo when he was looking to sell marijuana. Sturgis and Meo were good friends and worked together.
DiNardo and Patrick both attended Holy Ghost Preparatory High School in Bensalem, graduating a year apart. DiNardo and Finocchiaro appeared to share an interest in ATVs, and were both in at least one public Facebook page for buying and selling quad bikes.
Data from a mobile license plate reader showed a truck belonging to DiNardo's father – which DiNardo told police he had been driving – pass just before 8 p.m. on July 7 on Street Road in Solebury, less than a mile from the DiNardo property. Seconds later, Meo's car followed, according to court filings.
A Bensalem man told police DiNardo tried to sell the 1996 Nissan Maxima for $500 on July 8, according to court filings. Early the next morning, it was found at a different DiNardo property on nearby Aquetong Road, and Sturgis' Nissan was found less than two miles away, near Peddler's Village.
Meo's diabetic kit, which his family said he is never without, was found in the car. Relatives told the DA that Meo would go into diabetic shock without his medication and couldn't survive without the kit.
"They had this information days ago. They didn't charge him. They now charge him because he made bail," said Michael Parlow, one of DiNardo's lawyers.
A man who lives near the 90-acre Solebury property that is the focus of the search said Wednesday he had given surveillance footage to police. The man, who asked not to be identified, also said he heard gunshots at the property Friday evening. He said he did not report the gunshots to police at the time because it is not unusual to hear gunfire coming from that property. But he "very rarely" sees people coming and going from the driveway, he said.
Weintraub did not comment on the neighbor's report. He also could not say whether a grand jury investigation had been opened into the case.
"I am prohibited by law from even telling you there is a grand jury impaneled here in Bucks County. But I want to assure you we are utilizing every resource at our disposal to try to find these four missing young men and to solve this case," Weintraub said.
Weintraub also declined to comment on whether firearms have been recovered as part of the investigation, or say what led investigators to the DiNardo property in Solebury.
Search warrants have been filed for properties across the county, but the district attorney's office said they remain under seal.
Antonio and Sandra DiNardo have not been named as persons of interest in the case. They own multiple businesses in the area, along with large swaths of property in Solebury and Bensalem.
"As parents, Mr. and Mrs. DiNardo sympathize with the parents and families of the missing young men and they are cooperating in every way possible with the investigation being conducted by law enforcement," said Fortunato Perri Jr., in a statement Wednesday.
He said he is now also an attorney for Cosmo DiNardo.