A week of mystery and building anguish appeared to culminate in tragedy Thursday when Cosmo DiNardo confessed to the killings of the four young men from Bucks and Montgomery Counties who vanished last week.
One of DiNardo's lawyers emerged after a late-afternoon meeting with investigators in Doylestown and said the 20-year-old Bensalem man had confessed to "participation or commission" of the killings and told the district attorney where to find the bodies.
In return, lawyer Paul Lang said, prosecutors had pledged not to seek the death penalty for DiNardo. He gave no motive for the killings.
A person with knowledge of the case told the Inquirer and Daily News late Thursday that under the agreement, DiNardo admitted that three of the men's bodies had been dumped in a 12-foot grave discovered Wednesday on his family's sprawling Solebury Township farm. DiNardo was also expected to help them find the remains of the fourth victim somewhere on the property, which is owned by his parents.
The same person, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the case, said DiNardo told investigators there was a co-conspirator in the killings.
Police took another person into custody late Thursday night in the 800 block of Magee Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia, according to a second source with knowledge of the investigation. Bucks County detectives were working to determine whether he could be the co-conspirator, the source said.
The Associated Press reported late Thursday that DiNardo sold quarter-pound quantities of marijuana for several thousand dollars and that the victims were killed after DiNardo felt cheated or threatened during three drug transactions. The wire service cited an unidentified source with knowledge of the confession who said DiNardo admitted he killed the men separately — at least three were shot — and then burned their bodies at the farm.
"Every death was related to a purported drug transaction, and at the end of each one there's a killing," the person said, according to AP.
A spokesman for District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said he could not confirm or deny the reports. Weintraub had been expected to discuss the case during a 9:30 p.m. news conference but abruptly canceled the briefing in a tweet at 8:34 p.m. In a second tweet, the prosecutor's office said it had not yet confirmed the information Weintraub had hoped to release.
"The District Attorney has no response at this time to statements of defense counsel regarding person of interest Cosmo DiNardo," it said in another tweet.
The office said Friday that Weintraub expects to share new information at an afternoon news briefing at the county administration building in Doylestown.
The confession marked a shocking twist in a case that rocked the Philadelphia region and beyond. The massive search for the men was set off Sunday, bringing FBI agents, U.S. marshals, and state and local officers to the Solebury Township scene to dig with great care, around the clock, in merciless heat.
Late Wednesday, Weintraub said investigators had found remains of Dean R. Finocchiaro, 19, of Middletown, who disappeared July 7, in the makeshift grave. The others missing are Thomas C. Meo, 21, of Plumstead; Mark R. Sturgis, 22, of Pennsburg; and Jimi Taro Patrick, 19, of Newtown.
All four of the missing men appeared to be connected to DiNardo through school or social interactions, based on friends' accounts, school information, and a review of social media. Snapchat text messages provided to the Inquirer and Daily News showed that DiNardo appeared unconcerned about Finocchiaro's whereabouts, and included a photo DiNardo took of himself making an intense face, eyes wide, pointing what appears to be a revolver at the camera. Another acquaintance said DiNardo spoke of "killing people."
Rumors swirled on social media Thursday, including one that William Riddle, who was arrested last month for beating up another young man at Temple University, had a connection to the killings. Riddle was friends with Finocchiaro, according to their social media accounts. Law enforcement sources say they have no information that the cases are connected, and that the four victims were not witnesses to the Temple assault.
Around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, a steady rain fell over the DiNardo property as law enforcement continued to search for more remains. Officials from the FBI and American Red Cross, as well as local first responders, streamed in and out of the main driveway on Lower York Road.
"We negotiated this outcome for Cosmo to be very honest, forthright, and truthful in what occurred within the last week and a half," Lang said. DiNardo "did give a full confession, and he was very forthright and gave all relevant details that he could."
With the four men missing for days and throngs of investigators digging as the families kept vigil at the site, scrutiny on DiNardo — who was named Monday as a person of interest — had sharpened over the course of the week. His confession came about 24 hours after he was jailed for a second time this week, on charges of stealing the car of Meo, one of the missing men. The first time was for a firearms charge.
DiNardo had previously been committed to a mental health facility; had had contact with local police several times since 2011; and had been banned from Arcadia University's campus after attending one semester there, according to various sources. After "verbal interactions" with campus members, the school sent a certified letter to DiNardo's parents declaring him persona non grata on the campus, said a source close to the school who asked not to be identified.
In 2015 and 2016, DiNardo was appointed to Bensalem Township's Drug and Alcohol Advisory Board, records show. The city's mayor appoints members of the board and they are approved by the township council, according to the township website.
There were reports the suspect's parents, Antonio and Sandra DiNardo, had been called Thursday to a grand jury hearing at the Doylestown building where their son would later admit to killing the men.
As to whether DiNardo's parents were involved, Lang said: "I'll leave that for their attorney.… As far as I know, no." He also said he could not answer questions about whether DiNardo acted alone.
Lang said he would not say what DiNardo's motive was out of respect for the families involved. "That'll come out in time," he said.
DiNardo was led out of court Thursday evening in handcuffs and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and leg shackles. News footage showed him saying "I'm sorry" as reporters asked what he would say to the families of the men he confessed to killing.
Tina Finocchiaro, an aunt of Dean Finocchiaro, wrote on Facebook Thursday morning: "I don't have many words today I am completely crushed heartbroken and numb I lost my nephew to a crime that is unspeakable nobody should have to go through this my heart goes out to his parents and all of the other parents and I also want to thank reached out to us and prayed for for us." She later shared a news report about the confession.
At his arraignment Wednesday related to the theft of Meo's car, prosecutors called DiNardo a "dangerous person."
DiNardo had been arrested Monday, on a refiled weapons charge that had been dismissed in late May. Because he had previously been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment, DiNardo was prohibited from possessing firearms under Pennsylvania law – but he had a Savage Arms 20-gauge shotgun and ammunition when he was arrested in February, according to court documents.
The charge was dismissed because the mental health paperwork was filed improperly, Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran said Thursday. It had to be corrected before the district attorney could authorize the charges to be filed again. He did so on June 21, but DiNardo was not arrested until after the search for the missing men had begun. Weintraub has said the timing was "out of our control."
A neighbor of the Solebury Township farm who did not want to be identified said she had called police five months ago after her family heard 14 to 15 gunshots coming from the area of the DiNardo property around 10:30 p.m., saw the cottage lights turn off, and witnessed a small car speed off the property in the direction of New Hope.
She also said she heard five to six shots from the property around 8 p.m. Friday.
Staff writer Mike Newall contributed to this report.