Investigators plan trip to Lynchburg to find body of man killed in 1969
Somewhere along the southern bank of the James River, in the Perch area of Bedford County, sits the grave of a New York man murdered in 1969.
New York State Police and local investigators plan to return to the site this spring, close to 41 years after the slaying, to try to recover the remains.
It won't be the first time they've looked.
Dave Bacon was a 22-year-old Vietnam veteran who disappeared on his way to work in Watervliet, a town about eight miles north of Albany, on April 10, 1969.
His fate was largely unknown until 2008, when a former girlfriend of Bacon's killer shared information that eventually unraveled the cold case.
The woman, who had dated a man named Nelson Costello in the 1980s, called Costello's sister and said Costello had confessed to her that he killed a man in the late 1960s near Troy, N.Y., which is just east of Watervleit.
An investigation quickly ensued, expanding to North Carolina, Arizona and Lynchburg.
Although Costello, now 63, initially denied killing Bacon, he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in October and was sentenced last month.
By October 2008, investigators had put enough of the story together to start looking in Lynchburg.
Mike Cuomo, a senior investigator with the New York State Police, said in a recent interview that investigators had the name of a Lynchburg-area man believed to have helped Costello bury the body. After talking to Lynchburg detectives, it turned out the man still lived in the area.
According to the Saratoga County, N.Y., district attorney's office, Bacon was dating a woman with whom Costello had become obsessed. Costello used his position then as a town constable to lure Bacon to a remote area, where he murdered him with his service revolver.
Costello then put the body in the trunk of a rental car and drove straight to Lynchburg to find a close friend he had served with in the Navy, Cuomo said.
Detective Collin Byrne, of the Lynchburg Police Department, said he was able to locate the man, who admitted helping Costello and took investigators to the spot where he believed Bacon was buried.
Cuomo said the man told them Costello showed up at his workplace and told him he had a body in the trunk that he needed to get rid of.
“He said his reaction was, 'Yeah right,' but Costello told him he was serious,” Cuomo said in a telephone interview. “And with that, he opened his trunk.” According to the Saratoga County prosecutor's office, the local man gave Costello a shovel and showed him where he could bury the body.
“It was a spot where he used to go fishing as a kid,” Cuomo said.
Authorities have refused to release the local man's name, saying he is a cooperating witness and that they need his help in continuing efforts to find Bacon's remains.
Bedford County Commonwealth's Attorney Randy Krantz said the man could not be prosecuted now. Krantz said being an accessory to murder after the fact in helping bury the body would have been a misdemeanor. The statute of limitations in Virginia would have expired a year later, in 1970, he said.
Byrne said investigators had believed the body was buried in Lynchburg, but when he drove with the local man to the area, they crossed into Bedford County in the Perch area, which is north of U.S. 501 between Holcomb Rock Road and Coleman Falls.
Cuomo said Costello called the local man through the years to “see if anything washed up.” He said the man was fearful of Costello, worried that if he was capable of killing someone out of jealousy that he would one day show up to kill him.
Investigators from New York, Lynchburg and the Bedford County Sheriff's Office began digging in October 2008, but Cuomo said the local man said something seemed to have changed in the intervening 40 years. Flooding from hurricanes Camille in 1969 and from Agnes in 1972, and the 1985 flood, have changed some of the landscape along the river in the Holcomb Rock area.
The dig was unsuccessful, but Costello agreed to help investigators as part of his guilty plea. Byrne said Costello used aerial photos of the river last month to better identify another area close to the one the local man had shown police.
Cuomo said he believes authorities will reconvene on the river this spring, in April or May, to dig again.
Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy said there was some concern at one point that floods could have washed away Bacon's remains. Murphy said Tuesday, though, that comparisons of aerial river maps from the late 1960s and today give him hope the body can still be found.
Cuomo said Costello's plea and sentencing have given some closure to Bacon's family and to those who have worked on solving the case for so many years, but finding the body is still important.
“It would finally put an end to it,” he said, “to say we brought this guy to justice and we were able to bring (the body) home and give him a burial.”
-- The News & Advance
Washington Post Editors
February 10, 2010; 3:18 PM ET
Categories: Unsolved , Virginia
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