When 26-year-old Hofstra graduate Joseph Comunale from Stamford, Connecticut, went out one weekend in Manhattan, he ended up going to a jewelry dealer’s apartment downtown. The after-party at the Manhattan Tower block was uneventful for the most part.
But when Comunale was never seen leaving the apartment, suspicions were aroused. When no one heard from Comunale for days after, his worried father filed a missing person report with the NYPD…
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Having graduated from Hofstra, Comunale was a successful sales associate at Tri-Ed Ltd. He enjoyed his job at Tri-Ed, a security firm, where he sold CCTV, IP video, connectivity, access control, and home automation products with great success. As an avid New York Giants fan, Comunale also played Baseball and Hockey and enjoyed a rich life full of success and many friends.
Grand Sutton Tower
It was one weekend in November when Comunale attended a party located at The Grand Sutton Tower on East 59th Street near First Avenue. He attended that party with at least three women and two men but failed to return home that night. When he failed to show for work the following Monday, it raised some serious alarm bells. Comunale had met the group at a bar in the Village and immediately connected with them that night.
Having attended a bar and another party in Manhattan, the group went to 25-year-old James Rackover’s luxury apartment during the early hours. Rackover had a shady relationship with an older man and successful jeweler called Jeffry Rackover. He had been given the apartment as a gift while the elder Rackover allowed James to change his last name so that he and Jeffry could pretend to be father and son even though they were not.
The group partied at Rackover’s into the early hours of Sunday morning where alcohol and drugs were consumed. At 7:30 am, a CCTV inside the tower captured three women leaving the building. Comunale was also spotted by the camera leaving the building and returning alone. The story got hazy for investigators at that point, but the luggage cart ordered from the front desk raised some suspicions.
At around 10 am, Rackover and another friend called Dilione were spotted carrying a large duffel bag down to a black Mercedez in the parking garage with the luggage cart they had ordered from the front desk. The bag was loaded awkwardly into the car, and that car was seen by CCTV leaving town towards New Jersey. It was also captured on its return to the tower some hours later.
When police aggressively questioned Dilione, he waved his rights and started to talk, but he didn’t offer a whole lot of information. His friend Rackover kept quiet and said he was shocked that Comunale was missing. He said he had been home all night watching a boxing match and that his friend Dilione woke him at 2 am to ask if some friends could party in his apartment. He claimed he agreed to the partying but didn’t take part in it.
As police applied pressure to Dilione, he began to fess up and painted a dark picture for the police of the events that night. He admitted that sometime after the women had left he got into an argument with the victim over a packet of cigarettes. He admitted to the cops that he beat Comunale till he was bloody and unconscious that night. As he laid on the floor bleeding, Dilione claims that Rackover got involved and told him he’d have to kill Comunale if he wanted to avoid arrest.
Dilione went on to tell the police that Rackover stabbed the victim numerous times in the head and neck until he died in the apartment. After his death, the two friends tried to dismember Comunale in the bathtub but to no avail. They then decided to transport his body to Oceanside to bury it there in the hopes of getting away with murder. Dilione led police to the shallow grave, claiming he had only punched the victim and not killed him.
The complex case was hampered due to various factors to the point where the police were unable to officially charge anyone with the murder of Joseph Comunale at the time. Allegations of police misconduct relating to Dilione’s confession made things even more complicated. Critics claim the police pushed the investigation too quickly and were unable to secure a proper confession from the alleged murderer. More recently, police were able to charge the two men with second-degree murder, but the whole case is shrouded in mystery.
While it’s unclear to this day why Comunale was killed, with the fight over cigarettes being a tad unbelievable, some sources have claimed that he was killed for refusing the sexual advances of both Dilione and Rackover. While this hasn’t been proved, many in the NYPD believe this was the reason for the unprecedented and sudden attack on Comunale. His family was understandably devastated, and they spoke to reporters about the case.
Comunale’s father, Patsy Comunale, spoke to NBC News following the murder, discussing his outrage at the event. “It’s horrific that another person can do this to an individual, and take a guy who was the most charismatic, funny guy – always the life of the party – never did steroids or anything else. And his friends can all attest to the type of individual he was,” he said. Even Rackover’s attorney admitted that his client had some “serious problems.”
The attorney also told reporters that while he knew something had happened, his client was innocent of murder and the other charges against him. “I can’t downplay the brutal nature of what happened to that body in New Jersey,” he admitted. “These charges are a placeholder. I look forward to conducting our own investigation. I intend to vigorously contest these charges.”
Years after the gruesome murder, the father of the victim is now suing the parents of the killer’s two accomplices claiming they played a role in covering up his son’s murder. Comunale senior recently filed an official complaint against the parents of Max Gemma and Larry Dilione. Gordon Gemma was one of the friends at the apartment that night, and he was also implicated in the murder.
While Rackover was found guilty of second-degree murder in the case, Dilione and Gemma are still awaiting trial. But Comunale claims that the parents of the two men conspired with their kids to conceal the murder by “concocting a false narrative,” according to a Daily Mail report. Comunale claims that they interfered with the case to get their kids out of serving jail time.
The Lawsuit states: “With the knowledge that Joey had been murdered and that his body was buried in a shallow grave in Oceanport, New Jersey, defendants Gemma and Dilione intentionally lied to the police and instructed Max and Larry to lie to the police to prevent the recovery of Joey’s remains.” Comunale is now seeking damages for “extreme emotional distress, humiliation, mental and physical anguish, emotional injuries, and economic losses.”
The son of Good Day New York anchor Rosanna Scott, Louis Ruggiero, testified in court that Rackover had admitted the murder to him personally, even bragging about it. “I slit his throat, and I stabbed him, and we wrapped the body up in a comforter and threw it out the window so the cameras wouldn’t see,” he recalled Rackover saying. “James looked at me and said, ‘I did something really bad,'” he added.
Out of Hand
In court, Dilione admitted to punching Comunale but claimed that he watched Rackover stab him as soon as the fight got out of hand. “I turned around and that’s when I saw the knife being pulled out of Joey’s head,” Dilione said. But there were different versions of what the motive was for the brutal and sudden attack.
It’s still unclear to this day what the actual motive was for murdering Comunale. For his part, Dilione claims the fight started when he accused Comunale of “not paying his way” when it came to the alcohol and drugs on that night. “James is bringing cocaine; I’ve got cigarettes, what the f*** are you bringing to the table,” he allegedly said to the victim. But other reports allege that the fight sparked when Comunale rejected sexual advances from the two friends as previously mentioned.
One of a Kind
In paying tribute to the victim, the father said about his son, “He touched everybody who came in contact with him, loved him,” according to a Fox 61 report. “He was one of a kind. He didn’t deserve this; he didn’t go looking for trouble,” he said. The victim’s friends also described him as a wonderful person and a “joy to be around.”
One close friend of Comunale took to social media after his murder to speak about him. Sarah Thomas posted to Facebook: “My heart goes out to everyone who had the pleasure of knowing a nice guy like you. Justice will be served, but it will never make up for the world losing a wonderful person like you.” Another friend, Josh Westie, spoke to Heavy about the deceased: “How anyone could even dislike Joey is beyond me. They took someone everyone loved and adored, at this point we just want #justiceforjoey.”