John Petrazzuoli Jr.

Our son, John L. Petrazzuoli, Jr., 22, was burned to death in his car at about 1 a.m. on May 6, 1999, in a deserted parking lot in Garden City, South Carolina.

The Horry County Police Department and Horry County Fire Department investigated less than three weeks, provided no information what-so-ever, and closed the case as a suicide/accident. We later found a handwritten note in the Coroner's file from Fire Investigator, George Jones - an apparent attempt to manufacture a motive for suicide. The note said, "John (Petrazzuoli) Jr. was transported by EMS, 2-4 days prior to the fire, for depression related illness. Transported to Grand Strand Hospital."

That is false information. Johnny was never treated for depression, was not treated in any hospital for any reason in the year of 1999, and was never transported by EMS in his entire life.

 Our son was upbeat and healthy, excited about expanding his landscaping business -- (he had just changed the name of his business and ordered new business cards) -- and was working a second job at the Golden Image, a 24-hour video-gambling parlor, in order to reduce his credit card payments. He was eagerly looking forward to a deep-sea fishing trip and to defending his title in the National Weight Lifting Competition. There is no way in this world that he would have killed himself.

On the night of his death, Johnny left our home in Surfside at about 9:30 p.m., to meet a former girlfriend -- Nicole Lampo -- who had called and invited him to have a drink with her and Nicole's friend, Amber, at Cowboy's Bar & Grill.  Nicole and Amber stated that Johnny was sitting with two females and one male before they arrived.  Nobody seems to know who those three people were.  Nicole, Amber and Johnny shared a table with four other people.  Nicole says that she and Johnny didn't know those people, but somebody took a Polaroid picture of the group, and they seem to have become very friendly very quickly. Johnny left Cowboy's around 11 p.m., arriving back at our house at 11:30. He went up to his room and then came back down and left again, telling me, "I have to drop something off and will be right back."

 Reportedly, Johnny then made a brief stop at the Golden Image gambling parlor. An informant contacted our private investigator to say that, when Johnny left the Golden Image, two black men followed him.

 At 12:38, Johnny used his cell phone to call Nicole's house, but the call was intercepted by her answering machine. At the time he made that call he apparently hadn't yet pulled into the Food Lion parking lot, as you can hear truck noises and traffic in the background. At 12:52, a call was made to Johnny's cell phone from Cowboy's Bar. Although Nicole denies making that call, she was the only one in the group with Johnny's cell phone number. At 12:53 - one minute after the call from Cowboy's -- Johnny used his cell phone to check his voice mail. It doesn't make sense that Johnny would have been concerned about his phone messages if he had been in the process of committing suicide. To us it seems far more likely that the killer surprised him while he was on the cell phone, murdered him, and then set the fire to erase the evidence. That person apparently obtained the number for Johnny's voice mail, as his messages continued to be accessed for four days following his death.

The fire department was notified of the fire at 1:13 a.m. and arrived at the scene at 1:17. The fire was so intense that it took 500 gallons of water to put it out. By the time it was extinguished, Johnny's body was burned beyond recognition.

The investigation (if you can call it that) by Fire Investigator, George Jones, was a series of blunders, omissions, and false statements. Not only did Jones not thoroughly investigate the vehicle, he lied about and/or concealed evidence, wrote up no reports (while pretending he did), and lied about having documented proof that only Johnny could possibly have started the fire. He, then, filed a false incident report stating that Johnny's case file, which had never existed in the first place, had been stolen. As a result of those actions/inactions, he was fired. Nevertheless, the Horry County Fire Department and Police Department continue to this day to defend the botched investigation.

 When Johnny's case was closed as a suicide/accident, we hired a forensic expert on vehicle fires. From photographs, the burn pattern, damage, etc., this expert said he could not understand how anyone could say that the fire was accidental or a suicide, not knowing the source of ignition or accelerant/chemical used. His fire scene investigation revealed that this incident was a fire and not an explosion.  He said that ignition occurred very quickly, the fire appeared to have started at seat level and burned upward.  The fire also appeared to have started in the front seat area and burned toward the rear of the vehicle.  It appears that the fire was "helped along" with an accelerant, and it might very well have been set by a second person.

In the course of inspecting Johnny's car, which we had reclaimed from the police, the forensic expert discovered the existence of a bullet hole.  This hole was not found at the time of the initial scene examination by the Horry County authorities.  During the interior examination, the forensic expert also located the remains of a wrist watch, the ignition keys and bottom of an aerosol can, none of which had been located by Horry County authorities.

Horry County authorities were notified immediately concerning the bullet hole but were not interested and refused at first to have their ballistic department examine the bullet hole. We hired a ballistic expert, who determined that the position of Johnny's gun where it was located after the fire was extinguished could not have put the bullet hole in the vehicle.  The forensic expert and ballistic expert believe that Johnny was shot first and then burned up. Apparently there was a struggle inside the car, a shot was fired that severed Johnny's right leg at the level of the mid-femur, and the car was set on fire to finish him off and erase the evidence. Johnny's shattered leg would explain why he made no attempt and was unable to escape from the burning vehicle.

From Day One, the Horry County Police Department refused to investigate the possibility of homicide. Instead, they lied continually, falsified documents and reports, and refused to follow up on the simplest leads. In October, 1999, we submitted a Freedom Of Information Act request for Johnny's case file. In order to obtain that file - to which we had a legal right - we were forced to sue the county. When we finally received the case file, numerous taped interviews, handwritten notes etc., had been removed from it. Among the missing items was Police Sergeant James Lilley's tape recorded interview with Johnny's best friend, his wife and mother and sister, and another friend. Sgt. Lilley has stated in a sworn affidavit that he did not tape record that interview, yet all five of the people he interviewed say that he did. With the tape-recorded interview conveniently missing, Sgt. Lilley was able to attribute statements to those people that they tell us they never made and to omit important information that they tell us they gave him.

An eyewitness, who was driving past the scene when Johnny's car was set on fire, contacted police with information that two other vehicles were there at the time and he saw a man walking away from Johnny's blazing car.  Under hypnosis, that witness was able to provide a detailed description of both the man and the vehicles.  The police have refused to take a statement from that witness.

It's possible that Johnny's murder may have been drug related. Drugs are rampant in our area, and since our son's death, we have discovered that some of his associates were involved in the drug trade. After Johnny died, we found a note in his brief case that said - "If you fuck me over your Dead." We believe that note is an important piece of evidence. The police have shown no interest in it.

 The manner in which our beloved son died is horrifying, and the way the investigation was handled and how we have been treated ever since by all county officials is unbelievable. The family of the victim has no rights whatsoever. My husband and I have a huge amount of evidence -- tapes, photos, handwritten notes, sworn affidavits - that document lies and cover-up by members of law enforcement, yet there's nothing that we can do with it.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On the fourth anniversary of John's death, his parents placed an ad in the paper directing people to the Real Crimes web site to read John's story. That ad brought forth a witness, whom the police refuse to interview. 

 

That witness has prepared the following statement:

 

This is a statement prepared by a Witness in the John Petrazzuoli Case:

 

Sometime in March or April of 2003, I read an advertisement in the Sun News. It was in reference to an incident that had occurred in May of 1999. After reading the ad, my interest was sparked and I then went to a web site that was listed in the ad. After reading, I realized that I had information that should be of interest to all the parties involved. I contacted the Petrazzuoli family through the web site, then through phone conversations. This is my statement.

 

On the late night or early morning hours of May 5-May 6 1999, I was leaving work in Murrells Inlet, SC. I was traveling to our company office, that was located on the old Air Force base. I was on my cell phone with my wife, who was at home in Georgetown, SC. I traveled through Garden City and turned left off of 17 N. Bus. onto the Indian Wells/Garden City connector. As I was traveling towards the by-pass, I noticed that the new Food Lion store appeared to have more lights on than I had noticed before. I also saw at least 3, possibly 4 vehicles in the parking lot. The store still had the paper over the windows, it was soon to be opened; and I assumed that because of all of the lights, that employees of Food Lion were in the store working. I observed this because I traveled the road daily for the past 10 years, and I was curious as to when they would open. This was close to midnight. I was on my phone with my wife, it was our oldest son's 3rd birthday, and we were talking about the day’s plans.

 

I turned right onto 17N. bypass and headed towards the office. I realized that I had forgotten some paperwork and decided to turn around and go back for it.  I turned around either at the lake's development or the Glen's Bay Road intersection. I am not sure which. At this time I was still talking to my wife. I headed back south and turned left onto the Garden City connector.

 

As I passed the Food Lion for the second time I noticed something very odd. The road is very curvy in this area, and as I passed the Food Lion, I would estimate my speed no more than 25 mph, I noticed that a vehicle in the parking lot was on fire. The flames appeared to by in the center or near the center of the front seat. They were yellow to white in color and appeared to "lick" the headliner of the truck. There was a man walking in front of the truck,  heading west to east towards another vehicle that was parked near the truck that was on fire. My thoughts were that I would be moving my vehicle also. I assumed that this was a Food Lion employee and that someone working in the store was the owner of the truck on fire. I told my wife what I had seen, and I decided to hang up and call 911. I made the call and talking very briefly with an operator. I gave the location of the truck fire and hung up. I am not sure how long the call lasted, but I would estimate less than one minute.

 

I continued to travel east and turned onto 17 S. business. I picked up my paperwork, and after a few minutes I began to travel north towards our company office. I called my wife back and continued our conversation. As I traveled past the Food Lion again, I was amazed. The fire department was there.  This was not the surprise. My surprise was the truck!  It appeared to be totally engulfed in flames from the middle of the truck to the front. Even the front tires were on fire. I remarked to my wife that I did not know that a vehicle could burn like that.  One would assume that because it's metal it wouldn't be such a huge fire. I did not stop, I continued to the office, and then traveled home. When passed the fourth time on the way home on 17S. by-pass, I notice the fire was out and the fire department was still on site.

 

Until 2003 when I read the ad and visited the web site, I was not aware that someone was in the fire. I also was not aware that it was a possible murder. After some discussion with the Petrazzuoli family, I agreed to give a statement. I was traveling out of town quite a bit at that time. I talked to a detective Cox with the Horry County Police. I tried to call him back when I was in town, but I had no luck in reaching him.

 

Also on August 23,2003, I visited a licensed hypnotherapist. Through hypnosis I recalled some things that I had not readily remembered.

 

The man walking between the cars was in his late twenties or early thirties. He was of average height and had a heavy build. He had dark hair cut short and seemed to have a stubble growth, dark facial appearance, but not a full beard. He was wearing jeans with a light colored shirt. The shirt was a casual style that is meant to be worn out with short sleeves. It was light in color with some darker stripe, possibly a large square pattern on it. He also appeared to either be barefooted or had low sandals or flip flops. He was walking towards a light colored SUV. Possibly silver in color. The car was rounded in shape, possibly a 1996 style Ford Explorer or Expedition. The car was parked east of the truck on fire, and was at an angle to the black truck. I believe that there was also another car in the parking lot, parked along the edge of the lot facing the Garden City connector. I cannot be sure of the make of this car, but it was also light in color. I must say that, through hypnosis, I recalled things that I did not readily remember. Also these recollections during hypnosis seem to be in a shaded venue. Not black and white but definite greys.

 

I am sure of what I saw.  Obviously John Petrazzuoli was not alone in the last moments of his life. Someone was there at the onset of the fire. I did see this person, and I am willing to help the Petrazzuoli family in any way I can. I would also state that I wish nothing in return for this statement. The Petrazzuoulis had offered some type of reward; however, I am not interested. I am more interested in finding the true nature of John's death, and some closure for his family.

 

Patricia Petrazzuoli

John Petrazzuoli Sr.