Produced by Judy Rybak and Stephanie Slifer
[This story first aired May 18. It was updated September 7.]
One year after Rachael DelTondo was shot to death, there are plenty of theories, but no arrests, leaving some to wonder if the case will ever be solved.
The case shook Aliquippa and remains the ninth unsolved murder in a city with an underfunded and understaffed police department.
There are numerous potential leads for police to follow, including a young Aliquippa High School athlete named Sheldon Jeter and DelTondo’s ex-fiancé Frank Catroppa.
Both Catroppa and Jeter deny any involvement in Rachael’s death. Moriarty asked Catroppa why people would think he was involved and he answered, “Maybe just, you know, we had a long relationship.”
“In that community, you could probably find a long list of suspects,” says John Paul, a local investigative writer and a CBS News consultant.
John Paul says DelTondo was afraid of a lot of people, including the Aliquippa Police.
Lisa DelTondo says her daughter told her that she was cooperating in an ongoing investigation by state police, into alleged corruption in the Aliquippa Police Department, and that. According to DelTondo her daughter was “Deathly afraid of police. She said, ‘They’re following me, mom. They’re following me.'”
Joe Perciavalle was Aliquippa’s assistant chief of police when DelTondo was killed.
“Do you think anyone in the police department was involved in any way in Rachael’s death?” Moriarty asked.
“You just never know,” Perciavalle says. “Aliquippa is a small community with New York problems.”
Will Rachael DelTondo’s killer or killers ever be found?
MOTHER’S DAY 2018
The night Rachael DelTondo was gunned down at the foot of her parent’s driveway, there were already eight unsolved murders in the city of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.
John Paul: The police departments we have are populated largely by part-time officers.
John Paul is an investigative journalist and CBS News consultant. He grew up near Aliquippa and has witnessed its decline. A small city outside of Pittsburgh, Aliquippa was once was home to big steel, big money and big NFL stars who came up through the renowned high school football program. But today, the city can’t even afford a fully-staffed police force.
John Paul: What you’re seeing is patrolmen working not in one town … they’re having to work at two, three, or four different police departments to support themselves. And when you start having services run that way — you start having problems.
And John Paul says Aliquippa’s problems run deeper than anyone guessed.
Lisa DelTondo was extremely close with her 33-year-old daughter. Rachael was still living at home with Lisa and father Joe DelTondo.
Lisa DelTondo: She’d come in every night, sit at my bed and give me … a synopsis of the whole day.
That night, there would be no bedside report. After supper, Rachael went for ice cream with friends. Then, just minutes after being dropped back home — around 10:45 p.m. — Rachael was shot several times at close range.
John Paul: The information I have from law enforcement … is that … They do believe she knew her killer. … they believe it to be a crime of passion.
That’s probably why Rachael’s former fiancé, Frank Catroppa, was one of the first people questioned by police.
Erin Moriarty: Frank, I’m gonna ask you directly. Did you have anything to do with the death Rachael DelTondo?
Frank Catroppa: Absolutely not. … I’ve known her since we were kids
Lisa DelTondo: Rachael was dating a wonderful young man … Frank was engaged. … but they both agreed to break up with their significant others. … and — came together.
They quickly became Aliquippa’s “it” couple. Frank, the son of a retired police officer, was building an empire in trucking, cable and energy. He was so successful that an local online magazine dubbed Catroppa “The Wolf of Aliquippa.” Rachael was the teacher with a soft heart who liked to help troubled students.
Erin Moriarty: And, at first, were you happy with the relationship?
Lisa DelTondo: Yes. Uh-huh [affirms]. Frankie was generous.
Erin Moriarty: What drew you to her?
Frank Catroppa: Obviously, she’s a pretty girl. She’s nice, genuine — big hearted. She was a good girl.
Erin Moriarty: Were you in love with Rachael?
Frank Catroppa: Yeah, at one time I was, absolutely.
Jen Glovan says she and Rachael were once “best friends.”
Jen Glovan: They had good times and they had bad times. When they … were together and happy on a Tuesday, they could have been broken up and miserable by Sunday [laughs]. I mean … it went back and forth a lot.
That went on for several years says Glovan, with Rachael wanting stability and Frank resisting.
Jen Glovan: She wanted to get married and she wanted to have kids. … and she’s … gettin’ a little frustrated, like “when am I gonna get this ring on my finger.”
And Glovan says Rachael was not leaving her parent’s house without a commitment from Frank.
Jen Glovan: I asked her, y’know, “why didn’t you wanna move out?” And she said, “I’m Italian and usually they stay at home until they get married and I don’t want to disappoint my dad.”
Erin Moriarty: Was she pushing you to get married?
Frank Catroppa: Yeah. She — she gave me about three deadlines.
But it seems that Rachael wasn’t acting on her own.
Lisa DelTondo: Maybe we were pushing her. … Like, “you’ve been dating this kid five years.” Come on. It don’t take five years.
But it did take five years.
Frank Catroppa: Yeah, so we went to Paris, we got engaged in — in Paris.
Lisa DelTondo: She was excited. When she called me, I don’t know if it was because she was marrying him or because of the ring — it was a six-carat oval. It was beautiful.
Wedding plans commenced immediately, and so did a Shakespearean battle over who was running the show.
Lisa DelTondo: You know how you get engaged and you let the woman take over? Frankie didn’t wanna do that. He was in charge of everything — wanted to go to the hall, wanted to see the flowers, wanted — I mean, if he could’ve saw her dress, he’d be happy.
Frank Catroppa: There was just a lot of outside interference with some of her family.
Erin Moriarty: Particularly her mom?
Frank Catroppa: Yes.
Lisa DelTondo bought her daughter a $10,000 wedding dress and a pair of $3,000 shoes.
Lisa DelTondo [showing the shoes]: Never got to wear ’em. They’re brand new.
Frank asked for a prenuptial agreement.
Jen Glovan: And I said … “How do you feel about that?” She’s like, “I’m fine with it. I’ll — I’ll sign it. … I don’t want him to think that … I … want him just for his money.”
But in the end, Rachael refused.
Frank Catroppa: It wasn’t Rachael, I don’t believe, that didn’t want to sign it. Her mother didn’t want her to sign it.
Lisa DelTondo: I didn’t want her to sign a prenup, any prenup.
Frank Catroppa: That’s when the wedding planning stopped and — we were still together, but we weren’t, I guess, engaged anymore, so that created some friction.
As Glovan recalls, nothing really changed.
Jen Glovan: They were still going out together — pretty much doing what they were doing before.
But according to Catroppa the relationship wasn’t the same.
Frank Catroppa: I don’t think some of her family wanted her to still talk to me … But she still did. And she still came around. … So she started to not tell people that she was talking to me. … So, it was like it became common for her to, like, almost mislead or lie.
Catroppa says the more he pulled away, the more jealous Rachael became. Super Bowl weekend 2016, Frank was at the game with some buddies and they weren’t alone.
Frank Catroppa: There were some — some girls on the — on the trip. And — and Rachael was upset about that. And —
Erin Moriarty: Well, ’cause you were still dating her.
Frank Catroppa: Yeah, we were still dating. It’s, you know, one of those awkward situations.
Not long after that weekend, Catroppa says Rachael became paranoid.
Frank Catroppa: She contacted me and saying that, you know, that people were bothering her or the, you know police —
Erin Moriarty: Who were those people bothering her? What do you mean?
Frank Catroppa: She would never really give names … But she would always just, you know, lump in the — the police department.
It turns out Rachael had at least one good reason to be nervous — a secret that only a few people knew. Jen Gloven was one of them.
Jen Gloven [crying]: She grabbed my hand and she just said, “You know, please just don’t tell anybody this. You have to promise me, promise me, promise me.”
A SECRET REVEALED
It had been a little over 10 months since Rachael DelTondo and Frank Catroppa called off their engagement, but the final chapter of their relationship was still being written
Erin Moriarty: Was Frank actually interested in being with Rachael at that point?
Jen Glovan: Yeah … I think that they still were on and off … they were still just doing what they were always doing.
Every year, Catroppa throws himself a big birthday party at a bar in downtown Aliquippa. In December 2016, Rachael DelTondo was there to help celebrate. Jen Glovan and her boyfriend Matt Mottes hadn’t seen Rachael in months. Both say they worried that she looked like she might be doing drugs.
Jen Glovan: I was just like, “Oh, my God, like, who is this person?” Like, it wasn’t the Rachael that I knew [crying].
Rachael’s parents say they never saw evidence of drug use. “Nothing,” said Lisa DelTondo. But Glovan confronted her friend.
Jen Glovan: And I just said, “Rachael,” I said, “I just feel like something’s wrong … I don’t know what it is, but you’re doing something which is not good [crying] and I’m worried about you.” … And … she got very angry at me … And — she was just like … “nothing’s wrong with me. I’m not doing drugs.” … we both stood up and we were … in each other’s, you know, faces at that point. And — she just kind of, you know, swung at me.
Erin Moriarty: She swung at you?
Jen Glovan: Yeah. … she had hit me in the face.
Glovan says she was stunned and furious. When Catroppa ran over to see what happened, she retaliated and broke a promise — revealing that secret Rachael had begged her to keep.
Jen Glovan: I just broke down in tears and I said, “Please ask her. Ask her what she was doing in the car … with some kid at night.” And I told him [crying].
What Glovan told Catroppa is that nearly a year earlier, on the same weekend when he was away with other women at the Super Bowl, Rachael had done something that had put her job and her relationship with Frank at risk.
Glovan recalls Rachael coming to her that Super Bowl weekend in tears.
Jen Glovan: She was bawling, hysterically crying, you know, shaking.
Glovan says Rachael told her there was an incident involving her and a 17-year-old Aliquippa high school football star named Sheldon Jeter.
Rachael first met Jeter years earlier, when she worked as a substitute teacher at his elementary school. The two had recently reconnected.
Jen Glovan: And she told me [sighs] that … at, like, 11:00, 12:00 at night. … he was messaging her on Facebook and … said he needed someone to talk to … and so, Rachael said, “OK, I’ll come meet you.”
Jen Glovan: They were in the parking lot at Circle K, and he had gotten into her car and he was on the passenger side. And they were just talking. … And then she said that a police officer pulled up … and just wanted to check on them … and she said … “Everything’s fine, Officer. We’re just talking”… and that was it.
Jen Glovan: And I just said … “you’re my best friend.” And I said, “I’m gonna ask you two — two questions.” And I said, “Please don’t lie to me. [crying] … I said, “were you doing drugs with this kid in the car?” … She said … “No, no, no, I wasn’t doing anything like that.” … And I said, “OK, I believe you.” And, I said, “The second question is … were you doing something with him, you know, sexually? … “Are you cheating on Frankie?” She said, “No.”
Erin Moriarty: Did you believe her?
Jen Glovan: [Sighs] I told her that I believed her, but, like, in my gut and in my heart [crying] I knew she was lying.
Glovan now felt Catroppa needed to know, but Rachael insisted the encounter was innocent. She was just trying to help a teenager in need, she told Frank. He says he believed her.
Jen Glovan: Rachael basically told Frankie that … myself and Matt, we — were spreading rumors about her, saying that she’s on drugs and saying that she’s, you know, sleeping around with people around town. …And after that night, Frankie and Rachael did not speak to us for an entire year.
Catroppa stood by Rachael, but about a year later, he would decide he needed to know more about what had happened between Rachael and Sheldon Jeter.
THE CYBER BLAST
After Frank Catroppa’s birthday party, it’s now early 2017. He and his former fiancé Rachael DelTondo were quietly spending time again. But the wedding was still off, leaving Rachael’s mother fuming over all the money lost on those $3,000 shoes and the deposit on that $10,000 wedding dress.
Lisa DelTondo: $4,500 – it wasn’t chump change.
Determined to recoup some of her losses, Lisa pushed Rachael to go public. And with the help of CBS station KDKA consumer reporter Marty Griffin, Lisa fought for a refund of the dress deposit.
In the end, Lisa got her money back.
Erin Moriarty: Was that embarrassing?
Frank Catroppa: It—[laughs] — kinda is what it is. I mean, I – I — I guess so. There’s a lotta money, too, that I lost, like, you know, deposits on halls and churches … that’s what they chose to do. … it really didn’t bother me.
What did eventually bother Catroppa was Rachael’s story about what happened with 17-year-old Sheldon Jeter. So, Frank went to the Aliquippa Police Department and asked Assistant Police Chief Joe Perciavalle if there was an incident report.
Asst. Chief Joe Perciavalle: He told me she was tryin’ to get back with him. And he just wanted to know if it was true ’cause he don’t wanna look stupid.
As it turns out, there was a report and Perciavalle had a copy on his desk.
Erin Moriarty: Why did you have it there?
Asst. Chief Joe Perciavalle: Just put it on there just in case somebody came.
But strangely, it was written more than a year after the actual incident. Perciavalle says that’s because he heard about the encounter months after it happened, and although police found no evidence that Rachael had engaged in improper behavior, the assistant chief wanted a record of the event.
Asst. Chief Joe Perciavalle: I asked if they did a report. They didn’t do a report. So, I said, “Get that report done.”
Erin Moriarty: But why? … It didn’t appear that anything was illegal, right?
Asst. Chief Joe Perciavalle: Well, I think it was — it was just so late at night … and he was 17, still in school.
Reports like this are not immediately accessible; to obtain one it requires a formal request. So, Percivalle says he first refused to give it to Catroppa.
Asst. Chief Joe Perciavalle: I told the chief I didn’t feel comfortable givin’ it to him. And the chief told me, give it to him. … He’s like, “why not? It’s Frankie.” … Him and Chief Couch was good friends, I guess.
Don Couch contradicts that. He says his relationship with Catroppa is purely professional. He insists he told Perciavalle that Frank could see the report, but only after proper procedure was followed. Whatever the truth, Catroppa was able to read the report that day, and it didn’t quite match the story that Rachael had told him.
Frank Catroppa: I was kinda just — just shocked.
According to the report, it was nearly 2 a.m. when Rachael and Jeter were discovered in her car, not 11 p.m. as Rachael had said, and not at the Circle K, but in an abandoned lot.
Erin Moriarty [at the lot]: You obviously come here not to be seen. Is that fair?
John Paul: You come here to not be seen. … The police said the windows were steamed over, which made them believe the vehicle had been parked for some time. And the passenger seat was fully reclined.
The report states that Rachael told police that Jeter was “once a student of hers,” now a “friend,” and they were just talking. But it also says she “didn’t want her fiancé to know because he would get mad.”
Erin Moriarty: And he — and he was upset about it?
Asst. Chief Joe Perciavalle: He was upset. …When he was about to leave, his eyes were watery.
Frank Catroppa: You know, I was more confused than anything.
Erin Moriarty: Angry?
Frank Catroppa: I wouldn’t say that I was angry.
Catroppa was allowed to take home that copy of the report, and a day or two later, someone used it to strike a devastating blow at Rachael DelTondo’s reputation.
Lisa DelTondo: That was the most negative —
Joe DelTondo: Nasty.
Lisa DelTondo: –nasty thing that could’ve happened to her.
Someone anonymously emailed and texted the incident report to Rachael’s school, the local school board, the media and the mayor. Even Jen Glovan got it.
Jen Glovan: And I just sat there and I read it and I was like, “Oh, my God.” … I wasn’t gonna text back and be like, “Who’s this?”
Erin Moriarty: But who did send it to you? Do you know?
Jen Glovan: I do not know, no. I have no idea.
It’s unknown whether authorities ever traced the source of the anonymous emails and text messages, but Lisa and Joe DelTondo say they have no doubt who sent out the damaging information.
Lisa DelTondo: Frank Catroppa.
Joe DelTondo: He tried to ruin my daughter and my family. He was jealous.
Frank Catroppa: Yeah. No. It – it — it wasn’t — it wasn’t me.
Erin Moriarty: And it’s just a coincidence … just days after you got it, it went out to everybody?
Frank Catroppa: Yes … I never denied, you know, receiving it from that day. And I also did, you know, show — other folks, and asked questions to the people that were close to her. “Is this true? What do you know about this?”
Erin Moriarty: So you showed it to a lot of people?
Frank Catroppa: Yes.
Erin Moriarty: But it’s just a coincidence, though, that, right after you get it, it’s suddenly made public.
Frank Catroppa: Yeah, that’s — I was thinking the same thing.
But, Frank Catroppa wasn’t just given the report; he was handed a folder that also contained paperwork with sensitive personal information, like Social Security and driver’s license numbers — information never shared with the public. All that was also released in the cyber blast.
Erin Moriarty: As you sit here, do you believe that Frank Catroppa had to have at least been involved? He might not have been the one who actually —
Asst. Chief Joe Perciavalle: –sent it out. But he gave it to somebody.
The day after the report’s release, Rachael was suspended from her job.
Lisa DelTondo: She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t eat. She had to go to a doctor.
Erin Moriarty: Wasn’t she even hospitalized a little bit?
Lisa DelTondo: Yes.
Erin Moriarty: Tell me about that…
Joe DelTondo: Psych ward.
Erin Moriarty: Seriously?
Lisa DelTondo: She was in a psych ward for three days.
Joe and Lisa DelTondo insist their daughter did nothing wrong.
Lisa DelTondo: She was trying to help this poor kid.
Through his attorney Michael Santicola, Sheldon Jeter says that Rachael was never his teacher. But according to him, their relationship was much more than a friendship.
Michael Santicola: It didn’t start in the car … they had a relationship going on for quite some time.
Even if true, the age of consent in Pennsylvania is 16.
Michael Santicola: She was engaged at the time she was having a relationship with — with Sheldon. So … They’d see each other when they could.
Erin Moriarty: But you know that Rachael’s mother disputes that completely.
Michael Santicola: I’m sure. I’m sure. … The fact that she didn’t tell her mother that she was having a relationship with a 17-year-old boy doesn’t surprise me.
Erin Moriarty: Kids … don’t always talk to their parents about their sex lives. It’s possible—
Lisa DelTondo: You wanna bet?
Erin Moriarty: Rachael told you everything?
Lisa DelTondo: Rachael told me a lot.
Lisa DelTondo, who insists that Jeter mistook Rachael’s kindness as romantic love, says he became obsessed with her daughter.
Lisa DelTondo: He came here one night drunk.
Erin Moriarty: How did you know he was drunk?
Lisa DelTondo: Because I watched him leave as I pointed an air pistol at him —
Joe DelTondo: But he — he —
Lisa DelTondo: — from the window.
Joe DelTondo: — pounding on the window. He was pounding —
Lisa DelTondo: Every window in the house, he pounded on.
Through his attorney, Jeter denies the incident. But Lisa DelTondo stands by her account. She also insists that Sheldon wasn’t the only man fixated on Rachael.
Erin Moriarty: Do you think Frank was obsessed with Rachael?
Lisa DelTondo: Yeah.
After the release of the report, Rachael was finally finished with Frank, but Lisa wasn’t.
LISA DELTONDO [voicemail]: Hi Mr. Paul, this is Lisa DelTondo …
Lisa called John Paul, who runs an online news service called the Beaver-Countian and said her daughter had damaging information about Frank Catroppa and claims of corruption in the Aliquippa Police Department.
LISA DELTONDO [voicemail]: Spend some time in Aliquippa and you’ll be able to write a best-seller.
Erin Moriarty: At some point, then, did you start talking to Rachel?
John Paul: Yeah. Rachael was reluctant at first. … because she started getting death threats and … feared for her life.
CLAIMS OF CRIME & CORRUPTION
By December 2017, Rachael DelTondo was jobless and humiliated, she had cut all ties with her ex-fiancé Frank Catroppa and distanced herself from Sheldon Jeter. Rachael had become socially isolated.
Lisa DelTondo: Frankie made people take sides, so her friends had all, like, kinda went away.
Lisa DelTondo, infuriated at what had been done to her daughter, decided to take things into her own hands and turned once more to the media.
John Paul: Her mother had called our tip line … and she wanted to tell me what she believed to be the real story of Aliquippa … and those were stories of crime and corruption.
Lisa put Rachael in touch with John Paul – and while the two never met in person, he says he spoke to Rachael several times and she claimed to have information about city officials.
John Paul: Rachael described a city that was rotten to its core.
A city where, she said, officials were being paid to turn a blind eye to illegal behavior. But John Paul says Rachael offered no proof.
John Paul: I am not able to independently verify the things that I have heard, that’s not the type of thing that I can report yet.
Rachael also told John Paul that she had received death threats — including a text that said she wouldn’t live to see the end of 2018 — and she feared she was being followed by the Aliquippa Police.
Jackie Belcastro | Rachael’s aunt: I know my Rachael was afraid of them.
Erin Moriarty: What would she tell you?
Jackie Belcastro: That the Aliquippa police were stalking her.
Belcastro’s theory was that Frank had something to do with it.
Erin Moriarty: At any point did you have Rachael followed? Did you follow Rachael?
Frank Catroppa: No. That’s just ridiculous … It’s just Rachael. Like, she says things and they’re not exactly true. … Maybe just tryin’ to discredit me. And I think there was a part of her too that was just upset that we never got married. So, she kinda wanted to kinda paint me in a bad light at times.
Rachael told John Paul, as well as family and friends, that in late 2017, she began speaking to the Pennsylvania State Police in connection with an ongoing investigation they had into possible corruption in Aliquippa.
John Paul: She told me that they were asking her questions about Frank. … And she told me that she didn’t tell them a lot, but she knew she was, at some point, going to have to tell them more.
Frank Catroppa: I don’t know what she could possibly tell them. … How could I do corruption? I’m not a city official. I’m not a government official. I’m not a police officer.
John Paul: If the things that she said proved true, they would be problematic for him. … That all being said … I continue to believe that what led to her death was the choices she made in her personal life.
As winter turned into spring of 2018, Rachael DelTondo was trying hard to put her fears behind her. She was spending time with Sheldon Jeter’s half-brother, 31-year-old Rashawn Bolton.
Lisa DelTondo: He gave her strength. I don’t know how … He’s built like, you know, The Hulk.
Joe DelTondo: Maybe that’s why she felt safe, I don’t know.
Lisa DelTondo: Maybe that’s why.
Joe DelTondo: But she felt safe with him.
But Rachael’s mother says the friendship did nothing but anger an already obsessed Sheldon. And when Rachael wasn’t with Bolton, she was spending time with former student, 17-year-old.
Lauren Watkins: Rachael is family to me.
Erin Moriarty: But some people would say you were a teenager. She was in her early 30s … what did you two have in common?
Lauren Watkins: She helped me with everything. She took hours out of her day to help me with my college resumes … and just was the best friend anyone could have.
But Rachael’s mother was concerned about the age difference.
Lisa DelTondo: Her therapist told her to stay away from Lauren. She was too young. … But she said that she doesn’t wanna hurt her feelings.
On the evening of May 13, 2018, Mother’s Day, Rachael’s protector, Bolton, was out of town and Rachael decided to go out with Lauren.
Lauren Watkins: We would just drive around, listen to music and talk. That was like our thing.
While driving, Lauren says they passed Sheldon Jeter in a car full of people.
Erin Moriarty: Did Sheldon Jeter see you?
Lauren Watkins: He did. … He had messaged me on Facebook and was like, “Did I just pass you guys.” And I’m like, “Yeah.” … And then he goes, “Well what are you doing?” And at that point I had stopped answering.
Lauren says she took Rachael home to pick up a sweatshirt and then the pair headed out again — this time to Hank’s for ice cream.
Lisa DelTondo: She said, “We’re goin’ to Hanks to get ice cream.” Little did I know that was the last words from my baby. Last words.
On the way, they picked up 26-year-old Tyrie Jeter, yet another half-brother of Sheldon.
In the hour leading up to Rachael’s death, search warrant applications indicate that Sheldon was texting Tyrie. The texts suggest Sheldon may have been trying to track Rachael’s movement:
10:07 P.M.: “Is yal there already”
10:15 P.M.: “I got left huh [smiley face emojis]”
10:19 P.M.: “Who all you with”
10:30 P.M,: “Hanks closed”
Erin Moriarty: Sheldon knew exactly where Rachael was that night. He knew, and he knew what time she was going home didn’t he?
Michael Santicola | Sheldon Jeter’s attorney: I don’t think that that’s true. I don’t think — how he would know what time they’re going home?
Jeter’s attorney argues that if anyone knew what time Rachael was going to be home, it was Lauren Watkins.
Michael Santicola: There’s only one person that got her outside her house, and that was Ms. Watkins. Nothing to do with Sheldon.
Curiously, Lauren sent a text to Rachael – even though Rachael was sitting in the same car. She texted: “go for a walk ill come pick you up after.” Minutes later, Rachael was gunned down.
Erin Moriarty: Why are you texting someone who’s sitting right behind you?
Lauren Watkins: So, it was one of those things that we’re like kind of trying to get — not necessarily rid of Ty, but like whatever her and I had planned for like in the evening, he could just go back and it would just be our time together to like talk and gossip and stuff like that. … And I’m like, “Well, I don’t want him to hear, like, I’m coming back” … So I kind of just sent it to her… like, I don’t know, “go for a walk, stay in the car.” I don’t know.
But Michael Santicola doesn’t buy it.
Erin Moriarty: Lauren Watkins is 17 years of age. You’re saying that she had something to do with Rachael DelTondo’s murder?
Michael Santicola: I’m saying that her story doesn’t make sense. So, it needs to be explained.
Erin Moriarty: I’m going to ask you point-blank, because I know you want to answer this question. Did you have any idea what was about to happen to Rachael?
Lauren Watkins [shakes her head no]: I did not.
Lauren says she dropped Rachael off and waited until she reached the side door to her house and opened it before driving away.
Lauren Watkins: I don’t leave until anyone gets to their door…. Especially her. I always check my surroundings with her. There was nothing unusual, no unusual car, no person anywhere in sight.
Erin Moriarty: Is there any chance that Rachael did try to come in this side door?
Joe DelTondo: I think I would’ve heard it … I was right in that chair where I always am.
Erin Moriarty: Right by the door.
Joe DelTondo: Right by the door.
The shooter either followed Rachael or was lying in wait. Less than four minutes after Lauren says she drove off, Rachael wound up dead – not by the side door of her house, but all the way at the foot of her driveway. Rachael’s parents believe an obsessed Sheldon Jeter killed her.
Lisa DelTondo: That night, I knew it was him.
Michael Santicola: There’s no evidence there that ties him to the crime. … And if you look at the way this girl was shot and if you look at the close range that she was shot, this was somebody who was comfortable with a gun … somebody that … did not waiver, did not have emotion involved in this. To us it looks like a hit.
IN SEARCH OF ANSWERS
Just hours after Rachael DelTondo was killed, police were at Sheldon Jeter’s doorstep looking to question him and a search warrant application indicates that visit raised questions.
Erin Moriarty: It states that they ask Sheldon for the clothing he was wearing that night and he gave them other clothing.
Michael Santicola: That’s not how it went down. … There was a pile of clothes laying on the floor next to his bed where he was sleeping. They got up and said, “Are these the clothes that you were wearing?” … “Yeah, all my clothes are right there.” So, they scooped it up.
Sheldon’s attorney insists it’s not his client’s fault that cops picked up the wrong clothes. But the warrant application also states Sheldon failed to display any emotion when he was informed of Rachael’s death.
Michael Santicola: That’s absolutely untrue. … He was shocked. He was in shock.
Lauren Watkins, who has known Sheldon since elementary school, says she doesn’t believe he’s capable of murder. She says she never knew Rachael and Sheldon to have any type of romantic relationship and never once heard her friend say she was afraid of him.
Erin Moriarty: Did Rachael ever indicate to you that Sheldon was obsessed with her or wanted to be with her?
Lauren Watkins: No.
Erin Moriarty: You had no sense of that at all.
Lauren Watkins: No.
Sheldon wasn’t the only person police initially questioned. Remember, they also turned their attention to Frank Catroppa, who was dating someone new when Rachael was murdered. Steve Colafella is Catroppa’s lawyer.
Steve Colafella: He was certainly a person of interest, I think, initially. … We took great pains to provide an alibi, answer questions, make him available — so that he could be eliminated early.
Erin Moriarty: Did you have anything to do, at all, with her death?
Frank Catroppa: No, I—I—
Erin Moriarty: Push anyone to do it?
Frank Catroppa: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Would never do that. … I was at my apartment with my girlfriend. … There’s video footage of me going into the building and not leaving.
Authorities won’t say whether they were able to verify Frank’s alibi, and eyebrows were raised when he appeared on social media wearing a T-shirt that read: “fake alibi.” Catroppa says it was a joke.
Frank DelTondo: There was no ill intent. It’s a shirt. … It’s nothing serious.
Erin Moriarty: Have the police actually cleared you?
Steve Colafella: They haven’t actually used the term “cleared,” but I’ve had a number of conversations with them, and he’s no longer a person of interest.
When “48 Hours” asked, officials wouldn’t confirm or deny whether Frank Catroppa is a person of interest in Rachael’s murder or whether he, Sheldon Jeter or anyone else has been cleared.
Lisa DelTondo [at cemetery]: Awe, look at that picture. It’s gorgeous. I wish you were here, baby.
A year has passed and investigators have yet to make an arrest in Rachael’s murder. Her family has begun to lose hope that they’ll ever see justice.
Lisa DelTondo: I said that night, “You know, this is gonna be a cold case.” I could tell.
One reason the DelTondos doubt they’ll ever get answers is their distrust of the Aliquippa Police — and the fact that the department was overseeing the investigation at its most crucial, early stage.
Joe DelTondo: If it was up to them, we knew nothing was gonna happen. I knew that.
John Paul: I mean, we’re talking about a population of roughly 9,000, give or take, where there are nine unsolved homicides.
Less than a month after the murder, the Aliquippa Police Department had three different police chiefs in one week. Chief Don Couch was placed on leave for reasons not made public. He’s currently working at Lowe’s. Assistant chief Joe Perciavalle took over briefly until he was arrested on charges he shared an obscene text message with Lauren Watkins, a minor. He says it was an accident and meant for someone else. It was the third, and current chief, Robert Sealock, who decided the department should no longer handle Rachael’s murder investigation. The Beaver County Detectives Bureau has since taken it over.
Erin Moriarty: Did, in fact, Rachael DelTondo’s murder shine a light where people didn’t want it to be?
John Paul: Certainly, they shined a light in a place that was very dark — that a lot of people felt wasn’t even a place worth bother looking at.
After Rachael’s death, that investigation by state police into possible corruption in Aliquippa seems to have stepped up. A grand jury has been hearing evidence.
John Paul: I can say, based on my reporting, that Frank Catroppa is the subject of a grand jury investigation being run by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.
Catroppa’s attorney would not confirm whether Catroppa is the subject of a grand jury investigation, and it’s unclear exactly what he would be investigated for. But it no longer matters much to Rachael’s parents, who say nothing can give them what they really want.
Erin Moriarty: I mean, you need justice for your daughter.
Lisa DelTondo: Who should I call?
Joe DelTondo: We haven’t talked to anybody.
Lisa DelTondo: But the point is, she’s still not here. … She is not here for me to hug and kiss and love, not here
Another Mother’s Day has come and gone. Rachael DelTondo’s death is the ninth unsolved murder in her hometown of Aliquippa. A city that, John Paul says, can no longer protect its own.
John Paul: I believe there were a series of events that occurred before her death that could be looked at as the dominoes that kept falling, one after another, that led up to her killing. And I firmly believe that, if things in Aliquippa aren’t the way they are … that Rachael DelTondo would still be alive
On May 28, 2019, the felony charges against Joe Perciavalle for allegedly sending an obscene text to 17-year-old Lauren Watkins were dropped. A misdemeanor charge of corruption of minors is still pending.
Anyone with information on Rachael DelTondo’s murder is asked to call the Beaver County Detective Bureau at 724-773-8569.
Editor’s note: This story was previously updated to reflect that the City of Aliquippa can’t afford a fully-staffed police force. It previously read full-time police force.