Journey Of Justice:
By LIZ GOFF & ANGELA MONTEFINISE
Next week a man will stand in a Queens courtroom and face charges that he killed Queens bar owner Richard Godkin 20 years ago . . . and he will stand there because the dead mans son and the Queens Cold Case Squad were not willing to give up.
Frank Riccardi ran for 20 years, the Queens District Attorney will claim, but he couldnt run fast or far enough to slip through the grip a Queens cop and the bar owners son U.S. Marshall Brian Godkin.
Riccardi will be in court on Jan. 29 for a pre-trial hearing in a case that is joined with his alleged accomplice Robert Vernaces in the April 11, 1981 killing of the owners of the Shamrock Bar in Richmond Hill. The pair will appear before State Supreme Court Justice Eng in Kew Gardens Supreme Court where prosecutors are hoping to set a trial date some time in February.
According to the police, it all began on the night of Riccardis 24th birthday. He got drunk while celebrating at the Shamrock Bar on Jamaica Avenue, April 11, 1981. And when someone spilled a drink on him, well, no one would say for sure who threw the first punch. But the brawl ended when the bars owners Richard Godkin and John DAgnese broke it up and led Riccardi and Ronald Barlin, to the street.
That didnt please Riccardi. The alleged Gambino crime family wiseguy vowed to go back to the Shamrock.
At 2 a.m. on April 11, 1981, Brian Godkin now a United States Marshal assigned to the Navy was sleeping soundly in his bed in Richmond Hill, dreaming the innocent dreams that any eight-year-old would.
The police believe that Riccardi came back a half-hour after he left with Barlin and alleged Gambino soldier Robert (Pepe) Vernace, shot DAgnese and Godkin, then turned and fled.
Riccardi and Barlin were indicted in the murders, however charges were later dismissed against Barlin when the only witness linking him to the murders offered different testimony than expected by the prosecution. Linda Gotti, niece of Queens jailed Dapper Don John Gotti and daughter of the alleged current Gambino boss Peter, does not remember the details of that night though police records indicate that she gave a statement to the police at the time.
Godkin had four children, including Brian, when he died. Although the Queens District Attorneys office said that over 50 people were in Shamrock Bar the night of the murders, few people came forward to identify the three suspects who are believed to be Gambino crime family associates.
Riccardis was a different story, Queens prosecutors say. He started running on the night of the murders, and didnt stop until he reached Florida. He changed his name, married and took a job with the advertising department of the Florida Sun Sentinel. He would work at the paper for 18 years a "model employee," his bosses said.
Police at the Palm Beach County Sheriffs office said Riccardis life on the lam a.k.a. Anthony Alonzo was "comfortable" . . . Maybe too comfortable.
Back in Queens, detectives continued to work on the case. It was put on a back-burner to more current cases and crises, but it never really went away. The same thing was true for Brian Godkin, who poked and prodded the detectives over a 20-year period to find the man who killed his dad.
The case went cold along the way, until Det. Tom Mansfield caught it in 1996. Mansfield, assigned to the Queens Cold Case Unit, started looking under rocks for Riccardi. He ran a search on Riccardis mother, Lena Sanfill, who came up missing the same time her son "disappeared."
"If we find the mother, we find him," Mansfield said.
Mansfield had help along the way. Like FBI agent Richard Frankel, who told the cop that Riccardi was in Florida. Mansfield quickly bombarded police departments in Broward and Palm Beach counties with wanted posters of Riccardi bearing a 1975 likeness and a police sketch showing how he might look 20 years later. Mansfield also contacted "Americas Most Wanted" to ask the TV crime show for a segment on the case.
Along the way, Mansfield and Frankel believed they had identified Vernace as the third gunman in the 1981 murders. Vernace was indicted in 1998. During pre-trial hearings at that time, prosecutors revealed the fact that one of the murder weapons a .38 caliber handgun (the suspect murder weapon) had disappeared from an evidence locker and that Linda Gotti had not only recanted her story, she had disappeared as well.
Under the circumstances, State Supreme Court Justice Randall Eng was forced to dismiss the indictment. Since then, two New York State Appellate panels upheld the validity of the indictments and Vernace is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing in Kew Gardens Supreme Court beginning Jan. 29.
Back at the Queens Cold Case Unit, Mansfield was about to get his biggest break in the case from a source no one had ever imagined.
In 2001, Brian Godkin, now a U.S. Marshal in Nevada, started working with Mansfield on ways to trace two phone numbers for Riccardis mother in Boca Raton, FL. Godkin would be the one to provide detectives in Queens with a lynchpin that sealed Riccardis arrest.
Godkin learned, on the job, of the skills of Deputy U.S. Marshal Rudolph Lara, a criminal investigator proficient at utilizing criminal-tracking computers.
Godkin introduced Lara to Mansfield and the case "took off," he said. Lara fed Riccardis information (pedigree) into a high-tech search program that tracked phonetically similar names and the program hooked-up with Mansfields earlier search for Riccardis mother, Lena Sanfill. Almost instantly, the computer spit out the name of a woman living in Boca Raton, Florida Lena Sanfile.
In a heartbeat, Mansfield and Lara were on a plane to Boca.
Once there, the detectives hooked up with officials at the Palm Beach County Sheriffs office, where homicide detective, Brian Cahir, took the case. Tying loose ends together, Cahir discovered one Anthony Alonzo, who obtained a Social Security number in Florida in 1981, and was working as an executive at the Florida Sun Sentinel. And it just happened that Alonzos mom, Lena Sanfile, was living nearby.
The detectives quickly learned that Sanfile was Sanfill and the pieces of Riccardis "comfortable" life began to fall apart.
Cahir told the Tribune, "We started running phone numbers, and both of those numbers were connected to a mans name. It turned out that [Brian] Godkins detective work was correct, and those were the correct phone numbers."
The detectives headed for Alonzos Boca apartment complex and waited.
Then Mansfield had an idea. He went to a security guard at the complex to report that hed accidentally hit a silver Mercedes in the complex parking lot. Moments later, an irritated Riccardi dressed in silk pajamas and slippers raced to the lot to check the damage. When he got to the car, Mansfield, Lara and Cahir were waiting for him.
"I told him I had good news and bad news," Mansfield said. "The car was OK; he wasnt so good."
Mansfield told Alonzo he was there to arrest him for the murders at the Shamrock Bar two decades ago.
"Whats your name?" Mansfield asked. A pause, then a response followed, Mansfield said, adding that the man answered "Frank Riccardi. I know what this is about."
Mansfield told the Tribune that Riccardi winced in pain as Mansfield cuffed him back in August 2001. Riccardi told the detectives that he had just been released from a Palm Beach hospital, where he underwent a triple bypass surgery. He was booked and jailed in Palm Beach without bail and he fought extradition to Queens. Now Riccardi is living at Rikers Island awaiting his trial.
Catherine Godkin, Brians mother and Richards widow, still lives in Queens. She told the Tribune that, "It gives the whole family great satisfaction that this man was caught. The most satisfaction comes from knowing that people were still working on this case 20 years after it happened. People didnt forget about it."
She added that it was "shocking" to her that her son solved the case, and said, "You dont raise your kids to solve their fathers murder, you know. It was absolutely shocking . . . He used computers to find the phone numbers. I dont understand how he did it, but Im glad he did."
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