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A place to update and discuss facts surrounding the controversial, tragic death of legendary Hollywood film actress, wife and mother, Natalie Wood who drowned mysteriously Nov. 29, 1981 off Catalina Island. Thank you for visiting.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What kind of detective is Frank Salerno?

I tried to learn all I could about Frank Salerno, the lead detective in Natalie's case, before I was to speak with him. Frank Salerno Sr. had helped to nail the Hillside Strangler and the Night Stalker, two infamous, demented killers. I learned he had once acquired the nickname "Honest Frank".

After retiring from the department, Salerno became president of his own private investigation company called Salerno & Scully Investigations, offering detective, guard, and armored car services, in Encino, California. 

At the L.A. Weekly Web site,
Former Deputy Gets life in Prison - Page 1 - News - Los Angeles - LA Weekly
the article I found about Salerno told of a cold case he had left behind when he retired. It was not until 2007 that the cold case went to trial—a case with virtually no evidence and no murdered body ever found. The L.A. Weekly reporter, Christine Pelisek, started her October 17, 2007, article by saying:

For Frank Salerno and Louie Danoff, two hard-boiled detectives working out of the Hall of Justice downtown, the last thing they needed was a complicated case. It was 1991, and the murder rate was skyrocketing to historic highs, with 2,054 homicides in Los Angeles County that year alone. Salerno, a veteran homicide dick who caught plenty of high-profile cases, like the Hillside Strangler, the Night Stalker, and the strange drowning of Natalie Wood, was ready to retire early due to high blood pressure. His partner, Louie Danoff, was another toughie as the clue manager on the Hillside Strangler and Night Stalker task forces, and a seasoned gang-homicide detective.

In the spring of 1991, Danoff and Salerno were handed the case involving the disappearance of Ann Racz, a churchgoer and devoted 42-year-old mother who vanished. Her newly estranged husband, John Racz—a cop—claimed Ann had gone on a vacation and never returned. Salerno and Danoff never gave up; even after retirement, they contributed to this case that reeked of foul play with no evidence to arrest their suspect, John Racz.

Two female detectives who took over the cold case in 2005, Sergeant Delores Scott and Detective Cheryl Comstock, continued interviewing people who knew that John Racz was suspect. According to the L.A. Weekly report, Sergeant Scott said, “The interviews got better, in part because the people who were reluctant to say ‘murder’ after a few months were suspicious after 16 years and were more willing to talk about their suspicions.”

John Racz, now a retired teacher, was about to meet his worst nightmare in Scott and Comstock, two female detectives from the generation that came up behind Danoff and Salerno. They persuaded the District Attorney’s Office to file charges. Not only was there no body; there was not a shred of physical evidence that Ann had met with foul play.

Then the case got some crucial help “from the grave.” The L.A. Weekly articles states:

It was the highly organized Ann Racz who posthumously provided the clues they needed to prosecute. As the meticulous report completed by Scott and Comstock clearly showed, one day Ann’s well-established pattern of behavior suddenly—and dramatically—ceased. “She helped us because she was a note taker and methodical and always stayed in close contact with her friends,” says Scott. And that became the key to a case 16 years in the making.

Salerno and Danoff had learned from the start that Ann was going to leave John, but lack of evidence prevailed. Jurors rarely convict without a body, but John Racz was convicted of murder in the first degree.
***
I thought about all of Natalie's "cries from the grave"
Frank Salerno was a good detective—the kind of detective Ann Rule writes about and admires. Ann Rule told me she knows of Frank and she does admire him. I wanted to admire him, too. The Natalie Wood case is not an open case, but I wanted Salerno to reconsider it as a cold case and I almost had him!  When I spoke with him, it was almost as if he were looking for something that would give him reason to hang up on me.... although he did NOT hang up on me, he found something to use to end the conversation so that he would not have to get involved with what I know he sensed was a true blunder.

9 comments:

  1. Salerno should have retired sooner as he obviously had no more fight left in him. The case was so sloppily handled. Red flags were ignored. As we have said before, nothing about this case said "accident". It screamed FOUL PLAY. Rasure accepted the lies that he was told and the case was closed without any explanation for the bruises, the time factors, the contractions about the argument on the boat, the delay in reporting Natalie's unexplained absence from the boat. Salerno signed the necessary papers as did Noguchi and the case was closed. This case was tainted by lies and by the celebrity factor.
    Years later Salerno knows for a fact that Robert Wagner lied to Rasure and nothing is done or said about it. That blue wall and celebrity privilege are front and center. It seems to me that Salerno does not give a damn about Natalie. He is looking out for himself and his fellow retired chumps who mishandled this case and allowed Robert Wagner to get away with ending Natalie's life and the pension checks keep on coming.

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  2. I would rather trust this man...

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_Y8m29ZLX5ag/SauF-ga_-kI/AAAAAAAACzw/vuS7eqTILwI/s400/THE+INSPECTOR+BLACK.jpg

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  3. I saw this on You Tube today. Unfortunately it doesn't have sound but I am curious to hear what is being said about the "mystery" of Natalie's death.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXRsm9FqcTc

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  4. It's in German without sound. They are using the drowning scene from The Mystery of Natalie Wood which was totally fabricated by the writers so that ABC would not be sued by Robert Wagner. Everyone plays it safe. They used Suzanne Finstad's book a source for all of the gossipy aspects of the movie but for the most important part they chickened out and did the banging dinghy crap.

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  5. Marti, I haven't heard any talk about Salerno being taken in by Wagner's celebrity. Do you think there was pressure put on him (from someone higher up) to close it quickly--like Noguchi experienced?
    If so, why? Sinatra could not have had that much power.

    PS: HULU has reruns of "It Takes A Thief," and I noticed that Tina Sinatra is in a couple of them from the last season. I forgot that Wagner and her were a couple. Not sure if they were a couple at the time of the two episodes ('69 and '70). Wagner was still married but he may have been seperated--he divorced April 1971.

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  6. I think Salerno trusted Rasure's report that was filled with errors and NO investigation. Rasure was also considered a true blue veteran... dedicated to justice. Rasure didn't like Dennis because Dennis was nervous when first questioned by him. Dennis said he did NOT spend the night on the Island with Natalie Friday night and Rasure already knew that he had. Instead of that being a RED FLAG for Rasure, he instead immediately hated Dennis. That should have alerted Rasure...it should have prompted him to ask so many more questions. Dennis would've ended up telling all IF he had been taken in. Dennis wouldn't have taken the fall for anyone, but when he was protected and instructed viligantly on how to condeuct himself, he lost his way. I've excused Rasure in the past, but now, I really think Natalie's lack of justice rests with him. He did not conduct a thorough investigation.

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  7. Detectives don't get anywhere hating people they need to question. Rasure should have separated Wagner, Walken, and Dennis and spoken with each man at length and privately. Had he done so, he would have seen Dennis could be trusted away from Wagner. That was key - get Dennis away from Wagner. If Rasure had cared to look, he could have seen Dennis was covering for Wagner in Wagner's presence because Dennis was scared. Rasure owed it to Natalie to conduct a thorough investigation.

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  8. Kevin, Wagner and Marion were still married when Tina did the guest shot on Thief but at that point Marion was living in their family home in Palm Springs with the children and Wagner was living in his studio apartment at Universal. He and Marion attended the Golden Globes together that year and Tina sat with them. Shortly after, Wagner filed for divorce.

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  9. Did anyone check to see if Frank Salerno gave all his detective notes to any or all the witnesses on the case so that everyone would testify the same way? Another case Frank Salerno worked, regarding John Racz, Salerno's partner Danoff admitted to giving his case notebooks of John Racz' wife's disappearance to the brother in law of the missing wife, Ann. Giving of evidence to relatives of Ann Racz by the detective Louis Danoff, Frank Salerno's investigative partner at that time, it was a violation of the rules of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Manual of policies and procedures and it affected testimony in the trial.

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