Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. On May 13, 2018, around 10:45 pm, Rachael DelTondo, a 33-year-old elementary school teacher, was shot ten times at close range in her parents’ driveway.
The case is still unsolved.
Rachael DelTondo’s ex-boyfriend, Frank Catroppa, a suspect in the homicide, released an interview to 48 Hours Mystery‘s journalist Erin Moriarty.
What we look for in this interview is for Frank Catroppa to issue a reliable denial, to say “I didn’t kill Rachael”, not simply parroting back the interviewer’s words, but in the free editing process, and we look for him to show the protection of the “wall of truth”.
The “wall of truth” is an impenetrable psychological barrier that often leads innocent people to few words, as the subject has no need to persuade anyone of anything.
We begin every statement analysis expecting truth, and it is the unexpected that confronts us with deception.
Erin Moriarty: Why would people think you had been involved somehow?
This question allows Catroppa to say “I didn’t kill Rachael, I am telling the truth”. This would be the “wall of truth”.
Frank Catroppa: Well, uhm, maybe, just, we had a long relationship.
“Well, uhm” is a pause to think, a signal that the question is sensitive to him.
Note that Catroppa, despite this huge opportunity to clear his name, doesn’t deny his involvement in Rachael’s murder but accepts what a de facto innocent doesn’t accept: he allows people to believe he is involved.
Erin Moriarty: Your dad was a former police officer in Aliquippa?
Frank Catroppa: Yes, he was.
Erin Moriarty: And you are still tight to the police department?
Frank Catroppa: (Inaudible) one of those community where everyone knows everyone.
Instead of answering “Yes”, Catroppa prefers to give the reason why he is tight to the police department. He also shows a desire to hide in the crowd.
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.
Erin Moriarty: Was she pushing you to get married?
Frank Catroppa: Yeah. She… she gave me about three deadlines.
Frank Catroppa: Yeah, we went to Paris, we got engaged in… in Paris.
Frank Catroppa: There was just a lot of outside interference with some of her family.
Erin Moriarty: Particularly her mom?
Frank Catroppa: Yes.
Frank Catroppa: It wasn’t Rachael, I don’t believe that didn’t want to sign it (a prenup). Her mother didn’t want her to sign it.
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.
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.
“And she still came around” is distancing language. It is also a form of contempt, is he talking about a woman or a dog?
Note that when Catroppa says “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”, his goal is to paint Rachael as a liar to belittle what she said to people before being murdered.
Frank Catroppa: There were some girls on the trip (Super Bowl weekend 2016). 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.
“You know” shows an acute awareness of the interviewer at this question.
Frank Catroppa: She contacted me and saying that, you know, that people were bothering her or the, you know, police…
“You know” is repeated twice.
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.
Note “You know”.
Erin Moriarty: Was that embarrassing when they went public trying to get this dress deposit back?
Frank Catroppa: It… (laughs)… it is what it is. I mean, I… I… I guess so. There’s a lotta money, too, that I lost, like, deposits on halls and churches… that’s what they chose to do… it really didn’t bother me.
On Super Bowl weekend 2016, while Frank was at the game with his buddies, Rachael Del Tondo met 17-year-old Sheldon Jeter. Around 2:00 am two policemen checked on them while they were inside Rachael’s car, no report was made because nothing appeared wrong to the policemen. After a year, Frank Catroppa went to the Aliquippa Police Department and asked Assistant Police Chief Joe Perciavalle if there was a report about that night regarding Rachael and Sheldon. Perciavalle asked the two policemen involved to write down a report. Carloppa received the report from the police department and found that it was nearly 2:00 am when Rachael and Sheldon were noticed by police in her car, not 11:00 pm as she told him, and not at the Circle K, but in an abandoned field.
Frank Catroppa: I was kinda, just… just, shocked.
Frank Catroppa: You know, I was more confused than anything.
Note “You know”.
Erin Moriarty: Angry?
Frank Catroppa: I wouldn’t say that I was angry.
After Catroppa received a copy of the report, an anonymous sent the incident report to Rachael’s school, the local school board, the media and the mayor. Rachael was sacked.
Frank Catroppa: Yeah. No. It… it… it wasn’t… it wasn’t me.
Note the stuttering “it”, a signal that the question is sensitive to him.
“it wasn’t me” is an unreliable denial.
A reliable denial has 3 components:
1. the pronoun “I”
2. past tense verb “did not” or “didn’t”
3. accusation answered
If a denial has more than 3 or less than 3 components, it is no longer reliable.
“I didn’t send the report, I’m telling the truth” would more than 99% likely to be true.
Erin Moriarty: And it’s just a coincidence … just days after you got it, it went out to everybody?
Frank Catroppa: Yes… I never, you know, denied 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?”.
Note “You know”.
Erin Moriarty: So you showed it to a lot of people?
Frank Catroppa: I did show to people, yeah.
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.
“that’s…” is a broken sentence, an indication of missing information, deliberately withheld.
Note that Catroppa is unwilling or unable to issue a denial about the spread of the police report.
Erin Moriarty: At any point did you have Rachael followed? Did you follow Rachael?
This is a “Yes” or “No” question.
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.
In “Yes” or “No” questions, we count every word after the word “No” as unnecessary and weakening the response.
Deceptive people often believe that being sarcastic about the allegations instead of trying to deny it, could help them. The need to ridicule the allegation rather than deny it is sensitive.
Note that Catroppa is trying to paint Rachael as a liar, again.
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.
Erin Moriarty: Did you have anything to do, at all, with her death?
This is not a good question but allows Catroppa to say “I didn’t kill Rachael, I am telling the truth”.
Frank Catroppa: No, I…I…
The journalist made a mistake, she interrupted Catroppa while he was answering a crucial question.
We can still note the stuttering “I”, a signal of increase in anxiety.
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.
Note that Catroppa is unable or unwilling to answer with a simple “No”.
“Absolutely not” is an unreliable denial and is repeated twice due to a need to persuade.
“Would never do that” is an unreliable denial:
- the pronoun “I” is missing, Catroppa is unable to take ownership of what he is saying;
- he substitutes “didn’t” with “would never” violating component two of a reliable denial;
- he substitutes “kill” with the softer “do that” violating component three of a reliable denial.
Deceptive people alter their denial to avoid a direct lie.
Note that when Catroppa says “I was at my apartment… with my girlfriend… There’s video footage of me going into the building and not leaving”, he doesn’t say that at the time of the murder he was at home or that he didn’t kill Rachael.
According to the warrant, “key fob information shows no log-in time into his apartment or the building on May 13” and detectives found no camera that captures Catroppa’s apartment that would verify his whereabouts.
Erin Moriarty: Frank, I’m going to ask you directly, did you have anything to do with the death of Raquel DelTondo?
This is not a good question but Catroppa could answer “I didn’t kill Rachael, I am telling the truth”.
Frank Catroppa: Absolutely not… I’ve known her since we were kids.
“Absolutely not” is an unreliable denial. He also shows a need to persuade.
If someone is unable or unwilling to say that he didn’t do it, we are not permitted to say so for him.
Saying “I’ve known her since we were kids” he shows a desire to be seen in a positive light.
Catroppa didn’t deny his involvement in DelTondo’s murder.
The absence of a denial, it is a concern.
Rachael’s ex-fiancé accepted what the de facto innocent doesn’t accept: he allowed people to believe he is involved. There is no “wall of Truth” within him. This is why he allows blame to be put upon him.
Frank Catroppa has guilty knowledge of what happened to Rachael Del Tondo.
After the murder, Frank Catroppa appeared on social media wearing a T-shirt that read: “fake alibi”. Asked about by correspondent Erin Moriarty, he said: “There was no ill intent. It’s… It’s a shirt. … nothing serious”.
This picture gives us a glimpse into Frank Catroppa’s personality:
- he has no empathy, that’s why he is called “The Wolf of Aliquippa”;
- he thinks to be smart, that’s why he spoke to 48 Hours Mystery and exposed himself;
- he thinks to be smarter than detectives, that’s why, despite being a murder suspect, he posted a picture on social media wearing a T-shirt that read: “fake alibi” to show his “buddies” that he fooled the police;
- he is not so smart as he believes.
Ursula Franco, MD and criminologist