The shocking story of a brutal 1982 double murder on Buffalo's East Side
Warning: this story contains graphic content.
On the warm summer morning of Tuesday, July 27, 1982, Buffalo Detective John Montondo was summoned to a crime scene at 62 Pink Street. Montondo had fielded similar calls many times during his sixteen-year law enforcement career. He didn’t expect the investigation to be routine, because no murder is routine. Yet there was no way that Montondo, then 51, could recognize how this call would mark the beginning of the most difficult and challenging case he ever faced.
He and fellow investigators uncovered a grisly murder, quickly determining how an elderly couple had been slain in their longtime home. They built a convincing case, but because of procedural mistakes, a judge threw out key evidence and a killer was almost allowed to roam free. Two others who likely participated in the crime were never sentenced.
Today, nearly four decades later, Montondo still marvels at the twists and tangles, the setbacks and unlikely discoveries that ultimately produced a court victory. The events, in fact, altered the course of Montondo’s career, because this case served as a springboard for him to become an investigator for the District Attorney, once he retired from the Buffalo Police Department in 1986.
“I’ve thought about it often over the years,” Montondo said after a round of golf in 2017, by then an 86-year-old retiree. “That case sticks in my craw. The judge tossed out evidence. The medical examiner talked about things we had never heard before. There were even jailhouse informants whose testimony led to the conviction. The case was unique because it had everything you can imagine.”
This is a story, fueled by a brutal crime, of man’s darkest and most depraved impulses. It’s a story about the sanctity of law, which protects the guilty as well as innocent. It’s a story about mistakes on the job, but also about perseverance and the personal toll that crime exacts on the people who encounter it daily, including the men and women whose job is to investigate killings. It would be nice to say it’s a story about justice, but considering the victims’ suffering during their final hours — a shrouded purgatory collapsing toward a dark spot of hell — it’s difficult to see how they experienced anything resembling justice.
Pink Street, a short residential road on the east side of Buffalo, runs parallel between the widening fork of Clinton and William Streets in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. Today, there are a mix of vacant fields and old homes. Tiny houses have stood for generations, with small frontage. Just south of the neighborhood, the topography is bisected by a railroad track running in a northeast-southwest direction. Like many Buffalo homes from that era, several additions were tacked onto to the rear of number 62, so it stretches deep, resembling Russian nesting dolls, with each roofline dropping below the previous one. Because of the period in which homes were built, many neighborhood houses have neither driveways nor garages.
On that Tuesday morning in 1982, as part of his daily route, mailman Robert Strychalski noticed that one of the mailboxes was still filled with yesterday’s delivery. Knowing the residents were elderly, Strychalski grew concerned. No one replied when he knocked, and this was unusual. He knew the friendly couple that lived there; on cold winter days he was sometimes offered a cup of coffee. After continuing towards the next house, his concern grew. He stopped and asked a neighbor to borrow a phone to call police.
Patrolmen from Precinct 8 arrived and noticed the rear side door was not closed tightly. Stepping into the tiny vestibule, Officers Martin Bayerl and Boleslaus (Bill) Janeczko observed splintered molding near the door handle, and forced their way inside, where they stumbled onto a vicious crime scene.
A man, later identified as Edward Feldt, 78, lay on his side along the kitchen floor, clad in pajama bottoms and a white T-shirt, bruises evident on his head and neck. Blood had pooled around him. As Bayerl searched the rest of the house, he discovered a second horror: in the bedroom, Feldt’s wife, Antoinette, 81, was sprawled on her back naked across a bloody mattress. Her torn nightgown was discarded on the floor nearby. Three broken teeth were pressed into the flesh on the back of her neck. The couple appeared to have lain dead for several days. With summer weather, the bodies had begun to deteriorate.
A childless couple, the Feldts had lived together on Pink Street for forty-nine years. Antoinette, in fact, had been raised there, having spent her entire life in one house. As years passed, the neighborhood changed around them, growing harder and more threatening. The Feldts had recently logged a complaint with police about kids throwing trash on their lawn. Six weeks earlier, in mid-June, Edward’s 1973 Dodge Dart had been vandalized while parked on the road in front of his house. Although he was upset, Feldt told officers then that there was no consideration of moving to a safer location. The couple felt entrenched, convinced they were too old to relocate. Besides, they were close to the Broadway Market, a local landmark where Antoinette — nicknamed Dorothy — frequently spoke Polish with food vendors. They also attended a Catholic church nearby, where they worshipped together every Sunday.
“Mr. Feldt had been a security guard, an underwear salesman, a drapery salesman and then a window display dresser for one of the big department stores downtown,” an unnamed Buffalo investigator told Inside Detective magazine in December 1985. “They were a quiet couple and you hardly ever saw them except on Sunday morning when they went to mass at St. Stanislaus Church on Townsend Street.”
Neighbors agreed they kept to themselves. Some recalled them working in the yard together. But when the car was vandalized, the Feldts modified their schedule. They no longer felt comfortable venturing outside after dark.
Upon discovering the bodies, investigators were called in. At the scene, Montondo and his fellow detectives were stunned by the carnage. These men were already hardened by the bloodshed they experienced throughout their careers. But this double murder was particularly vicious. Evidence suggested that Feldt had tried to fight back before he was overpowered. Police commended his bravery and courage.
Aside from the area around the bodies, the house appeared orderly and tidy. After the medical examiner, evidence unit, and police photographer completed their work, the bodies were removed. Then detectives undertook a thorough examination of the property.
“When I go to a scene, I try to take particular interest in everything, even insignificant things,” Montondo said. “In this case, the house didn’t appear ransacked. There was a mess where the bodies were, but outside of that, things were pretty well intact. This was an old Polish couple, and they kept the house pristine. Anything that was out of place was significant, as far as I was concerned.”
There were three exterior doors: one in front and two on the side. The rear side door appeared to be the killer’s entry point since it had been ajar when police first arrived. The molding on the interior door had been splintered, as if forced open. There was a lone step off the ground — Montondo believes it may have been a railroad tie — then a storm door, an old fashioned wooden frame with rectangular panes. One of the glass panes was missing near the door handle. Fresh paint chips and putty dotted the ground beneath it. Montondo theorized that it had been smashed by the intruder to gain entry.
“There was no glass,” Montondo said. “If it had just been cracked, I probably wouldn’t have thought much about it. But the glass was gone. Right away it made me think that whoever did it cut himself or removed the glass because he was afraid to leave fingerprints, which would indicate to me that he had a record.”
While searching the house, detectives discovered that inside, at about eye level, each door’s molding contained a dangling skeleton key that was hooked onto a protruding nail. The key unlocked the adjacent door.
“At the rear side door, the nail was bent and the key was missing,” Montondo recalled. It appeared that whoever had broken in had taken the key. No one was sure why, but detectives theorized that the intruder grabbed the key as he hurried out, marking time for a possible return.
With a steady stream of officers funneling into and out of the house, media assembled along the short road to film the proceedings. Neighbors gathered, standing in loose formations with a mix of shock and grief. At the home next door, a muscular black man in his twenties sat on the front porch, talking loudly into a telephone receiver. In the days before cell phones, or even cordless phones, he had a long spiral cord that vanished through through the front door. Despite the sling on his arm, he laughed gleefully and gestured often, drawing attention to himself.
“TV cameras were there, and I’m sure he was filmed in the background,” Montondo said. “This kid was sitting out there, big as life, laughing and carrying on so everyone would notice him.” It was unusual behavior in the somber shadow of a double murder. Police wondered who he was.
As authorities sought a motive for the killings, they tried to piece together information about the dead couple. Officers recorded names of neighbors, asking if they had observed anyone coming or going from the Feldts’ house during the past few days. A Buffalo Evening News reporter posed that question to the young man on the porch.
“Nope,” was his simple reply.
Inside, it was difficult to determine if anything was stolen. A rifle and shotgun were found in the home, but neither had been fired recently. The Feldts had kept the guns for protection, but when the time came, they proved to be of no use. A jar of pennies and a heavy chest filled with silver coins had been stored in the attic. An antique saber and three other guns were also left untouched.
“The way it looks,” said an investigator on the scene, “either the killers knew where the Feldts kept their valuables and just scooped them up after the beatings and ran, or else they were scared off before they could tear the place apart.”
Today, in his late 80s, Montondo remains lean and lanky, with a thin face and strong jaw. Graying hair is parted on the right side of his head. Photos from the 1980s show a confident, accomplished detective wearing a dark coat and tie. He logged twenty years with the Buffalo Police, from 1966-86, before retiring to work as an investigator with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.
Montondo, nicknamed both “Jack," and “Big Red” for his once-fiery hair, grew up in South Buffalo, on Chicago Street in the old First Ward near South Park Avenue, a few blocks from the Buffalo River. Today the neighborhood lies in the shadow of the KeyBank Center, where the Buffalo Sabres play. After graduating from Bishop Timon, a Catholic high school nearby, he served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. When Montondo returned home, he was hired by the Erie Railroad; weekends were spent tending bar. With his first wife, now deceased, he raised seven children.
“I worked the two jobs for years,” he said. “Bartending is good training for a policeman. You get to know people pretty good, so that helped me in a lot of ways.”
One bar where he worked on Louisiana Street sat across from the old No. 7 Police Station. Because of this, Montondo became acquainted with cops and politicians who wandered in for a drink.
“That was a hangout for [former Mayor] Jimmy Griffin and all the guys he took with him to City Hall,” Montondo said.
He also knew that many ex-Marines transitioned to jobs in law enforcement. It wasn’t a path Montondo planned, but one that seemed to suit him
“I joined the police for security,” he recalled. “The railroad was merging and I was worried about losing my job. It never happened, but I didn’t know that at the time. A friend of mine from the railroad said he was taking a civil service test and he talked me into it. On the morning of the test, he came over to my house. I actually had forgotten about it. I’d been up late the night before. My friend had studied all these books, but I didn’t do any of that. I came out eighth on the list. I don’t know how. It was like a miracle. My poor buddy didn’t make it.”
Upon joining the department, he was assigned to Station 7.
“That was the worst place I could be,” he said. “Between being an athlete at Timon and tending bar, I knew everybody. It wasn’t good. So many people knew me. I’d walk into a call and people would say ‘Hi Jack.’ If it was a domestic, things became uncomfortable. For seven years I was at that station, and I tried like hell to get out of there.”
Eventually, he transferred to Precinct 3 and then was promoted to detective. After a rash of murders, he was elevated to the Homicide Squad.
“I didn’t want to go to homicide at first,” Montondo said, pronouncing the word as homo-side. “I didn’t think I could take the blood and guts, to be honest. But once I got there, I took a liking to the job.”
Six months in, some members of the Homicide Squad were cut, so he was bumped down, this time moving to Precinct 10. But a year later he was called back, and he remained in homicide for ten years, becoming a detective sergeant. By 1982, he was a veteran investigator, experienced in tracking down killers.
A Suspect Emerges
While a team of detectives canvassed Pink Street, Montondo returned to the squad room, where he wrote up notes. As he did, an investigative plan took shape.
“We had to check everybody in that neighborhood,” he said. “I checked all the local burglars to see if I could come up with anybody who fit an M.O. of this type. I wanted to cross-reference the names we got and find anyone who lived around there with a record for burglary or anything violent.”
Montondo determined that one of the neighbors, Shelby Davis Jr., had recently moved back from New York City. Davis, 22, had an outstanding arrest warrant for assault and a youthful offender incident from 1976, when he was 16.
“Being so close in proximity, we had to talk to him,” Montondo recalled. He and another detective returned to Pink Street. Davis’ address, 64 Pink Street, was the home where the young man had created a spectacle on the porch, and next door to the Feldts. Davis lived there with his father and stepmother. There was no reply when Montondo knocked on the door. He wondered if that had been Davis talking on the telephone.
When no one answered, Montondo walked around the property. Moving into the backyard, he noticed trashcans a few feet from the fence that separated the two yards. Montondo had investigated crime scenes before, and was accustomed to examining garbage. Almost automatically, he lifted the lid on the nearest metal can. There, he recalled, sitting atop a pile of discarded items, was a pane of glass broken in two. Its size matched the missing window next door. Montondo’s heart leaped.
“I called the Evidence Squad in right away,” he said. “I didn’t touch anything, and they came and got the glass, which was in a plastic bag. They took it to their office to be analyzed.”
The following day, the glass was linked to the missing pane that had been broken from the door at 62 Pink Street. This was determined by matching layers of putty and paint. Although no fingerprints had been discovered on the Feldts’ doorframe, the glass pane contained fingerprints that matched Shelby Davis Jr., whose prints were on file because of previous legal troubles.
“At that point,” Montondo said, “he became our number one suspect.”
© 2020 by Jeff Schober