Nov. 13, 2022

Christopher Porco // 137 // Romeo Killer

Christopher Porco // 137 // Romeo Killer

On November 15th, 2004, Peter Porco was found dead in his home and his wife Joan had been bludgeoned to death and was clinging to life.  On August 10, 2006, their son, Christopher Porco was convicted of second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder.

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Transcript

It all started in Bethelhem, New York, a small town just outside of Albany and the population is about 35,000. The crime rate is pretty low. The Porco's were married for 30 years and had two sons, Jonathan was 23 and he was a naval officer. Christopher was 21 and he was a student at the University of Rochester. Joan Porco was a speech therapist at a local school and her husband, Peter served as a law clerk for a prominent judge and he was very well respected. 



The Porco's kept a very clean home, expected a lot from their sons, and they were strict. Johnathan seemed to thrive on the structured life and did very well in school, but Chris didn't. He struggled academically. 


In November of 2004, everything changed for the Porco family when Joan and Peter were brutally attacked and their son, Chris became the prime suspect. 


Chris Porco said, “I would never do something like that. I can't imagine attacking anyone, let alone my parents in that way. It's just not who I am. It's a tragedy. Not really just for me, but for my family. My mother is now going to have to live alone and that's very hard for me to stomach sitting in here.”



Sarah Fishcer was Chris's girlfriend at the time of the attack and she described him as having a magnetic personality. He's always smiling, makes people feel good, and he's a smooth talker. He was on the swim team and from the age of 16, he worked for his hometown vet. He could clean and set up for surgeries and he also held animals in the exam room. The vet says that Chris was the only young person that they ever kept on staff. He was a popular student and he scored a 1400 on his SATs. At age 14, he joined a youth group at his church. He was funny, social, and loved jokes and pranks. 



Driving around one night, Chris took a detour and pointed at a house and told his girlfriend that he used to live there, but he had to move because his family wanted to downsize. Sarah knew this was a lie because her sister's friend actually lived there. The house that he pointed out was pretty large and Chris's parents weren't super wealthy. They were described as middle-class, so they had enough money to get by and Chris was given everything he needed, but it clearly wasn't the lifestyle he wanted. His friends began noticing that something was off with the stories he always told. Chris said he had a servant that cooked him meals and he had just purchased his own property in North Carolina. The home had a Jacuzzi on the roof, it was super lavish. His friends were like, that's great, let's go there, we want to see it, but he would always come up with an excuse about why they couldn't go. 



When Chris pledged a fraternity, his lies only grew bigger. He told his Fraternity Brother, Gregory Whiteside that he had a trust fund that had just matured and his account was in the Caymans. So, he was telling everyone that he was a millionaire and he was making plans with people to do things that he couldn't afford. He told a friend that they could go backpacking in Europe. The friend said he didn't have enough money for a plane ticket and Chris said that's not a problem because he could just buy a cabin on the plane for them. To keep up with the lies, he actually did buy a lot of things for his friends so they wouldn't become suspicious. When they would throw parties, he would buy all the alcohol for the entire night, he would spend about $200-$300. He even bought an entire vending machine for their hall. 



In 2002, there was a burglary at the Porcos residence on Thanksgiving day. Detective Chris Bowdish went to the home and found that two laptop computers were missing. That was it. There was a window screen that was cut open, but it looked staged. Police could tell that this wasn't how the person broke in, but they couldn't really get any information.



It was November 15th, 2004 when Peter Porco didn't show up to work at the Albany court. This was extremely unusual and his colleagues were concerned, so they sent a court officer, Michael Hart to check on him. He got to the house and noticed there was a key in the door lock, so he turned the handle and pushed the door and realized it was not locked. The key was a spare key that was usually hidden in a flower pot by the front door. Michael saw blood on the front porch and the doorknob and he stepped inside the house. There was a big bloodstain on the closet doors and there was some blood on the floor. Michael looked to the right and he saw Peter Porco lying at the bottom of the stairs on his side and his eyes were wide open. Peter had been hit 16 times in the skull and jaw with an ax. Michael called his boss and told him he just walked into a crime scene, send the police. 



The person dispatched just happened to be the detective that was at the home 2 years prior for the strange burglary, Chris Bowdish. He said there was blood in every place he looked, it was everywhere. He said, “The house wasn't what we call tossed. The drawers weren't pulled out, they weren't dumped.” Joan's purse and all of the contents were undisturbed and that was in the dining room. He also knew Peter Porco and he was told there was another victim upstairs. Detective Bowdish had to step over Peter's body to run up the stairs and the master bedroom was covered in blood. He saw Joan lying across the bed and she had the same hack marks in her head that Peter had. There was an ax at the foot of the bed. It was initially believed that the attack took place all over the house because the blood was in every room, but investigators realized that the attack only happened in the master bedroom and the explanation for the blood getting everywhere is horrifying.



At some point after the attack, Peter Porco regained consciousness. He got out of bed and went to the master bathroom. He stood in front of the mirror, over the sink and just bled. He eventually left the bathroom, walked back through the bedroom, down the hallway and walked down the stairs to the first floor. He walked into the kitchen and began unloading the dishwasher and he was even digging around in the fridge, trying to make his lunch for the day. He was going through his morning routine of getting ready for work. After Peter had been brutally attacked, he even paid his son's parking ticket. We know this because the envelope was found with his blood all over it. 


There was no forced entry to the house, but the house key had been in the door. Investigators wondered if that meant it was a family member, friend, or maybe even a neighbor. Joan was clinging to life and the paramedics were struggling to get her oxygen. Detective Bowdish approached her and said, “Did a family member do this to you?” She nodded her head up and down and he said it was a very clear yes. There were other people in the room that also saw this happen. First responders Kevin Robert, Jim Regan, and Dennis Wood were present and Denis Wood said, “I've never seen anybody with this massive of facial and head trauma and still be alive and actually able to communicate like she was.” 



Joan was able to follow directions such as; straighten your arm or stop moving your legs. Then the paramedics watched as she nodded her head in response to the detective's questions about her attacker. Detective Bowdish asked Joan, “Did Jonathan do this to you?” He says she clearly shook her had back and forth to say no. He asked her, “Did Christopher do this to you?” Joan shook her head up and down to say yes. Minutes later, she was rushed to the hospital and police began searching for Christopher. They did establish an alibi for Jonathan as well. He was stationed 600 miles away in South Carolina. 



Chris was 232 miles away in his dorm room at the University of Rochester. He said that he found out about the attack when a reporter called him at 2:45 PM. Chris said that he was in disbelief and shock after receiving this call, so after he hung up with the reporter, he called 911 and this is what he said to the dispatcher. “Hi, my name is Chris Porco. I was just called by the Times-Union saying that my parents were found dead this afternoon. I was wondering if you had any information for me?”


Rochester police were dispatched to go get Chris from his dorm room. He was brought to Bethelhem and they did a 6 hour interview. Detective Bowdish said he never made eye contact and he always looked down when he talked. He was asked if he was the one that attacked his parents and he said, “You know, I can't say enough, absolutely no. I would never do anything like that to anyone let alone my parents who I love dearly.” He said he had been watching a movie in the student lounge and fell asleep on the couch. His Fraternity Brother, Josh Felver said that Chris was absolutely not there that night. He was in the lounge from 2:15 to 3:30 and it's a square room with some couches and a tv, you can't miss it if someone else is in there. There were several frat brothers in the room and they all said there was no way Chris was there. 


Joan was unconscious and in emergency surgery for many hours. When Chris got there, he told his former youth minister, Joe Catalano all about the interview and what had happened to him, rather than being concerned about his mother. Joe was completely thrown off by Chris's odd behavior and said that he didn't sense any grief. The media was banned from going inside the hospital, but there was a loophole for one reporter. Times-Union senior reporter, Brendan Lyons got to go inside because his wife had just given birth. He slipped into the ICU visiting area so he could observe things. Brendan said that it was very obvious to him that the family was suspicious of Chris. When the family would talk about things, they would go down the hallway in a group, away from Chris and whisper.


Chris was the suspect in this case and he was there, visiting his mother, so they had to put a police officer in the room at all times with her. Joan did survive the attack, but she has facial disfigurement and brain damage. She lost her left eye and suffered from multiple head fractures. 


Chris claimed he was at school and Bethelhem is about 4 hours away by car and a student did confirm that they saw him out jogging the morning after the attack. Chris owned a bright yellow Jeep Wrangler with big tires. It stands out. Everyone knew he drove that vehicle. A day and a half after the attacks, a neighbor of the Porco's called the police to say that he had seen a yellow jeep in the Porco's driveway around 4 AM when he was leaving for work. The Jeep was impounded and when the police searched it, they didn't find a trace of blood and there hadn't been a cleanup either. They also didn't find blood evidence on Chris's clothing or his belongings. Investigators finally realized why this could be.


Chris worked in a vet's office. He had been trained to avoid contamination and he knew how to clean an operating room. It would make complete sense that he would know how to efficiently avoid the blood, but they also had another problem in the case. Joan originally shook her head yes saying her son Chris was the attacker, but she ended up recanting. She said she didn't remember saying it was him. 



A security camera at the University of Rochester shows a yellow jeep leaving the campus at 10:30 PM and traveling in the direction of the NY state highway. At 10:45 PM, the jeep took exit 46 in Rochester. The toll person remembers the yellow jeep and remembers a young person was the driver and they were driving at an excessive speed. At 1:51 AM, Chris took exit 24 in Albany. We know this because a teller remembers seeing the yellow jeep come through. At 2:14 AM, the burglar alarm went off at the Porco's home and it was deactivated with the master code. Chris went into the garage, took his parent's ax and headed to their bedroom. He attacked Peter first, then Joan. He was in the home for about two hours and his jeep was seen by the neighbor at 4 AM. At 5:12 AM, the jeep is seen re-entering the New York State Thruway, heading back towards Rochester and the college camera and cameras on the roof of a medical center picked up the jeep entering the lot at 8:30 AM.



Even though the timeline seems to fit, it's tough to say for certain that the bright yellow jeep heading in the direction of the Porcos residence, then heading back to the campus, belongs to Chris Porco because the license plate wasn't captured and you can't see who the driver is, but there are decals and a mud stain on each photo that was captured. Chris later changed his story and admitted that it was his Jeep on the surveillance video, but he said he was just moving it to park off campus and by the time he returned to the dorm lounge, his frat brothers were sleeping, that's why they didn't see him. Chris said, “The surveillance cameras on campus didn't show me going to the Thruway they didn't show me going home. They show me going off campus. If I wanted to do something like this, if I wanted to sneak home on the Thruway, why would I take a big yellow car? I mean, that makes no sense to me.”



Chris says that the timeline isn't proof that he had anything to do with this crime, but investigators have pointed out that the scene was very staged to look like a burglary. And Chris claimed that he never left the campus on the night of the attack, yet we have footage proving that he did. We know that the alarm went off and someone knew the code to turn it off, yet the alarm was smashed afterwards. Prosecutor David Rossi said, “The information is stored on a box in the basement, which we believe Chris probably didn't know that. So smashing the keypad did nothing.” 



The phone wires were cut on the telephone pole outside and the records at the phone company show that this happened at 4:54 AM and the screen on the garage window was cut. The cut screen is where investigators realized that Chris was actually the burglar that stole the laptops two years prior. They found out that he had a secret income stream. He would steal electronics and sell them on EBAY. His account was eventually frozen because he neglected to send several items to the people that purchased them. He also got his brother Jonathan's EBAY account frozen because they had the same address. He then sent emails to the customers, posing as his brother Jonathan and said that his Chris died and that's why they were unable to send the items. He was able to steal from his fraternity brothers and they had no idea it was him and probably wouldn't suspect him at all because he claimed to have so much money.


According to the Generation Why podcast, there was also another break in at the vet clinic that Chris worked at for many years. Laptops and phones were stolen and they couldn't figure out who broke in, but they later found some of the stolen items inside the safe at the Porco's home. 


Chris's fantasy world that he built was finally crumbling down as his friends learned that his parents weren't wealthy, there was no trust fund, he wasn't a millionaire, and he didn't have a house in North Carolina.


In reality, Chris was on academic probation at the University of Rochester and was suspended first semester of his sophomore year. He told his parents that a professor lost his final and that's why he flunked out. He went to a community college for a short amount of time, but forged a transcript of community college grades and used this to get readmitted to the University of Rochester. He got back into school and made his parents believe that the school really had made a mistake and lost his final. He told them that the school was going to waive the tuition due to his unfair suspension.


He forged his father's signature on a loan for the tuition, so the check was for $31k. At this point, Christopher started dodging all phone calls from his family and the only way he would communicate with them is through email. This actually works out great for the case against him because he left a paper trail of evidence. His father, Peter Porco sent him an email regarding a late car payment notice and Chris responds, “Yo pops, I was waiting for my new credit card to come through. The payment is now set up on automatic deduction, so there shouldn't be any problems. Love, Chris” 



Joan was willing to give her son the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately, he was lying. There was no automatic deduction set up, he had no plans of paying these debts. His father, Peter became very worried about the situation because he was receiving late notices from multiple companies, so he ended up paying the bills. He did this over and over. He just kept trying to clean up Christopher's messes financially, but he soon realized that things were worse than he thought. His own credit score was now at risk because his name was signed to a loan that wasn't being paid.


Peter knew he couldn't call Christopher, so he emailed him and told him that he had a lot of explaining to do and it's time to stop the bullshit. He told him to call him at the office right away. Peter and Joan were just devastated when they found out about the forgery. They couldn't believe how far Christopher had gone with his lies, but they wanted to talk it through. Just one week prior to the attacks, Joan sent an email pleading with him to call her. Days before Peter Porco was murdered, he canceled the $31k loan and he threatened to contact the police. He said he was going to be forced to file forgery affidavits if Chris pulled a stunt like this ever again. 


Chris didn't want this life to end. He had worked so long to create an image of a perfect life and he wanted people to continue believing that he was rich, so that's when he decided he had to murder his parents so they wouldn't go to the police. From everything I read and watched, I do not believe they would have actually gone to the police. It doesn't necessarily matter, but his mother was emailing him and giving him several ways out. She was asking him if he was having a mental breakdown and she wanted to help him. He could have easily said yea, I don't know what I was thinking, it was all the pressure and they probably would have just paid this bill like they did with everything else, but he chose murder. In fact, his father had even written the following to him in an email after telling him they were upset about the forgery, he said, “We may be disappointed with you, but your mother and I still love you and care about your future.” 



Sarah Fischer, was Chris's girlfriend at the time of the attacks. She said her sister was riding home on the school bus and saw the yellow tape blocking off the crime scene at the Porco's residence. As soon as she got home, she sent Sarah an IM telling her that something happened. Sarah forwarded the message to Chris and he said he would contact the police in an hour or so. He messaged her back later and just said my parents are dead. Sarah was called to testify and she said that she didn't form an opinion until she heard the whole case presented and she realized all the lies Chris had told. 


Joan Porco has completely supported Chris during this case and told everyone that he is not the killer and she has begged people to find the real person behind this and to leave her son alone. She said “Christopher is the product of a loving and supportive family. Since his very early days, he has demonstrated a gentle, kind and generous spirit.” She said, “With every ounce of my being, I cannot accept that Christopher could have or would have chosen to butcher us. I believe him to be innocent. With all my heart” To this day, she has no recollection of the attack, but she believes the attacker came to the house on another occasion too. 


Joan Porco says that she saw a shadowy figure outside her home two weeks prior to the attacks. She told a family friend that the motion sensor lights went off when the stranger was in the driveway and this is something the police did not follow up on. She did write a letter to the Times-Union and asked police to go after the real killer. After this, some anonymous letters were sent to the paper and they were allegedly from the real killer. This anonymous person said they were responsible for attacking Joan and Peter Porco and they were responsible for another unsolved murder in the town.



Chris Porco walked out of jail after friends and relatives put together the mandated $250k cash bail. He flashed a smile at the photographers and said, “I feel pretty good, actually. And I just want you to know I'm innocent.” He was going to stay with Elaine LaForte, the veterinarian that Chris had worked with for years. This is the same person he stole from and she now said he was like a son to her. Elaine said, “I'm aware of evidence that they did find at the crime scene that makes me believe that it was not Christopher.” The evidence she is referring to is a single fingerprint that was found just inches from where the telephone wire was cut. We do not know who this fingerprint belongs to.


On June 27th, 2006, Chris Porco went on trial. It was relocated to Goshen, Orange County, New York so that he had a fair trial on charges of second degree murder for killing his father and second degree attempted murder for the severe wounding and disfigurement of his mother. The trial lasted 21 days.



His brother Jonathan once helped post bail for his brother when he was initially charged with the crime. When he testified, he was described as being very icy. He said that the the family kept an ax in the garage that looked very similar to the one used in his parent's attack. Jonathan was shown a picture of the ax and he said it had a marking from the local hardware store. He said that his relationship with Chris was strained and he was able to confirm that both of them knew they were the beneficiaries of their parent's life insurance policies. They had talked about it over dinner. He explained that the security system was installed in the Porco's home after the burglary during Thanksgiving weekend in 2002 and only the immediate family knew what the four digit code was.


Jonathan never looked at his brother Chris while he testified and the people in the courtroom said that it was very telling to them. He didn't say anything further to elaborate on his strained relationship with his brother, but his actions said it all. 


Dr. Mary Dombovy, a neurologist in Rochester who was treating Joan, was called to testify about why Joan may have nodded and said Chris was the attacker. Dr. Dombovy explained that Joan could have followed simple commands to raise her arm, but if you ask questions of memory, that's a very different function of the brain. She said,”And that is universally what is disrupted after a traumatic brain injury. She could simply have been responding to the name Christopher.” The neurologist testified that it was unlikely, given Joan's severe injuries, that she understood what was being asked. 


The defense believed that prosecutors were relying hard on Joan's nod because there wasn't any forensic evidence they could use to link Chris to the crime. There wasn't any bloody footprints or fingerprints of his at the scene. They believe that the alarm was actually disabled by Peter Porco because he had a habit of shutting down the alarm to bring the dog out and he would neglect to put the alarm back on. If this is the case, I would question why the attacker would smash the alarm if it was already disabled.


Earlier, we talked about how a yellow jeep was spotted on the Thruway on the night of the attacks. The police did go through all the Thruway tickets to see if they could find one that Chris Porco had touched. They were able to find a ticket that had Mitochondrial DNA that matched his, but this is something that gets debated in court. Terry Melton from Mitotoyping Industries said it's a very high probability, 99% by some estimates that the DNA on the Thruway toll ticket matches Chris Porco. The defense attorney disagreed and said the sample only contained 85 of the 783 base pairs of chromosomal material that make up a DNA profile. So, the defense is saying that it's just precise enough, but let's talk about odds here. What are the odds that a teller remembers a yellow jeep coming through on the night of the attacks and in that specific stack of tickets, they find one ticket at that time that even has a partial match.


The defense also believes that it was Peter himself who put the key in the front door. He was barely conscious and it's possible that he believed he had locked himself out of the house and grabbed the spare key to get back in. There is a problem with this theory though. The blood droplets stop in the doorway and they do not go to the flowerpot where the spare key was kept. The defense also explained away the neighbor's story about seeing Chris's yellow Jeep that night and they believe this is just a false memory. They say that he was desperately trying to help the police, but there were two yellow Jeeps that travel often through the neighborhood and he may have seen the other one. The defense points towards the mystery person that Joan saw a few weeks before the attack.


Christopher's lawyers have another theory: they think the mob may have been targeting the Porcos in retaliation for the alleged snitching by Peter's distant relative Frankie “The Fireman” Porco, a convicted member of New York's mafia.


The verdict came back in just 6 hours and everyone was shocked that it came back so quickly. The jury said that even though the evidence was VERY circumstantial, it was just too compelling. Too much of it fit into the timeline and Chris didn't have an alibi. They didn't see any remorse from him. Joan Porco was devastated when she heard that her son had been convicted, but the jurors wanted her to know that the nod played absolutely no role in the verdict. One juror explained that, “We believe that she didn't know what she was nodding to. That she had no idea what the question was. We threw that out. We dismissed that completely.”


Chris was sentenced to 50 years to life. 


A New York appellate court ended up lifting a judge's ban on Lifetime's airing or marketing of a TV move after Christopher claimed a violation of his right of publicity. The network was being prevented from showing “Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story.” Chris Porco cited a New York publicity rights statue that requires permission from a subject for the use of their image for “advertising purposes or the purposes of trade.” A judge of the Supreme Court of New York accepted the argument and issued a temporary restraining order that would prevent the movie from being aired on Lifetime. He said that Lifetime “appears to concede this movie is fictionalized.”


Lieftime's legal team shot back and said that would essentially allow anyone portrayed in a movie to stop it by claiming it's fiction. The Lifetime legal team also said that Chris Porco needed to prove that they had damaged his reputation and they just didn't see how that would be possible when he was already convicted and serving time in prison. The judge's injuction was lifted and Lifetime called the project the “Lifetime Original Movie Chris Porco doesn't want you to see.” They also aired a documentary called “Beyond the Headlines: The Real Romeo Killer.” 


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